Friday, October 16, 2015

Crashing Without Burning

It was a sunny day on July 15th. After morning swim practice I went out to do my pre-race bike workout, performing loops close to home, on some of the smoother roads in Colorado Springs (Cascade and Tejon St.). I was looking forward to racing in Denver that weekend in a small local race in front of my friends and family; most importantly I was doing this race for my Auntie Julia who was set to move back to Budapest, Hungary a few days later. No words can do justice to what a positive influence this woman has been in my life.

I was sitting in my aerobars on my TT bike, lost control somehow, then hit the pavement head first. I remember briefly waking up in the ambulance, my fingers and toes were tingling from hyperventilating for an extended period of time; the tears streaming down my face as I cried uncontrollably, and then it all went black again as I fell into shock. I came to in the hospital, staring up at the bright lights passing above me, like the black line passing me in the bottom of the pool, as they wheeled me in for scans.

I became somewhat aware of where I was, feeling constrained by the neck brace I was locked into, and the heaviness of my body holding me down to the bed; I couldn't move much, and it was difficult to speak. I was naked under a pile of sheets, my right eye beginning to swell shut, and the pain all over my body becoming more prevalent. I glared down at my right hand and my pinky was fully-dislocated, pointing out in a 90 degree angle; I realized the whole right side of my face and body were bloody and covered in road rash. I closed my eyes, praying this was only a nightmare, only to learn that this was reality. 

I spent the next week bedridden in a dark room at home in Denver with family. It was hard to eat, for I had nearly bitten through my lip. This combined with the pain in my finger and post concussion symptoms were what produced many sleepless nights. During this time, I realized what is really important in life; for me that is my family and my friends. My parents, my sisters, and my Auntie Julia traded off hand-feeding me during that first week. Looking back, it was amazing the patience they showed, as it often took me over an hour to eat a single meal. It was incredibly frustrating! All I wanted was a cheeseburger, but my mouth was so swollen and painful that all I could handle was baby-sized bites of mashed banana, yogurt, and potatoes. This time reminded me how much my family means to me, and my love of each member of this family is unconditional.

This experience reshaped my way of thinking. I have learned how to rest and repair my mind, body, and soul through meditation, painting, and simple alone time. I learned the importance of taking care of myself as an athlete and a person, and that it is okay sometimes to slow things down, and take time to ourselves. I am thankful for my teammate, Max Bennett for showing me what bravery and resilience is as he was recovering from an accident as well, and he showed me much compassion during this time (and how to eat a ridiculous amount of bacon mac n' cheese).

I realized how quickly everything can be taken away from you. I had lost nearly 10 lbs in the few weeks while recovering from the crash; I endured frustrating physical therapy sessions where I had to retrain my brain to balance my body and try to rebuild muscle mass after losing all I had worked for over the summer. I also began seeing a hand therapist, in which I passed out in her office because of the excruciating pain from the dislocation and torn ligament in my finger. These experiences were real; the trivial things I worried about up until the crash were exactly that... trivial. I stopped striving for perfection and began aiming for improvement. This mentality is what has helped me come to almost a full recovery and I am back at it training and motivated to race again!

I returned to school at The University of Colorado Boulder this fall to finish up the last year of my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Because of my academic workload, training has been up and down, but I am enjoying the friendships I am continuing to make, and my CU Tri Teammates have kept me optimistic in the recovery process. Thank you boys for not feeling sorry for me and for pushing me past my breaking point in our group rides, forcing me to be brave and overcome much fear. Also, big thanks to sports psychologist and good friend of mine, Will Murray, for helping me through this process and for buying me a cheeseburger to celebrate after I rode one hour easy with you before the last race, averaging close to 14 mph :)

I have learned not to compare myself to others for each of us has a story incomparable to another. I no longer moan about waking up early to squeeze in a 6am swim because that's the only time my class schedule allows me to do it; I am appreciative that I get to do what I love, even if it's at 6 in the morning! I have also realized my ability to eat an insane amount of Cosmos pizza and campus food without worrying how it will impact my training the next day. I have stopped focusing on the small details, and have began focusing on what's important. I have also learned that gosh darnit, smile as much as you can because it's painful when you can't!

I have let go of the fear of failure, and instead have embraced taking the road less traveled, for that is what this entire journey is becoming.

I am thankful for my Coach Ken Axford for sticking by my side, continuing to elevate me as an athlete and person, as we have been rebuilding my fitness and strength for a few months now, my friend and fellow competitor Brooke Saunders for offering advice and constant support, my friend Jeremiah Mitchell, teammates, teammates' parents, and my housemate, Joe Umphenour for being there for me in one of my most vulnerable times.

"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have"

Until next time. I'll see you at the start line!

My soul sisters.  <3

Thanks Ash for sitting in bed with me for hours, coloring, and making me smile (though I couldn't show it :p)

Jutka ('Julia') one of the most influential women in my life

In a world of pain

First race back: glad it was with my Buffs

Julia inspecting my helmet
Max and my first ride back :)

I attempted squash after week 1. This was a bad idea

Good friends of mine, Will Murray and Grant Crist. Thanks for riding with me eventhough we probably averaged 14 mph!

first race back, all smiles and competing for high fives with Dillon Frisco
My Buff family. Love you guys so much

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