Sit down and buckle up my friends, because this will be one of my longer entries. It features plenty of exciting stories, so I don’t think you’ll leave without being thoroughly engrossed at one point or another.
October 10th began very similarly to any other day, except that it was never followed by October 11th, as one would normally expect. You see, I flew from Boston to Melbourne, Australia and somewhere in my travels, lost that particular day due to the international date line. Part way through this trip, I met up with my teammates at LAX to eventually race the Australian Herald SunTour and New Zealand’s Tour of the Southland. The adventure started very well; SRAM took excellent care of us and had a fleet of cars diligently waiting at the airport. We drove to the thriving town of Bendigo – supposedly the 2nd largest city in the state of Victoria – for the pre-race festivities as well as stage one. I was very excited to see that our accomodations featured a hotel-bird! Upon closer examination, I came to the conclusion that this is merely a colorful pool side plant.
An additional sign that things were going well is that the television remote features a “FUN” buttom. This was the first time that either Omer or I had seen such a unique button on the remote, but was sadly disappointed with the lack of confetti, sparklers, and funky latin music when the botton was pressed. These Aussies are definitely onto something with this invention, but they leave ample room for improvement.
A Series of Unfortunate Events:
After a slew of festivities prior to the actual race getting rolling (massive group ride, non-stage-race criterium, many meals, team presentations, etc.), all riders were chomping at the bit to begin racing Monday morning. The weather had been chilly and overcast in the days leading up to the race, but we woke up Monday to gorgeous cloudless skies and warm temperatures. As predicted, the first 5km of the race was an attack festival, with most riders trying hard to represent their teams in the day’s breakaway. Scott and I found ourselves lucky (and talented) enough to be one of only two teams with two riders in the break – all others had just one. There was plenty of horsepower among our breakaway and a growing lead over the main peloton as we neared the first King of the Mountain climb. I was feeling strong and outsprinted three other guys to take the maximum points and first KOM of the tour. 10km later, after a tough 6km climb, I was strong enough to take the second KOM as well. I was pumped! The KOM competition was finished for the day, and I had earned the opening stage’s King of the Mountain jersey – my first such jersey in a long time. Soon after we began the descent, for reasons still unknown to me, the front of my bike touched the bike of the rider in front of me. This is not a terribly uncommon occurrance and generally results in a quick but minor change in bicycle position… that’s it and usually nothing more.
On this particular touch, however, I was instantly sent airborn, and hurled into the woods at roughly 40mph. I tumbled a vast distance down a hill, over rocks, trees, and other objects commonly found in the woods. I never lost consciousness, but was very disoriented when I opened my eyes. I was in a state of shock with everything very bright and rapidly spinning. I instinctively hollered for help, thinking that spectators watching on course would have seen my crash. Not so. With seconds turning to minutes, I realized that I was going to be in a lot of trouble if no one found me. I started climbing the bank back towards the road, but my right knee collapsed in excrutiating pain. With three functioning limbs, I continued crawling uphill, calling for help the entire way. Perhaps five minutes passed when I can finally see peoples’ faces as they whiz by in cars in the race caravan. Our trusty mechanic, Ben Oliver, happened to be in the rear passenger’s seat of our team car as I crawled into sight, and he let out a guttural yell to signal to Glen stop the car (I would say it’s a mere coincidence that Ben saw me and not one of the other 15 team mechanics in the same position as Ben, but he’s a very observant fellow and I’m not surprised it was he who saw… err, saved me). There was an immediate sense of relief and I fell to the ground, not to move under my own power for a long time. I was checked out at the scene, backboarded with sharp neck and lower back pain, carried the 100 or so feet out of the woods, and ambulance driven to the Bendigo hospital.
(For those of you who can’t quite picture this event happening, or perhaps are wondering what the effects might be, here is a simple and effective way to recreate the scene. Find a forrested hill near a road, get your car up to 40 mph, and jump out of the car.)
Upon arriving at the hospital, I was scanned with a half dozen x-rays of my neck, back, shoulder, chest, and knee. Thankfully, virtually all of these scans came back negative for bone fracture. Hours began to pass and with the wonderful news of an entact spine, the more obvious painful areas were surfacing – in this case, my lower back is severly bruised, and my right knee is throbbing in pain. With fracture ruled out, the doctors confirm my fear that there is likely ligament damage. Putting weight on the leg is excrutiating and bending it is out of the question. However, MRI machines are rare in Australia besides at major hospitals, so it was recommended I head back to the states to mend, and to have an MRI as soon as possible to assess soft tissue and the possibility of surgery.
From my hospital bed, I spent hours on the phone with the airlines rescheduling my ticket. After initially sparking my interest by telling me that I can leave immediately on a fairly direct flight to LAX and then Boston for free, they added, “Oops, our mistake. That ticket is $1200. The free ticket will have to trace where your current tickets are planned.” That is, I’d fly Melbourne to Auckland, NZ, back to Sydney, then to San Fran, and finally Boston. Mind you, this latter option entails layov
ers long enough to nearly double the entire trip time. No trickery here with face time zones… Free is 45 hours. $1200 is sub-25 hours. With the initial shock factor from the crash wearing off, I had just begun to get my wits about me; I knew I’d just spent 2 days in the hospital in another country and feared that I’d have medical bills coming out the wazzoo. Wrought with pain, yet stable, I accepted the free flight, only to be gratefully surprised with a ticket being purchased on my behalf by the team. Things were looking up.
Velonews has the following coverage: “Bissell-SRAM’s Edward King certainly lived up to his name, taking both KOMs at 20.3km and 30.3km. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, he came to grief on a descent and literally flew off the edge of a cliff. Race doctor Andrew Garman later described it as a ‘very lucky escape,’ although King may not be feeling that way yet. He was rushed to hospital, battered and bruised, but with no broken bones.”
I think the two Australian newspapers had it pegged more accurately when they described my survival as “miraculous.”
It’s at this point that I’d like to talk about the emotional toll of my crash. No one likes to crash and I for one do not enjoy talking about crashing. My detailed description here merely will allow me to have to explain the incident far fewer times. It’s not an easy thing to discuss, but this sort of crash is the type that makes you really assess what you’re doing in life. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have come away from this mess relatively unscathed. To recreate the crash in my head in the third person – that is, to try to see what this would have looked like to happen to me – is truly sickening. A person rag dolling at 40mph through the woods is something you never want anyone to experience.
The highlights of the post crash came in the form of unparalleled hospitality from my teammate Richard England’s family. Richard was off racing – as I should have been – so his family was short one child. I immediately took his place as I waited 36 hours for my flight. The Englands very generously took me into their home, cooked me outstanding meals, kept me company as I depressingly moped around, took me sightseeing where I saw my first (non-roadkill) group of kangaroos, and simply took great care of me. They are wonderful people.
I’ve safely made it back to the USA late Thursday night. Friday morning, with a confused internal clock, I woke up on 4 hours of sleep and a cumulative 7 hours in the previous 48 hours to attend my doctor’s appointment. For the first time I saw my x-rays, and even before the doctor opened his mouth, I saw that I had a broken bone. More specifically, it’s a fractured medial tibial plateau. The doctor seems very optimistic about this and the prognosis for recovery, as the break is non-displaced and relatively small. He wrenched my knee around – giving it it’s first mobility in about 5 days and thought the ligaments felt strong. To check that thought, I had an MRI Friday afternoon with a results and a follow up appointment coming Monday. My prayers have been answered that the damage does not appear to be extensive, nor require surgery. Things look good.
Despite the laundry list of negative things that I can draw from this event, I certainly have quite a lot for which to be greatful. Among others, it occurred in an English speaking modernized country, medical care was quick and responsive, my back, neck, and spine are not broken, I was not knocked out after the tumble, and I have hobbled away from this relatively unscathed. However, I hope it goes without saying that I am most thankful to the people who have helped me through this event – family, friends, teammates, management, sponsors, medical staff, and even strangers. It is a testment to your kindness that allows me to move on.