Picking Myself Up Off the Pavement

Summer Cook


Some of you may know by now, but I got hit by a vehicle on a training ride about two weeks ago. I’m pretty much fine but my bike, not so much. I won’t go into details about the accident but I will say the following: I was hit from behind on a neighborhood road and the driver initially left the scene before returning awhile later. I was paying attention and thought I was being vigilant. I was in a place where I felt very safe and ride frequently. Somehow, I got lucky. Lucky enough to have an initial diagnosis that I would have been fortunate to have, then two later diagnoses that progressively showed my condition to be even less serious.

Despite the minor injuries, getting hit didn’t feel all that good and was an extremely frustrating and frightening experience. For a while, I thought about what I could have done differently to have not been there at that time. I was adding on to my loop to hit the requirements for the session; I wasn’t going to go to that neighborhood, but decided to at the last minute. This sounds incredibly stupid to put into writing: I was riding with brand new handlebars for the first time, so I had pulled over a little earlier to take a scenic picture because I wanted to instagram a picture of my bike. I had napped earlier that day – which I almost never do – then procrastinated getting out the door to ride. I hit green lights that I never hit. Yet, I know that for every decision that led me to be in that exact spot at that exact time there is another decision that led me to avoid timing that could have had further reaching effects; it’s all a matter of degrees.

I don’t want this to turn into something sappy or overdramatic about how that could have been it or whatever – especially since I ended up with very minor injuries – but I think every cyclist has more close calls than they want to know about. In fact, everybody probably has some instances that could have been a brush with death that they didn’t realize. This isn’t The Sims where someone can just plead with the Grim Reaper to save someone else. This is real and it goes back to how everything is a matter of degrees. My close call resulted in actual contact that wasn’t just a little love tap, and it made me think about how quickly things can change. I mean, I got lucky. The circumstances of this collision and the fall off my bike meant that I could walk away, totally suffer for a few days, and then begin the road back to the start line quickly.

As a certain coach likes to tell me when I get frustrated about things not going as well as I hope, we all have to overcome adversity. The adversity we have to overcome isn’t any more than what others have to overcome. Working to overcome the adversity in my life hasn’t always been something that I’ve done well. It’s hard to remember that we are all dealing with our own personal struggles that occupy a big place in our minds.

I’m angry about what happened. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, no matter how minor it ended up being in terms of my health. But, since the accident, I’ve learned a lot. After all, it is through difficulty that we grow the most. I’ve learned about tangible things: wheels, carbon frames, insurance. I’ve learned about non-tangible things: fear, care, gratitude. I learned that I really do enjoy triathlon. I learned that I really do enjoy biking; I even shed a few tears after poor Gunther (my trusty bike) was pronounced dead (tears are rare in my life these days). Most importantly, I’ve learned a little more about myself; both who I am and what I value.

One last thing (soapbox alert): while pretty much every triathlete/cyclist wears a helmet every time they are on their bike, I see a lot of casual riders out and about all the time without helmets. Maybe they feel safe because they are in a low traffic neighborhood or just commuting somewhere, but I was hit in a low traffic neighborhood where I felt safe. I have a broken helmet and no concussion or damage to my head, reaffirming my opinion that helmets are necessary whenever you are on a bike. After all, nobody ever expects to crash. I also didn’t have ID on me at the time of the accident and I had been riding alone. I knew about the importance of carrying ID, but I was always afraid it would fall out of a pocket. Simply choosing not to do so was a mistake on my part. It scares me to think of what could have happened had I lost consciousness at the scene. Nobody would have known who I was or who to contact. My roommate was spending the evening with a friend so it could have been awhile before anyone realized I was missing. My phone (which had been in my back jersey pocket) was shattered through an otterbox, and though I could use it for the important stuff, it wasn’t entirely functional after the accident.  I kind of assumed that if something happened, someone could take my phone, go through my contact list and find an ICE number.  This incident proved that I can’t count on that to be the case. I decided to get a Road ID bracelet so I always have my name and emergency contact information on my person while training. Accidents and crashes are far less common than successful rides, but things can and do happen so it is important to be prepared. I will now step off my soapbox.

Since I’m improving massively by the day, I’m still planning to race the Chengdu World Cup and Yokohama WTS next month. Chengdu is approximately four weeks after the accident and I’m confident that I’m up to the challenge. I guarantee that another athlete on the start line dealing with adversity that dwarfs mine. I have a lot of positives on my side: minor injuries + quick healing, great support, and some incredibly encouraging moments in training during this block prior to the accident. Furthermore, challenges will exist no matter what. If this were easy then it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m excited to get back into a race and do what I love most – leave 100% of me out on the course.

Thanks to everyone who has/is helping me though this incident and get back to 100%. Paulo for, well, everything – I would start listing things but I’m pretty sure I would miss something so I’m not even going to try (sorry); Joe, who thinks he just took my bike away after the accident, but doesn’t know how much better I felt to have somebody at the scene who I knew; Erin, for putting up with me and helping me with all the things that I just couldn’t do for a few days; The Wurteles for setting me up with wheels so I can quite literally get rolling again; first responders and staff at Palomar Hospital – ER staff sometimes get a bad rap, but you guys seriously rock; the bystanders (total strangers!) who came out of their houses to help me; Function Smart Physical Therapy; Chula Vista OTC Sports Med Staff; HT Bikes and Litespeed for working to determine whether Gunther was safe and then to get me back out on the road again; USA Triathlon for coordinating many of the resources needed for my recovery and return to racing and training; Liz Fusco for guiding my recovery nutrition; Lindsay Thornton for making sure I’m able to bring my mental A-game; and everyone who checked in on me, you have no idea how much I appreciate the support. A very special thank you also goes out to those who believe in me: my family and friends as well as my sponsors: OTF Multisport, Equal Earth, and Roka Sports. I’m convinced that I have the best people in my life.

One more thing (more upbeat too!), in case anyone missed it: Villanova women’s track won the Penn Relays DMR for the fourth straight year! Can’t wait to watch results from the rest of the weekend and hope to be there to cheer everyone on again someday!