On April 20, I was scheduled for my first triathlon of the year. (Yes, it has taken me a while to get all of these words out.) I’m not typically a fan of early season racing. I like to get in some good practice swims before I race. However, last year, I was registered for Rumpas in Bumpass as a warmup for Choo 70.3. Obviously, thanks to my labral tear, that was out, but the race company had an awesome deferral policy. That meant that this year, I had an already funded race entry for the race. Might as well show up, right? Right.
I had mixed feelings going into the race. I was so thankful that the weather was supposed to be nice. Was I prepared? Yes and no. I hadn’t done any OWS swimming, and I hadn’t ridden my bike outside yet. But I had put in the work and I was excited to start the season and see some friends at the start line.
Race morning was gorgeous. All the rain had cleared the area and things looked amazing. I was feeling good. I got everything setup in transition and hung out with friends as we waited for race start. I wedged myself into my wetsuit. It felt good. I hadn’t had a chance to try it out yet, but I figured things would be fine. I didn’t have an issue with wetsuits.
I got in the water early and tried to get used to the cold. It was in the mid-60’s. Not awesome, but not too bad. Two men’s waves went off, then it was our turn. Racing! Yay!
I struggled to get comfortable. Why? Probably the cold and the fact that every year, my first OWS of the year sucks. I need to remember this. Future self, do some practice swims before racing! So I got myself into a spiral and realized I had two options. I could quit or I could figure out how to get out of my wetsuit and keep going. So I pulled up at a jet ski and took off my wetsuit in the water. It was not easy and I was gasping from the cold. But once it was off, I was going to finish this race. I am way too stubborn to quit, and I was pretty proud of myself for getting through a really bad moment.(Ominous music continues.) With the pause and the lack of the wetsuit, I was now behind the pack, but not too far off. There were plenty of swimmers around me, and by the time I finished, I was coming out with the first wave of sprint swimmers as well (they had a shorter swim course, naturally).
The trek to transition was through ankle deep mud. Do not recommend.
At transition, I ran into another girl I had met earlier, so I shared my foot rinse water bottle with her, got geared up, wished the girl luck, and headed out.
(This part is harder to write than I thought it would be.)
The race was a two loop course for the Olympic racers and single loop for the sprinters. There was a slight straightaway, then you joined the loop with a lefthand turn.
I made the turn and merged in, found a solid spot on the right, but there were racers flying past me on the left, both sprinters and olympic athletes starting their second loop. There were definitely people riding in groups, not necessarily in packs, but just situational things where riders were riding a few across and not really following the rules. That can just happen racing. Unfortunately, those rules exist for a reason.
I was barely a mile in when I heard yelling behind me. I shifted farther to the right, as I had been riding about a foot out to stay out of the gravel and junk on the side of the road. That was the wrong choice, as the guy coming up behind me was attempting to pass on the right.
(Yes, this is a complete rule violation. However, because I’m not sure what was all going on around me, I suspect there was a cluster of riders to the left as well and he made the best decision he had in a bad situation. He didn’t know I was going to also try to get out of the way by shifting right. I’m choosing to believe this was just an unfortunate situation and not a blatant attempt to flaunt the rules.)
The other cyclist hit me. Thankfully, I wasn’t going super fast. I flew over my handlebars. I landed first on my left forearm, then the rest of my body crashed to the ground. My head bounced off the ground. That was probably the scariest moment. Heads aren’t supposed to bounce off of things.
I never lost consciousness and instead sat up pretty much right away. My left side hurt and I knew I was bleeding, but I could move my hands and my feet, and these all seemed like good things. I could see straight and my head didn’t hurt.
Some amazing spectators came running over to me, and I wish I knew who they were so that I could properly thank them. They made me focus on them and kept telling me to not look at my left side. This freaked me out. “Are there any bones sticking out?” I wasn’t in a ton of pain, but had this vision of something sticking out of my arm. I also pretty quickly asked if my bike was okay. As any cyclist would.
Mostly, I was just scared. I was sitting in the middle of the race course bleeding and it took a while for medical get to me. In reality, it was less than five minutes, but it felt like forever. I was able to stand, and cradling my left arm, I climbed into a cart and was taken to a waiting ambulance where they checked me over. I was freezing cold since I was wet and they kept piling me with blankets so I stopped shivering. They didn’t seem terribly worried, which was insanely reassuring. I needed to be seen by a doctor, but things weren’t dire.
I convinced them to put my bike into the ambulance and had someone retrieve my backpack (with my phone and ID inside) from transition and went to the hospital. No sirens, so it was a long trip. I chatted with the EMT and found out how he got into the gig. Mostly I think I was trying to distract myself.
At the hospital, things didn’t seem like too big of a deal. They helped me out of my wet kit and into a hospital gown which was awesome. Being cold was the worst part of all of it. My head was fine. I got taken for x-rays and was really hoping my shoulder and collarbone weren’t broken. I didn’t want to deal with pins. And they were fine! My elbow was less fine, and more worryingly, there was a whole bunch of gravel in my arm.
The most painful part were the muscles in my left shoulder and up into my neck. They still hurt today. But nothing was bad. They asked me if I wanted any pain meds and I said no. They insisted on Tylenol, so I took that.
I refused to look at the wound in my arm. I decided I didn’t want to know. The PA came in a number of times to irrigate my arm to work to get the gravel out. And apparently, they were able to get a lot of it out. But when I went back for more x-rays, it wasn’t enough and I needed surgery to get the gravel out and possibly a bone chip.
I was pretty chill through all of this. I wasn’t even concerned when they were pushing two kinds of IV antibiotics. This seems fine. My brain is weird. When they said surgery, I was like “Okay, let’s do this.” The whole time, I really was thinking about how lucky I was. I bounced my head off the ground and I was fine. This injury was relatively minor.
So off to surgery it was. Thankfully, it was just rocks and no bone chip. But I woke up with a brace on my arm, an appointment with an ortho for the following week, and prescriptions for even more heavy antibiotics. The worst part was that when I woke up, I was so hungry. I was given a soda and crackers, but I had a brace on one arm and an IV in the other so I couldn’t get food to my mouth. It was an incredibly cruel moment. Generally though, I felt good and was ready to break out.
The final verdict is a broken elbow, serious road rash on my left shoulder and quad, some very colorful bruising and a gross wound on my left elbow that is going to leave a sweet scar.
Two weeks out and healing is going as expected. I start up PT on my arm this week and will be getting a new brace. My doctor told me that recovery is probably around 8 weeks, so I’ll be back out there soon enough. But of course, this means that my comeback season isn’t happening this year. I won’t be trained up for 70.3 Ohio, so Sherpa Shark will be back as a spectator (and thank goodness I bought the insurance). I was registered for four more local races with Kinetic Multisports (the group that runs Rumpus) and because of my crash, they deferred my next two races til next year, have offered to defer my September races (though I hope to be back by then) and offered me a free entry into next year’s Rumpus. I think I won’t be taking them up on the last offer – crash aside, I need OWS practice before I race, so no more early season races for me.
In general, I feel really really lucky. This could have been a lot worse. Yes, I have moments of being annoyed by the situation, disappointed that I’m going to have to rebuild my fitness AGAIN (all I’ve been able to do since the race is walk and some lower body strength work), but I’m okay. Of all my limbs to injure, my left arm is probably best, since I’m right handed. I can still type (and am encouraged to to help keep my shoulder loose). It’s awkward and I still hurt, but my recovery is going to be easy compared to what it could be.
I have to say that one thing this made me realize is how amazing my friends are. Liz dropped everything to drive down to the hospital, sat there all day, talked to my surgeon, and stayed the night with me. Kim and Jon drove a stupid distance from their house on a Sunday to go retrieve my car from Fredericksburg. And so many others sent offers of help, meals, or well wishes. It definitely made me feel loved.