My alarm went off at 6 AM. I got out of bed, shook the sleep out of my head and walked into the living room. Laid out on the couch were my cycling bib, my water bottles, gels, sunglasses, running shoes, shorts, socks, compression sleeves and visor.
On the schedule this morning was a 3.5 hour bike ride followed immediately by a 45 minute run. My longest training session during the 12 week Half Ironman training plan I was currently on. My good friend, John, was set to arrive at 6:45 AM and we were planning on taking off at 7 AM sharp.
I filled up my water bottles, taped my gels to my bike frame, aired up my tires, and set up my run gear for 3.5 hours later. On the schedule for later in the day was a relaxing time with my girls and a trip to the ACU football game at 6 PM. Neither of those things ended up happening.
I was in the garage when John pulled up. I went in to tell Jenn goodbye and make sure she had her phone on. I also grabbed my heart rate monitor which I had forgotten to put on.
The garage shut behind us, the sun was about to peek its head over the horizon, John and I set off. It was a little after 7 AM.
I made a joke about crashing right when we took off. We both laughed.
It wasn't dark, but it wasn't fully light yet either. However, it would be in about 10 minutes. It was right in that gray area where some cars had their lights on and some didn't.
We turned on to Highway 351. Just another ride.
We began to pick up speed past Lowden street and the side entrance to Wal-Mart. Very few cars were on the road. I was riding along the outside stripe, John was on the inside. We were riding side-by-side, chatting.
I was in my aero bars and had just looked down at my speedometer. We were going 22 mph as we approached the main entrance to Wal-Mart (the same entrance where a motorcyclist had recently died).
I remember John saying "uh-oh". I remember seeing a car coming from the opposite direction turn left in front of us into Wal-Mart. I remember thinking there was no way I could avoid it. I remember being very scared.
I had a split second to try and hit my brakes. As I did, while trying to stop, I laid my bike down, going down on my right side...but I was too close to the car.
I hit hard on my right elbow as all 175 pounds of me and my bike skidded briefly along the rough pavement. My right shoulder blade down to my right hip bearing the cost of this burden, skin being ripped away as I headed for the inevitable.
I heard the noise. I didn't feel anything.
There was a moment of silence then. A brief moment in which my brain did a quick assessment of the situation. I was coherent. I was alive. All my limbs were intact.
I looked down at my leg. What I saw didn't seem to be my leg at all. It was something from a movie or a gross website with pictures of disgusting leg injuries. I see the fleshy, white, bloodless mass of what looks like a raw steak.
Somehow my bike frame was right beside me. I calmly opened my bike bag, grabbed my phone, and was on with 9-1-1 before John was able to reach my side - running back to me thinking the worst after hearing a horrifyingly loud impact. He was hoping it wasn't my head or back that had made that sound.
"I'm at the entrance to the north side Wal-Mart. I was on a bike. Hit by a car. I need an ambulance here immediately."
John showed up at my feet, and I gave him thumbs up. I told myself to try and be positive and stay calm. This is happening for a reason...and laid my head back down. All I could think about were my girls and my bike. I knew my girls were OK, asleep in their beds. I knew my bike was hurt bad, laying in pieces beside me.
The pain starts to set in now. Throbbing louder and heavier just above my left knee. It's good to ride with your orthopedic surgeon because he was able to tell me it was more than likely not a femur fracture, but we couldn't be sure.
Someone who had stopped to help said the words "compound fracture" and I about passed out.
My world brightened as I saw Jenn's face appear to my right. John had called her. It had been five minutes since I said goodbye to her..."Jenn, it's John, Mark has been hit by a car, he's going to be OK, meet us in the ER." On her way to the ER she saw the ambulance, fire trucks, two police cars, and a body laying on the highway. She stopped and ran to the scene.
With such a squeamish stomach I dared not look at my leg, so I would look at other people's reactions to looking at my leg. I wasn't getting good feedback.
Paramedics arrived, got all my information, secured my head and neck and loaded me up. I was shaking uncontrollably from the cold and maybe a little from the shock.
Arriving at the ER, John and Jenn quickly by my side and quickly administering my ever increasing requests for pain killers. That made it a little better, but I still didn't know if anything was broken.
X-rays were taken. No broken bones...really? How is that possible?
John cleaned my wound, stitched me up, and I headed home. I never do good with pain killers so I was queasy for about the next 36 hours.
It's taken about that long to try and figure out exactly what happened on impact. And to realize just how close I was to an even greater disaster.
There were some things that didn't make sense.
1. Scratches and swelling on the inside of my right knee - I had gone down on my right side. Any scratches should be on the outside of my right knee.
2. Tread marks on the compression sock on my right shin - the car had not stopped over me. It had hit and continued on. They only way tire marks could have been made were while the car was in motion.
3. My front wheel was structurally intact. My rim was torn, but the wheel itself was unbent - had the impact been taken by that wheel, it should have been damaged more, right?
So, after hours of deliberation and playing the scene over and over in my head (every time I shut my eyes), this is what we've put together.
Had the car vanished before impact, I still would have fallen. The bike was already laying down so the front tire had not made the initial impact. The front tire, had gone underneath the car.
I made impact with the lower, right, passenger door of the car. With the front tire underneath the car, the back right wheel crossed over my bike (which explains the two broken forks off the front of my bike) and over my right leg (explaining the tread marks). Had the bike not been in the perfect position over my leg, or had my leg been cleared of the bike, that car tire would have crushed my right knee and lower leg into a million pieces. I don't even want to think about what a recovery from that kind of injury would look like.
That also explains the scratches and bruises on the inside of my right knee. That must have been where the bike was pressed up against my leg when the car passed over.
That bike saved my leg.
It took a few days to figure out what caused the wound above my left knee. It wasn't until Gary at Biketown was looking the bike over for damage that he noticed a broken cable near the handlebars. Tracing the cable with his fingers up to the insertion point of the aero bar, his hand suddenly snapped back. He had just noticed what was accompanying the inserted cable on the bar...hair, skin, and what looked like a glob of lard.
So that's what had stopped my forward momentum. 22 miles an hour to zero miles an hour directly on my left quad into my handlebar....my big, round, blunt handlebar.
A severe injury for sure. But what if that force had hit about three inches lower...on my knee cap or lower leg bones? What if that force had hit my abdomen or head? What if the car involved had been something with more ground clearance and I had slid up to my abdomen or head and THAT's what had been run over? Scary to think about...
If you're going to get hit with that kind of pressure, there are really only two places you want to get hit: the rear-end or the quad.
Saying that is lucky isn't doing it any justice. That's not luck. That's providence.
I was literally about 2 inches away from having two completely shattered legs.
Instead, two days later, I'm able to hobble around my own house and think about going back to work in a day or two.
My losses include non-refundable race fees, damage to my sweet, precious, beautiful bike (don't talk about it, I'm veclempt), and hospital bills.
My gains include a really cool scar, some really gross pictures, and being able to say I didn't cry and scream like a child while laying on the highway thinking my femur was sticking out my leg.
While I'd like to recap those losses, they're a minor price to pay for what I ultimately COULD have lost on Saturday, September 24, 2011.
I know this incident happened for a reason. And while I didn't need any help remembering what was truly important in life (all I have to do is look at any of my three girls to do that), it sure doesn't hurt in helping me keep my priorities straight.
And it's like they say, there are two types of cyclists in the world: those who have crashed, and those who will.