A lot of things run through your mind while you’re hurdling towards the ground at a modest velocity: where will I land? How will I land? Will I break anything? How would I get home? Will my dog keep the coyotes at bay? Did I leave the iron on? The list goes on. I was out on what should have been a simple 3 mile run on the Old Fort Ord. The weather was good; I had Kit, my trusty German shepherd, with me, and I was in a generally good mood. What could possibly go wrong?
Somewhere just shy of the first mile on an open stretch of path, my foot caught a rock or a root and the next thing I knew, I launched into the air. Time seemed to stand still as I had flashbacks to not one but two falls and how those events changed my life forever.
Once upon a time, I was a strong, quick, solid runner. I ran sub-70 minute 10 milers, sub 1:40 half marathons, and did the Big Sur Marathon in 3:24.
I raced sprint triathlons and was training for my first century ride. Occasionally I won smaller races or finished in the top 5. My racing season stretched from March until October over the years. Then we moved to Japan and I traded the dirt trails for concrete ones which make up much of the densely populated islands.
On the morning of the 30th of July 2015, I was walking Kit about a quarter mile from our house towards a series of open fields near our townhouse on the US Naval Base on Yokosuka. The fields allowed me to run her a bit while watching a steady stream of ships transit Tokyo Bay. It was a beautiful balmy warm sunny summer day. But we never made it to the fields. About 200m from the gated entrance, a cyclist came up behind us and startled Kit. She being a loyal (and slightly neurotic) German shepherd and always protective, lunged towards the cyclist. I managed to keep Kit from reaching the cyclist but lost my balance in the process coming down hard on my left arm. Hitting the concrete the pain was instantaneous, like a great shock from my fingers up my arm. Fortunately, with my good arm I still held Kit, still eager to try for the biker. I got up, could see that I was bleeding somewhat onto my running shoes, and calmly turned Kit around to walk home. Having been in stressful situations before, I knew that staying calm would be the best thing to do. When I got home, I told my wife to get the car ready to take me to the emergency room; I was certain my wrist was broken. A little over twelve hours later I returned home, pins in my wrist and a cast the size of California extending from my fingers to my shoulder.
No longer in one piece I took a respite from my passions to recover and celebrated my 40th birthday a few weeks later. Breaks like this people say are good for the soul: to reflect, renew, and re-energize. I still hoped I might heal quick enough to undertake the century ride in late September. It could happen, right?
Not even close.
Four weeks later my hope of a speedy recovery and nearly all racing came to an abrupt stop. I was walking Kit again (yes, this is a trend) with my California-sized cast. We attempted to jog across a street when somehow I tripped or lost my balance. Whatever the case—it happened too quickly—I found myself rapidly approaching the concrete again. I managed to turn my body just enough to protect my cast, and hit the ground on my right side with a thud. Kit was still on the leash in my hand as I apprised the situation: nothing seem to hurt, I was on the ground, Kit still by my side; things seemed good. I got up, and then it happened: the collapse. My right knee gave out and I fell onto the hard pavement with a surge of pain unlike any I have ever experienced running through my right leg. I screamed. If there was ever a silver lining, it was that I had managed to break myself in front of the Yokosuka Fire Station. I quickly spied one of the firemen and called to him for assistance. He tried to come close, but Kit, ever the protective shepherd refused to let him aid me. I made up my mind—I had to let Kit go from her leash if I was going to get help. I unhooked her leash and she ran off towards our house, less than a quarter mile away. A neighbor found her a while later sitting patiently on the front door step. Meanwhile the fireman, now with several others, came to my aid. While I’ll spare you the details of the next few hours at the emergency room, the result was a shattered knee cap. A week later the same orthopedic surgeon who repaired my wrist put the pieces of my knee back together. In the span of 4 weeks I had managed to break myself nearly irrevocably.
In the following weeks and months the amount of support I received from my wife and our neighbors was nothing short of amazing. My wife demonstrated that she was a true superhero managing impossible tasks of a challenging command, our one year old daughter, our wily German Shepherd, and of course my broken self. I don’t know how she did it, but I will always be grateful. We had only been in Yokosuka for 6 weeks when I broke my wrist, but our immediate neighbors in what we called the “Gridley Jungle” poured out so much support. The other spouses in our Jungle will forever be some of my closest friends for their outpouring of care and support during these dark days. I will always be in their debt. Now I was a Navy spouse in Japan—I had left the active duty Army for the Army Reserves earlier that year to be a stay at home “trophy husband.” Well I’m here to tell you, being a trophy husband is a lot tougher—and more painful—than it looks.
As the weeks passed, this trophy husband started physical therapy. Because I am somewhat of a glutton for punishment I went through two hours of therapy a day: one for my wrist, another for my knee. Afterwards I slumped home to my couch and contemplated the future. One particularly dreary day I remember asking my doctor when he thought I’d run again. His response: “I wouldn’t get your hopes up that you’ll ever run again.” Then and there, however, my mind was made up: I would run (and race) again.
My wife will tell you that I am stubborn…and I know it. Slowly and methodically, I started getting back on my feet. I traded a walker for a slow walk with a knee brace. And while the amount of bend in my knee didn’t meet my doctor’s expectations, I didn’t let it stop me. When my physical therapy ended in January, I found the courage to get back into the pool and attempt to swim. By March 2016 I was doing elliptical machine and working my way up to a quarter mile trot on the treadmill. Slowly the bend in my knee came. Then in April, in what I can only call the worst mile I’ve ever run, I completed a mile on the treadmill. I nearly fell off of it in celebration! Cycling was a problem though: I still couldn’t get enough bend in my knee to complete a full revolution on the pedals. I kept working on it. Meanwhile I focused on running and swimming as much as I could. I worked up from 1 to 3 miles. My knee held. I managed to get some exercises in to strengthen the muscles around the knee. Eventually the weeks turned into months, and before I knew it, a year had past. In late July of 2016, I was able to take and pass the Army’s physical fitness test: 2 minutes of pushups and sit-ups, and a 2-mile run. And while I didn’t max the run, I passed it. I have never been so happy to finish that run. Finally, in April 2017 after 21 months off my bike I got back on and rode through the countryside of the Miura peninsula.
Now we are back in Monterey and I felt it was time to start writing about those hobbies and passions I enjoy most: running, cycling, beer, and wine. I also decided that it was time to race again. In October we ran our first 10km road race as a family at the 6th Annual Fort Ord Remember the Fallen race.
And while I didn’t PR, pushing my daughter in her stroller over 10 km made me feel like a champion. I’m still hungry though. My passion for trail racing and triathlons beckons me to compete again soon: next May I signed up for the Wildflower Olympic Distance triathlon. While this will be my first Olympic distance triathlon, I’m hungry to train and take it on. There’s also a 25km trail race in my backyard at Fort Ord in early February. I’ll sign up for that too. If for no other reason than those are my trails out there; I can’t think of anywhere else I’d like to get my feet dirty racing again.
Meanwhile back at Ord, time slowed as I neared the earth with these memories. I hit hard and didn’t move. I was nearly in a panic: what was broken this time? I took a deep breath. I slowly got up. I bent my knees. I moved my arms and hands. Everything was where it was supposed to be, and working; minus a quarter size scrape above my right knee. I started to walk a bit. I caught my breath. I lifted one foot up, then the other, and repeated. I started to trot, and then finally found my run again. It wasn’t pretty but I finished those 3 miles. When she got home from day care, my three year old awarded me a “Frozen” band aid and reminded me to change it out every day for the next two weeks. She’s also stubborn sometimes.
As I write this and reminisce this holiday season, I have but one beer to recommend: Troegs Mad Elf from Hershey, Pennsylvania. Troegs has a great selection of beers year round, but only during the holiday season can you get their Mad Elf. At 11% abv it’s a heavier ale full of robust flavor, spices and fruits that pack a real punch. This little guy is my favorite holiday beer hands down. This is exactly the beer you want to help you on Christmas eve trying to wrap last minute gifts or joining you in front of the fireplace. You won’t regret having this little Santa’s helper with you during the holiday season! Have a merry Christmas & happy new years as I raise my glass to you! See you on the trails!