Photo by Leonardo Carrizo

Iron Woman

All of my hard work, perseverance and effort came down to one day: November 16, 2014 – Ironman Arizona (IMAZ).

I first dove into the triathlon world about three years prior, and since have completed numerous races including my first Ironman in Louisville, Ky., in 2012. It was a challenging year for me, but I put my sights on IMAZ as being my “brave” ending to a difficult 2014. I worked hard for race day and was ready, physically and mentally. As I arrived in Arizona a few days before the race, I was surprised at how I felt: no anxiety or stress … I was calm and excited for the day I had craved for so long.

Fast forward to race morning: my family and my coach, Carrie McCoy, gathered with me at the beginning of the 2.4-mile swim. After jumping in the water, the race began and we were off! This portion was challenging, but overall I was proud of my finish when I exited the water. Next up was the 112-mile bike course.

It was around mile 20 that I started down a steep hill and the 40 mph wind was at my back, which pushed me faster. At some point on that descent, the wind caught my wheel at a strange angle and I crashed. Hard.

It was then that my dream ended quickly. I broke my right clavicle in two places, fractured seven ribs, fractured my skull and had bleeding in my brain, while also suffering an overall beating from the road. I lost consciousness and didn’t wake up for another 24-36 hours.

Having bravery doesn’t mean fear is absent, but it DOES mean we move forward anyway, knowing that we CAN handle whatever happens.

Waking up in the ICU of Scottsdale Hospital was surreal. I had no memory of anything that had happened, from the helicopter ride to the hospital to X-rays and CT scans. The neurosurgeon told my family that first night – the night I should have been crossing the Ironman Arizona finish line – that there was a 50-50 chance I might not make it to the next morning.

Hurting and unable to do much without help from a nurse, I wobbled between being grateful for surviving a crash, which nearly killed me, and also being tremendously sad that this was my finish line. I didn’t get to finish and celebrate. It was a mixed feeling of amazed joy and incredible despair.

The next two weeks included a plethora of physical, speech and occupational therapies, and nurses changing road-rash bandages and supervising showers when I couldn’t lift my arm to even shampoo my own hair. I was a woman who had previously felt so strong, and I never felt more handicapped in my life. As the weeks continued, I gained strength and showed enough progress in my therapies that I actually was discharged from the hospital earlier than anticipated. Miraculously, I made it back to Columbus just in time for Christmas.

Since I’ve been home, it’s been a challenging time in my life. I’m not the same person I was before the Ironman; there’s a lot of recovery, physical and cognitive, that still requires my effort and dedicated attention. Yet, my emotional life has deepened. I consistently view life as a gift, and my heart explodes with gratitude like I’ve never experienced before. I approach my own life with a sense of meaning, and my soul is pulled harder toward something I’d already been pondering for a while … I want to coach athletes to their own finish lines. Bravery was my overall personal theme for 2014, and now it has become my mantra for life and coaching. Having bravery doesn’t mean fear is absent, but it DOES mean we move forward anyway, knowing that we CAN handle whatever happens, and fear does not cripple our belief in ourselves.

This year brings with it the beginning of Pure Bravery, my own personal coaching business. It brings my ongoing recovery and patience to get back to the strong athletic place I once knew so intimately. It brings the start of a memoir. It brings a sense of overwhelming love to the family, friends and professionals who have consistently been in my corner during the darkest part of my life; and maybe best of all it brings gratitude for being alive … a gift that never dies.