07 September 2011

Gut check

Sometimes I let technology get the better of me. I'm pretty adamant that I don't use the phone while driving unless I've got my headset on; I don't take calls or text when I'm with other people unless I excuse myself; I don't whip it out at dinner just to check the weather.

There are times, though, when I flip through emails or Facebook before I go to bed. Last night was one of them, which is how I came across a link to the MTB Race News coverage of the SM100.

Remember that four-wheeler with Mike Simonson on a backboard?
Simonson, who has little memory of exactly what happened, claimed he washed out at high speed, going over the bars before colliding with a tree. Sven Baumann, who was not far behind Simonson was on the scene first and immediately stopped to offer assistance. What he found was shocking as Simonson was covered in blood, mainly resulting from a large gash on his neck caused by a stick or something that lodged in the strap of his helmet, slicing into his neck. Doctors later discovered that the deep cut was just one centimeter from severing his jugular vein. Simonson also suffered a cut to his forearm, nearly severing tendons that could have resulted in extensive surgery.

However, despite the remote location of the collision, Race Director, Chris Scott and Aid Station Captain, Christopher Hoy, were prepared with emergency procedures and an evacuation plan in place. Amateur Radio operators were also on hand to communicate with emergency personnel who airlifted Simonson to UVA Hospital in Charlottesville, about an hour from the crash site.

Fortunately, a team of specialists were able to stitch both wounds, however, the worst news for Simonson and his wife Michelle was yet to come. Michelle had volunteered to help out at aid station two which was also aid six. Upon hearing the news, and as her husband was being airlifted, she drove to Charlottesville only to learn that Michael had also suffered four fractured vertebrae in his neck.
It took me a long, long, long time to fall asleep last night.

I'm not sure why Mike's crash is bothering me so much. Crashes happen -- I know, I've had plenty -- and they're just a part of the fabric that is bike racing. Even the really, really bad ones are just part and parcel to going fast on two wheels.

I think maybe what it is, is twofold. First, I was there. I was going down that hill as fast as I possibly could, loving every minute of it, only to come around a corner and see the aftermath. Even while racing, it was a stark reminder to me of how much on the edge some of those descents can be.

Second, and I think this is the kicker: Mike could have died. One of the main reasons I stopped road and track racing was for exactly that reason -- fellow racers were dying, and it wasn't always their fault. At least on a mountain bike, I figure(d), if I crash, it's my doing, not someone else's. And although the consequences of crashing in the forest might be severe, at least I'll be around to talk about it tomorrow.

But after this, now I'm not so sure.

When I saw Mike there on Sunday, I didn't know who it was. I didn't know how severe were his injuries. But it could have been anyone, with any injury -- my thoughts immediately went to Kim, and Kate, and Squirt -- I knew, deep down, that it could have been me. Because I've been there. It has been me. And I'm pretty certain I don't want it to be me again.

I have some re-setting to do in the next couple of weeks. I need to get my legs back on straight. This week, and particularly this weekend, is going to be more emotionally charged than most -- and the perfect antidote is a long day in the woods on Sunday, forgetting everything and focusing on being alive. I think I may just let my wheels take me over to Pilot, and see how I feel -- especially after last weekend, that may just be the perfect benchmark for the last few weeks of the year, physically and mentally.

In the meantime, there was some good news for Mike. I wish him well, and I really hope to see him on the starting line next year:
It was a long two days and nights before doctors were able to assure her that the spinal injury would not require immediate surgery. Simonson’s fitness was noted by doctors as a benefit and his vitals remained strong. Doctors believed that the vertebrae, though cracked, would fuse and heal on their own over time although more x-rays and visits with doctors in Michigan will be required to ensure that they are healing properly.

NUE Series Director, Ryan O’Dell, "At the hospital, I visited Michael after he was moved from trauma to his own room. He was not allowed out of bed or even allowed to elevate more than twenty degrees to eat or drink. But, in a testament to his strength of will, rather than focusing on his injuries, Mike, the now leading contender for the 2012 NUE Series along with Josh Tostado (Bach Builders), was already looking forward, talking about his plans to get back on the trainer as soon as possible so he could begin recovery and preparations for the 2012 NUE race season!”


Carey said...

I leave my ego at home when I race. During crazy fast descents when I think I can go just a bit faster, I don't. Carly and Charlie keep me in check. Because, at the end of the day, the race is over ... but not your responsibilities as a wife and mother.

Marticus said...

You probably know this already, but as bad as this was for Mike, the worst thing you can do is let it get in your head if you want to keep racing. Caution is fine but trepidation on a descent can be more dangerous than just letting it all out.

As for Mike, here's hoping his plans to return are met way ahead of schedule and his injuries leave him with nothing more permanent than a good story!