July 1, 2012

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The Day I Almost Died (Part 2)

truck grill

My first brush with death was a very close call at the age of five. My second came about ten years later due to a little bit of absent mindedness on my part and a ton of careless stupidity of another. I write about these moments because in retrospect, there are things I’ve learned from painful experiences. And transcending those experiences is a big part of being successful in life. Shit happens. You work through it and move on—or it will define you. I used to let my misfortune define me. Not so much anymore.

I am seventeen years old and I am invincible. At least, that’s what I thought. I was a runner. Not a particularly gifted runner, but I earned every milestone in my growth as an athlete. At this point of the year I’m preparing for my final track and field season in high school. I was talking with several Division 2 and 3 schools about running for them and possibly walking on at an in-state Division 1 program. It was important to me. I wanted to continue to compete. I still felt I could be great. Running was part of my identity.

It was a biting cold, but sunny day. I was running at a pretty good pace. Headphones on because the music makes me go faster. Hood on because it’s cold as sin. Everything was going great. I was just about back to the beginning of a 4 mile loop when I came up to a 4 way intersection that I’d been through a hundred times. The light was red. I looked right. Cars were going by. I looked left. No cars in sight. I stopped to stretch against the pole. Jumped up and down to keep warm. Impatiently waiting for the light to turn. I look up and see my light turn green. Into the intersection I go. I made it less than three steps.

Witnesses say I went up onto the hood of the truck that hit me. I still find that hard to believe for reasons that will become apparent. I only remember visual snapshots of the actual incident. Like stills of a movie shoot. I remember the front grill. I remember seeing the axle beneath the truck. I remember seeing a tire as it rolled over me. Next thing I know, I’m on the ground and looking up at the sky. I looked down at my leg. It is beat to hell. The skin is split open right down to my kneecap. It looks horrible. The first thought that went through my head: My running career is over. I knew it instantly, with absolute certainty. My second and all subsequent thoughts were about pain.

Turns out Mr. Genius was taking a right turn on a red light and was looking back at oncoming traffic trying to beat it so he never saw me (or apparently me as a human hood ornament) when he ran over me. And yes, he ran over me completely, even dragging me for a few feet. In his deposition, he said that he only saw me when he looked in his rear view mirror. He thought he had hit a piece of snow. He never did get a ticket and I could never prove he didn’t stop at that light. Sometimes people don’t fully pay for their actions.

I had a fairly lengthy recovery. 1 concussion, 2 full surgeries, 3 replaced ligaments, 50% less cartalidge and 9 months of physical therapy later, I was a walking, functioning human being. My running career was over. My senior year of high school was dramatically altered and my ultimate choice of college was completely different. That day changed me as a person, and the direction of my life forever.

Looking back 20 years, I now realize how lucky I was. Lucky that I didn’t die. Lucky that if I was going to be run over by an idiot, it least it was an idiot who drove a jacked up pickup truck with big tires that allow for easy pedestrian mowing. Lucky that the surgeons and therapists who helped put me back together were on the top of their game. Lucky that their work on me has stood the test of time.

I’ve made many milestones since that day. Most I thought I’d never be able to do. A triathlon. A 50 mile, 5 day camp and hike. A half-ironman. I’ve walked and limped my way to the finish on almost all of them. But I finished. And that’s probably the point. That, and look both ways before you cross the street.

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