Monday, June 6, 2016

The Crash

This is a part of a larger piece that I have been working on regarding my crash last year, the days following, and then the recovery and healing process. It is still on going, one year after the crash that ended my career. This isn’t something that I had previously talked about much, or made very public and maybe I should have. Maybe I should have had a very public documentation of my recovery process but that was just too egocentric for me. My problems are not necessarily other people’s problems and it’s not my personality to share that much with the public. I’m sharing this now– perhaps it’s irrelevant at this point- to put into words my experiences through this whole process. If my story can bring some light to the issue of head injuries in sports, that will be fantastic. Maybe it will help someone going through what I did, maybe not. It has been helpful to me to write about what happened, and what is still happening to me as a result of this accident.

... Knowing that any day on the bike could be my last, I didn't recognize it when it came. It was the first World Cup of the season, I'd had an okay race the day before, and we were setting up for that day's road race. What was different about it was the course was easy- a flat triangle with no "selections" or places to shed weaker riders from the bunch, theoretically making it safer for the faster riders to navigate the course. This, coupled with the organizers starting all classifications together (think pro-1-5 domestic race) due to low race attendance was a recipe for trouble. The combination made for weaker riders hanging in, due to the lack of course selections, and being in over their head, unable to think or react at their best. Every rider has been there- clinging in the bunch by a miracle, just hoping to make it a bit further before being dropped- it's a part of the growing process. One thing I did wrong that day was being near riders who were in over their heads. What should have been a micro adjustment from a rider turned into a swerve by another, which turned into locked bars with me and a crash. Fortunately for the bunch, it was only myself and one other rider who went down. Unfortunately for me, I wound up doing a quasi Fosburry flop onto the pavement, burning the skin off my upper back, and my head whipping back onto the pavement. Maybe I briefly lost consciousness, many be I didn't, but recall doing a mental check of my systems. The wind was knocked out of me; I could move my feet, legs, and arms; my teeth and tongue were intact; and my head felt like it'd been run over by the follow vehicle. A string of profanities flowed from my intact mouth as I struggled to sit up and orient myself. I knew I'd crashed in a race. I knew I was in the road. I knew the race's medical staff was trying to help me. I knew I needed to find my bike- it had landed over the guard rail in the bean field. A volunteer had it and was walking away with it. Weird. Didn't they know I had a race to get back to? They were trying to help me, trying to talk to me and I yelled at them. I shouted at them and took my bike back. Who were they to try to stop me from racing? I took my bike back and was going to finish the stupid race and prove to them that I was fine. I started riding again and a wave of nausea washed over me; and it was hard to keep the bike upright. I continued on. After only a kilometer or two I came through the feed zone and shook my head and said "no" to our coach who was holding a bottle out for me. I didn't want it and was just going to keep going. He didn't move the bottle and it hit me in the head, this time the front of my head. I don't know how I didn't fall again with another crushing wave of pain and nausea encompassing me. Luck? Sure, let's go with that. It went on like that for the remaining 40kms of the race, fortunately without any further hits to my head. Eating and drinking calories were a priority because I knew my body would shut down with out them. It felt like my shoulder blades and ribs were broken from the impact; like my skin had been burned from my body from the road friction. This was the first time wearing our new road race kit and I destroyed mine, damn. Spraying water on my back in an attempt to rinse the grit out and prevent the remaining shreds of fabric from drying in the blood brought tears to my eyes. And still, I continued riding. Team coaches and staff were relaying splits to the closest riders in an attempt to motivate me to catch them, and potentially help my teammates further up the road. Like the robot I'd been trained to be, I tried. I gave it everything I had to catch my teammate and help her and couldn't get there.

I crossed the finish alone. I stopped, alone. It was a Canadian coach who came to me first. I knew him, he was nice. He helped me get off my bike and gave me water before helping me out of my shredded skin suit top, then over to the medical tent. There, alone with the medics, they cleaned my road rash with liquid fire. Dizziness filled my head as the blood rushed out of it. Repeating "my head, I hit my head, my head hurts, you need to look at my head" but not clearly or loudly enough. They sent me on my way. Unable to navigate across an open town square, a teammate came out to meet me, the one I'd been trying to help. She guided me back to the team area and helped me find my bag. Before helping me change into civilian clothes, I sat with a friend who was talking to me about something, I don’t know, but I remember him having pizza, and he offered me a bite. Unable to sit up properly on my own, or speak coherently, or do any number of things myself, these two friends insisted I go back to the medical tent and get checked out again, more thoroughly, and demanded I go to the hospital.

In the med tent was the other rider who crashed- a teammate- and she was being sent to the hospital for stitches. She went on the gurney and I sat in a seat on the side of the ambulance. Once there, the other rider was immediately taken in for treatment and I was shown to the waiting room where a team swanny found me and helped translate- into Italian- to the receptionist what happened. We waited for what seemed like a long time before going back into an exam room. My road rash was cleaned, again, x-rays were shot of my back and arm, and I reiterated to the doctor and nurses that it was my head that was hurting, that my head was what needed the attention- the road rash could wait, it had already been cleaned multiple times. They finally agreed that I had a concussion and that I was displaying very common/classic signs of a head injury- exactly what I had been mumbling! From there, they kind of just wanted me to leave; no CT, MRI, or other scan. I remember having to ask for a CT scan, and insisting that it was worth waiting the hour they said it would take to get the on-call tech to come in on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t going to leave the hospital without one. I’d find my own way back to the hotel if need be- I wasn’t going back without getting my head scanned and cleared of a bleed. This stands out as something, now, that seems like such an obvious thing to do and I still don’t fully understand why there would have been any contention of it.

Once cleared and released from the hospital, the three of us made our way back to the hotel where things were definitely a blur. My roommate was the same teammate who helped me back to the tent and I will be forever grateful for her help, not only after the crash but in the days immediately following the crash. The team had no trained medical staff on the trip. There were two swannies but their expertise was massage, not actual medical treatment. I don’t fault the swannies at all, they did the best they could to help me. I did not get the medical treatment or support that I needed in those days following the crash because we didn’t have anyone with the team. Without my roommate in Italy, and my boyfriend and coach in the States who worked to get in contact with former team contracted medical staff, I would have been so much worse off. They gave advice on treatment and concussion protocol, then helped figure out how to get my hospital test results sent stateside to be reviewed, and then, when cleared, to get me home. The day following my crash, I was told to take the next few days easy before going on to Switzerland for the next World Cup that weekend; that results wouldn’t be as important had I not crashed. Even in my altered state, I remember thinking that that was ridiculous. I could barely walk for dizziness, was unable to eat for nausea, and could hardly open my eyes because the light caused searing pain in my eyes and brain. My first priority was being able to walk to the bathroom on my own let alone racing my bike.

After a few days of people working on my behalf, I was cleared for travel and could go home. A teammate- who had only been slated to race the first world cup- would travel most of the way home with me before I took the last leg to Maryland on my own. Clark and his family met me at the airport to help me with my bikes and luggage and take me home...

This is where I will stop my story for the time being. There is so much more to be shared and it is the start of the recovery process from the crash itself. Thanks for reading, there is more to come.


  1. Wow Greta, thanks for sharing your story. I'm so sorry this happened to you, and of course I remember it happening. It seems like steam staff person should have been there for you right away, taking you to the medical tent, asking the right questions, making sure you were being properly cared for. I hope you have healed well, or are continuing to heal. Thank god you're ok,and I'm happy for you in your new career!

  2. Greta,
    I had no idea how you were injured. Thank you for sharing your story. I've been a fan since that day we sat together in the Velodrome in 2004, and I still am. So impressed with your grit and that you finished the race.