From the Grave to the Podium

Photo by Pete Miner
"I can't find a pulse," said the nurse who was pinching my right wrist. My ghost white body lay unmoving in the Millenium Medical facility. My eyes were closed and blood pooled under the heal of my left foot. My 2nd Cyclocross race was only 11 days away but I was starting to doubt that I would make it. I was having a little struggle with mortality but, as Billy Crystal's character in The Princess Bride said, I was only mostly dead. A Doctors voice urged from my left, "Come back to us son, open your eyes." They slowly opened to the light. "You're gonna be okay." I was surrounded by people and they sounded very worried so I tried to reassure them with weak words, "I'm here. I'm alright."

"What is his blood pressure?" The Doctor was holding my hand while giving directions. "60 over 30." He nodded, "Let's get him some oxygen." Plastic tubes slid into my nose followed by a soothing pulse of cool air that filled my lungs. "You're doing okay." He continued to watch my pupils. Luckily he knew exactly what had happened. "You had a Vasovagel episode. It's not uncommon. It's a nerve that causes you to lose consciousness and slows your heart." He looked back at the nurse, "How's he doing?" I could feel the tightening of my right bicep, "He's 70 over 40." He nodded, "That's good. He's coming back." He smiled down at me, "You're gonna be just fine."

The Doctor explained that the episode was likely caused by the trauma of the foot surgery they had been conducting a moment earlier. Let me rewind a little so you know how we got here. On Sunday, July 20th, 2014 I stepped on a splinter. Yes, a splinter caused all this trouble! Apparently I don't have manly feet. They are smooth and fragile because that thing stabbed deep into my flesh and broke off. Initially a Vet friend cleaned the wound but I had to wait until the infection and swelling went down before determining if there was more under the skin.

In the meantime I was not going to ditch Cyclocross training while waiting for a proper appointment. During that time I biked over 500 miles, performed 25 hours of strength training and competed in 2 races, including my first cyclocross race. I have heard stories of athletes overcoming nagging injuries to do what they love but this is the first time I had ever been in such a position. Besides, I felt silly telling people that I was taken down by a splinter.

I had signed up for healthcare via the affordable care act earlier in the year but had yet to use it. The foot appeared to be healing but the bleeding and puss weren't going away. Finally, I cleared a day to get myself an appointment for what was bound to be a painful surgery. On Oct 7th I limped into the walk-in clinic. The doctor took one look at my foot and immediately moved me to another room for surgery. That shard had to come out.

They don't normally do procedures like this at such a small office but they made an exception. The Doctor was confident he could remove it. I encouraged him to cut me open and get it over with. After a Tetanus shot, followed by deep tissue pokes of Lidocaine, the foot had been numbed and they started to slice. That's when the Vasovagel nerve kicked in. My body overheated and my blood pressure dropped to nothing. After they revived me the shard was removed. Apparently it was very deep, nearly touching a bone. It had been in my foot for 79 days.

After the drama of the operation was over, I returned home on a pair of crutches. My foot was throbbing. The doctor said it would take 10 to 14 days for the incision to fully heal but my race was 11 days away. I immediately started making alternate plans. However, part of me remained stubborn. Athletes tend to heal faster than sedentary people. After all, they do spend most days breaking down their muscles, only to have them heal so they can break them down again. Eventually the human body adapts to such stresses by speeding up the recovery process. Fingers crossed.

After a good night's sleep I awoke with a little more energy. In fact, I got up from bed and started limping around without the crutches. That was my only rest day. 2 days after surgery I was back in the gym lifting weights. 3 days after surgery I was back on the bike. 6 days after surgery I completed a 33 mile road ride. 8 days after the surgery the Doctor took another look and said the wound was healed. That confirmed my ambitions. The race was back on!

Wicked Awesome Racing #2 was held at John S. Burks Memorial park in Dade City, Florida. It was a twisty grass course with switchbacks galore, just my kind of challenge. On the pre-ride I got a good feel for the possibilities. My lower gear was working well and my foot felt great. I gathered at the line with the other racers eager to blast off.

At 5:30pm, long after the other races were over, the singlespeed riders (Men and Women) plus the mountain bikers all started at the same time. There was a street based holeshot up a slight hill then three sharp turns into an off camber stretch. I stayed with the lead pack while taking note of who was in front of me. Pro wunderkind Ryan Woodall led the pack with Pete Miner and a couple MTBers in the flow. That put me in third position but I knew there were others right on my tail.

Ryan Woodall has been dominating Singlespeed this year
Adrenaline can do amazing things. I was burning through the first lap pulling moves that I was unable to do in practice. I even made a pass on Pete putting myself in second very briefly before he passed me back and shut that door. I checked over my shoulder to see that I had a gap on John LaManna but as we went into the 2nd lap, he was slowly gaining. I had raced John previously and knew how persistent he could be. This was gonna be close.

Every time I checked John had gotten a little bit closer. It was only halfway through the 2nd lap that he rolled right past me. Now I was trying to hold his wheel. As we jumped the uphill barriers, charged the rolling hills and pushed our bikes through the same dirt, he kept his lead. John was showing amazing resilience and with my lungs burning I was starting to worry that I might not catch him. That's when it happened. On course was a very awkward off camber switchback that had been beaten into a dirt trap. John took the corner carefully but it wasn't enough, he fell over. The MTBer and I both passed by and charged on, there were still 2 laps to go.

Seventy nine days of agitation did something strange to me, it made me way more comfortable with discomfort. Compared to being stabbed by wood and needles, the pain of this race was nothing! I fully expected John to come racing back after me so I never took my foot off the pedal. That seemed to do the trick. For four exhausting laps I gave everything I had, making that finish line all the sweeter. After a summer full of doubts and a surgery that brought me close to the edge, I was ecstatic to know there was a place for me on the podium. What an Awesome sport!

1. Ryan Woodall
2. Pete Miner
3. Alex Hutchinson

Be sure to check out my pictures at the link below:

Wicked Awesome Racing #2, Day 1 Photos


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