Six Years Later

Next Sunday is the six-year mark of a horrible day. A day that is seared into my mind with unfortunately vivid detail, yet at the same time seems like a foggy, incomplete memory of another person’s, like something I might have simply read about in someone else’s blog, or seen in a movie. I wish I could forget the feeling of dread—the lead weight that fell to the pit of my stomach as I rode over the blood-soaked pavement, heart thudding in my chest as I wondered if it was my girlfriend who had shattered the driver’s side-window of the heavily dented red Fiat, which was pulled off in the grassy corner of Highway 36 and Hygiene Road.

A few panick-stricken minutes later, when I learned that the cyclist, who had been taken to the hospital a half hour earlier, was in fact Adelaide, I rushed toward the driver, red rage focusing on his ugly, pock-marked face—the face of worthless old drunk, or so I assumed (and still do). I wanted to beat him with my fists and cleated bike shoes until he too was “unrecognizable”—the word I created in my head moments before as the police officer hesitantly described the injuries caused to “the victim’s” face after she had gone through the driver’s side window head-first. As I screamed at the driver, who backed up behind his two friends, the police officer stepped forward, preparing to hold me back. Instead of striking Russell Rosh down, I turned and ran to my bike, which I’d left near the side of the road. Fortunately, despite my anger, I still had enough wits about me to realize that getting to the hospital was more important than enacting revenge. From the hesitant description of the crash provided by the police officer, there was a good chance Adelaide would up being dead when I reached Longmont United.

But she wasn’t dead, and I proposed to her that night, despite the fact that she was unconscious. The flesh from the bottom of her lip (including her nose) down to her collarbone had been torn away, and every bone on the left side of her face had been smashed more thoroughly than what could be done with a hammer. One of her surgeons used more than 700 stitches to sew her face back up, and another six hour surgery, performed days later, was required to pin together her splintered cheek bone, jaw, eye socket, and nose. Adelaide remained in a sedated coma for five days during this time, and I passed the endless hours in a state of shock—too dazed to make coherent decisions for myself, make food, or even go on easy runs or bike rides by myself.

Adelaide’s parents flew out from Pittsburgh and spent most of the early morning and day at the hospital in the visitor waiting room, and crying by her bedside. My dad flew out as well to keep an eye on me. How many parents-in-law meet in an ICU waiting room? I took the evening and night shift, often driving home at midnight, and once at 6 AM, to cry myself to sleep in an empty bed—empty save for our puppy Maybellene, who helped lick my tears away before I would inevitably fall into a nightmarish sleep, only to wake up to an even worse, and much more real, nightmare.

I got through those days from the support of my brother and his girlfriend Joslynn. From my dad, and mom—and Maybellene of course. From the support of Adelaide’s sister Lydia and her fiance Jeff, and Adelaide’s parents Kathleen and Raymond. From the hundreds of friends, extended family, ex-teammates, and strangers that sent food, donations, cards, and messages of support to Adelaide and myself.

Eventually, Adelaide woke up. 11 days after she was hit, she left the hospital. That’s when the real struggle began, the long-term pain and suffering that a lifetime of endurance sports had prepared me for. How long does it take for someone to recover from an event like this? A year? A decade? I don’t know. I assume fully recovery is impossible.

Bike riding was instantly ruined for me, and I quit bike racing—the singular passion I’d held for the previous decade—altogether later that year, for a variety of reasons. Bike riding was ruined for Adelaide as well, of course, and she still suffers from PTSD to this day. With time, we began the slow process of recovery, but for every step forward, there was a half step back. I struggled with rage against drivers when I rode, depression from the lack of fitness I’d suffered by not being able to train, and of course anxiety every time Adelaide went out for a ride (or every time I went out to ride, as this would inevitably set Adelaide into tears as I walked out the door). We saw a sports psychologist. We each saw a therapist. Adelaide saw multiple psychiatrists. We tried to move on with our lives through triathlon, but the PTSD, coupled with Adelaide’s previously diagnosed Bipolar II disorder, made life extremely difficult. I’ve since read that people with mental disorders typically suffer extreme PTSD after surviving traumatic events, though despite this, Adelaide never gave up bike riding.

In time, more healing happened, and all throughout this, Adelaide wrote. She wrote about the hospital and the leeches that were delicately applied to her lip to keep it from necrotising. She wrote about the traffic court case, in which the driver, Russell Rosh, was given a small fine and a handful of community service hours. She wrote about how, in mediation of the civil case, the insurance adjusters sitting in a room down the hall threatened to use our blogs and racing results (this was over a year after the crash) as proof of Adelaide’s full emotional and physical recovery in order to reduce the severity of her damages. She wrote about the support from thousands of people in the cycling community around the country, and world. She wrote about her time in the Coast Guard, growing up in Pittsburgh, and years later testifying in front of the Colorado state legislature in support of a vulnerable road user law. In fact, Adelaide only stopped writing this year, when her memoir Degloved: Every Scar Has a Story, finally got published, five years after starting it, and nearly six years after surviving that life-altering, and nearly life-ending, event.

Adelaide wasn’t a writer five years ago. I considered her to be slightly above average when she first started—when putting together coherent sentences, in which one thought led to another, and another, and another until it all ended up back at the beginning to form one fully complete idea—was next to impossible for her. Most people would have quit and tried to move one with their lives, but just like bike riding, Adelaide stuck with it and pumped out chapter after chapter, even after vowing off the project for months at a time. She worked with a writing coach off and on for years, and wrote and rewrote tens of thousands of words in order to get the story just right, all the while continuing to train, becoming a professional triathlete, and working at other various jobs along the way. One of the many themes in Degloved is perseverance. Ironically, the book itself is evidence of that trait. Perseverance: possibly the single most distinguishing trait of Adelaide’s, and the one I admire most.

If you know Adelaide or I, Degloved will be entertaining at the best, gut-wrenching at the worst. If you’re a cyclist, a victim of a bike or traffic collision of any type, someone who has been diagnosed with Bipolar, PTSD, or another mental disorder, or a survivor of a traumatic event, there will be plenty for you to relate with in Degloved, and hopefully something to take away. It’s a heartwarming story, a reminder to pay attention when you drive, and a reminder that virtually everyone carries some form of emotional trauma with them—some carry it on their sleeve, others buried deep inside—but understanding and addressing another’s anguish, when they share it, helps bring us all closer together.

Degloved: Every Scar Has a Story is available online at Bookshop, Amazon, and a select few local bookstores.