One afternoon I had a couple hours to get in a ride. My bike seemed a bit beat up so I stopped by a local bike shop, Focus, to get some repairs done.
While there, I began chit-chatting with the owner of the shop. One conversation led to another and somehow the next thing I knew he was telling me about a local stud cyclist, Heidi Clayton, who had recently been hit by a car while cycling and had broken her back. My eyes grew wide like saucers. “How is she?!”, was my first obvious question. Instantly I was connected.
He ran down the current situation: she had just been released from the hospital having had her back fused. Physically she was ‘ok’ but mentally this had put her through the wringer. (Poor thing.) Apparently she was doing a lot of the understandable “why me?” stuff.
Without any hesitation, I asked if it would be ok for me to visit her. The owner’s mouth dropped and said how kind that was, and he’d get me in touch with needed people. I gave him all my contact information and left the store in some pretty heavy thought.
Quickly my mind went back to my own accident in 2007, my own broken back, broken wrists, broken ribs, head injury – but more important, the people who rushed by my side. They say in hard times you really learn who your friends are. I believe this is true.
Normally the first thing I do when I am in the car is crank up the radio. But on this day, I drove in silence, reliving the images in my head of those who helped me:
- I thought of Pam Stone who had tried to set up a daily maid service for me. Even though I wouldn’t let her, she tried valiantly.
- I thought of Heidi Phillips, on her hands and knees by my bedside, scrubbing away at the carpet stains from my puke that had dried there days earlier.
- I thought of Heather Gollnick who sponge bathed me more effectively than I think I have ever cleaned myself (who knew you could get to THOSE places?).
- I thought of Dana Henry who drove me to every orthopedic surgeon/doctor appointment I had, and who lovingly held my trembling hand as an 11-inch needle was injected into my spinal cord.
- I thought of JZ, who spoon fed me dinner when I was too broken to even feed myself.
- I thought of Lee and Amy Amlicke who visited me and cared about me while I was bedridden, and they tried to help relieve my boredom.
- I thought of Kellye Mills who brought me dinner and a bottle of wine (why not mix with Oxycontin? God love her!) immediately.
- I thought of Tony Myers who organized a spinathon for me at ATS, where tons of people signed cards for me and sent such loving notes.
- I thought of Brent Johnston and Brian Rell who became fierce older brothers and protected me from the mean spirited people. To my horror, there were many.
- I thought of the kind stranger who sat next to me on the plane as my mummy-wrapped body was transported on and off the plane after the accident; he helped carry my bags, bought me lunch without me knowing it, and later hunted me down and sent me a get well card to Georgia.
- I thought of Karen O'Riordan who sat with me for hours at the Kona Hospital, even though she was racing in 2 days, and who contacted friends and family on my behalf.
So here I am , three (3) years later. Sometimes, really tough situations can change you in good ways if you let them. I’d like to think my accident, and the things I learned about myself and others as a result, has made me a better person. Tough times teach you more than easier times ever will. Tough times reveal character, I think. I hope I have become a more compassionate person, a less judgmental person, and more charitable. I believe I have. I'm DEFINITELY a very good prescription drug addict.
So in this moment in my car, as I thought of those who had so selflessly helped me, I was completely drawn to making sure I gave back. There is no way I’d ever be able to repay those who helped me. I never will. The only way I can pay them back is to pay it forward – help someone else. I couldn’t wait to meet Heidi and do whatever I could to try and help her – whatever that would be.
The following day a friend of hers called me and let me know that Heidi really appreciated that I wanted to see her. He told me she hadn’t really wanted to see many people, but knowing what I had been though, that I would understand, she perked up and really wanted to meet me. That made me feel good. I knew she and I would connect.
Heidi had just gotten out of the hospital after recent surgery to fuse her spine. Ugg. The poor thing.
The second I met her… a tall, pretty thing with a pink back brace cradling her core, we immediately hugged as though we already knew each other. In many ways, we did.
We talked extensively about her accident and her impending rehab - the car literally ran her over. To say she is lucky to be alive is not an overstatement. I shared some of my stories to try to comfort her and help her to feel somewhat understood with her physical limitations and impending journey. She didn't cry much but when she did I instinctively grabbed her hand and met her eyeball to eyeball. I was going to be right by her side for that. To cry alone, no one who "gets you" - there's a loneliness to that. My girl wasn't going to feel that if I could help it.
As we talked, she continued to have a revolving door of well wishers bringing her needed items and checking on her. I was so happy to see that – and it reminded me of the familiar theme: in tough times people will show their true colors, and you will know who your friends are. Heidi and I talked about that very thing. She commented how overwhelmed she was by how much people cared and were doing for her, and how saddened she was by some others who she thought were friends.
We talked about her prognosis. Funny, the doctors told her she’d never bike again. As I watched her already hobbling around her house, grimacing with every movement, I observed that toughness of spirit we athletes have. No way this chick was going to sit idly by and let life pass. I smiled as I said to her, “You know by telling you that you’d never bike again, he pretty much ensured you will be right back out there”…. Heidi smiled and I saw her spirit come alive, “Absolutely”.
Wishing my new, sweet, tough friend, Heidi, a speedy recovery, a spirit that can find some peace, and a heart full of love for the people she knows really love her right back.
Heidi, go kick ass, girl! I’ll be the first one cheering for you!