I remember the accident — vividly. From the sound of the truck slamming into my defenseless body to the thoughts racing through my head as I lay motionless on the sun-scorched pavement, I remember every single detail.
Hill repeats were my workout plan for the afternoon. At the top of the hill after my first climb, my muscles were already screaming in rebellion. I turned around and began coasting downhill. I contemplated whether or not I should finish the workout, even though I knew in the back of my mind I’d keep going. Really, I was making the pain worse by teasing myself with the idea of going home. Nevertheless, the downhill was a nice break.
“I closed my eyes and swerved, hoping for the best but bracing myself for the worst.”
I took advantage of riding on a quiet neighborhood road and soared down the hill but still paid attention to my surroundings. As I approached a side street on my right, I noticed a black car turning towards it, so I slowed down. I continued forward, now passing the sidestreet and I saw that there was another car with its blinker on; a shiny tan truck. Instead of stopping to give me the right of way that I had, the driver turned left, accelerating directly towards me. My heart started racing and my brain went into panic mode. “Oh no. He doesn’t see me.” I thought to myself. I needed to slow down so that I could make a sharp turn to avoid being hit. My hands squeezed the brakes as hard as they could, but unlike a car, a bike doesn’t stop nor slow down immediately, so I was still moving. Within the next few seconds, I had to decide whether to make the dangerous turn and fall off the bike, or continue straight and let the truck T-bone me. I closed my eyes and swerved, hoping for the best but bracing myself for the worst.
The truck slammed into the right side of my body. Before I even had time to process the collision, I was flying through the air — no longer clipped into my bike — until gravity forcefully yanked me back down to the road.
The wind was knocked out of me. I knew instantly that I had broken ribs. Later, I would find out that I also had spinal fractures, collapsed lungs, and a grade five liver laceration. I waited a few seconds for my breath to return, but it didn’t. I couldn’t scream, but I let out a moan of pain with the little bit of air that was left in my lungs. I opened my eyes to see legs running towards me.
“Are you okay? What do you need?” A woman’s voice shouted.
“Call 911,” I blurted, still gasping for air. Voices were shouting for cold water, but I was still able to hear one side of the 911 call.
“Ridgeview and Alpine Creek. Yes she’s conscious but saying she can’t breathe. A little blood. Okay”. The woman began feeling my body, checking for major breaks or gashes. Then she poured cold water over my body to cool me off from the hot pavement and to keep me awake. My forearms and quads sizzled as if they were being fried on a pan so I knew that’s where I was bleeding.
I still had not moved a muscle by the time the paramedics arrived. I couldn’t. I felt like a rag doll as they rolled me onto a gurney and lifted me into the ambulance. The lights and sirens turned on, and we sped to Renown hospital.
“It’s really bad. There is no other way to put it,”
During my first night, the trauma surgeon who was taking on my case came into my hospital room. “It’s really bad. There is no other way to put it,” he said and continued to explain my injuries. I was laying in bed wondering what my life would be like as a result of this accident.
“Despite all of these injuries, you will be able to have a full recovery — which is truly a miracle.” he continued. “Most people in an accident like that would have died on impact, and those who didn’t would have died on the way to the hospital. The road to a full recovery will be long, but you are young, strong, and healthy enough to take it.”
I went from being in the best shape of my life to not being able to take a single step. But I survived, and I was beyond grateful. I’d spend the next couple of months quite literally picking myself up and starting from square one.
At first, it was a little disheartening knowing that I needed help from other people and machines to do basic everyday things like getting out of bed, stand up, brush my hair, or go to the bathroom. I was so used to being strong and independent but now I felt so vulnerable and helpless. Standing was painful, but each time got a little bit easier. Some days were harder than others, and there were times where I dreaded just sitting up in bed. But on the day that I took my first few steps, I realized I was not vulnerable nor helpless. I may have lost a lot of physical strength, but I was still the same mentally strong Kate as I was before the accident. It was my mental strength that would bring back my physical strength. I slowly started to enjoy the challenge. How many steps could I take today? How many times can I get out of bed today? I could actually SEE and FEEL my progress. It was something as simple as walking three steps from my bed to a recliner, but I was excited! It was like learning a new skill, which I loved to do.
Over the course of the next five weeks, I would go back and forth between the intensive care unit and the general surgical unit because the doctors would find new problems with my injuries. It was a rollercoaster, but I learned to start appreciating and celebrating the little victories rather than worry about the future which I had limited control over. Instead of stressing about when I could start training again, I would bring myself back to the present moment and put all my energy towards walking an extra lap around the unit or spending an extra hour sitting upright in a chair.
“Although I feel like this now, it is not how I will always feel.”
I was excited when I could finally return home but part of me was scared, and even missed the hospital. I knew how the days would roll out in the hospital, I had constant care if I needed it, and I had even become great friends with the nurses and doctors there. At home, I had none of that, but I continued to use all the skills I’d learned from sports to progress forward. Recovery was my sport. Whenever I would have a hard or painful day, I would remind myself that “although I feel like this now, it is not how I will always feel.”
I was recently cleared to swim, bike, and run again and I could not be more grateful! But that does not mean my recovery is over. I still have a long way to go but I am so excited to see what I can do because I’ve learned that if I treat every challenge as an opportunity, my motivation to improve skyrockets.
You can work one-on-one with triathlon Pro Kate Rye on www.tagalong.pro