Monday, June 27, 2011

A Year Ago

Get the popcorn and a drink.  This is going to be a long one. 

One year ago today was quite possibly the worst day of my life.  Maybe the days that followed were worse, but this was definitely the worst time of my life.  No doubt about it. 

It all started, oh I’m not even sure when, maybe it was 2006, I think it was anyway.  George wanted to ride 100 miles on a bike.  He registered for the Pittsburgh Tour de Cure.  The Tour de Cure is a charity ride in support of putting a stop to diabetes, but to be honest this ride wasn’t really about the charity for George, it was about riding 100 miles.  He finished that ride, but it wasn’t pretty.  He struggled mentally and physically and he did it all alone!  I honestly don’t know how he did it without anyone else’s support.  I probably would have pulled over on the side of the road and cried.  Honestly!

tour de cure

2010 Tour de Cure

I wasn’t inspired that day, in fact, I just simply thought he was crazy.  I couldn’t even wrap my head around accomplishing something like riding 100 miles on a bike.  Eventually I did buy a bike in hopes that we would be able to do some smaller rides together, but then I got pregnant and the bike collected dust in the garage. 

Finally in 2008 when I decided to really start working out, and reclaiming my body from the “damage” of having three kids,  I dusted off the bike and started to ride.  Thoughts of the Tour de Cure began to creep into my head.  Knowing I wouldn’t be able to complete the 100 mile trek, I signed up for the 50 miler. 

I completed the 50 miler that year and I was inspired and motivated to do more.  I began planning my 100 mile ride.  Unlike George, I was NOT willing to ride it alone.  I wanted both George and my dad to train and do the 100 miler with me.  Both agreed and I registered my “team” for the 100 mile ride the following year.  But when June of 2009 rolled around I found myself riding another 50 mile Tour de Cure.  Neither my dad nor George had prepared for the 100 mile ride and, to be quite honest, I hadn’t either.

 Tour de Cure 2008 012Tour de Cure 2008 029

Bound and determined not to let my 100 mile dreams get away from me, I declared that the following year we WOULD ride 100 miles in the Tour de Cure and that my dad and George better be ready.  Training or no training, that was up to them, but we were riding NO MATTER WHAT. 

June 27, 2010.  We were all geared up and ready to go. 


George hadn’t trained (basically at all), my dad had trained in the plains of Indiana and knew he wouldn’t be able to make the whole HILLY 100 miles.  I also invited my friend from work Glenn, an avid cyclist, and he thought he’d make the whole 100 miles although he hadn’t trained properly either.  We were an unlikely bunch, but I wasn’t going to let excuses get in my way.  They said they’d ride, I gave them a year to train, and by God I was going to make them do it.  Whether they made 10 miles, 20 minutes or the whole 100 miles, I wanted them to go as far and as long as they possibly could.  I needed the support. 

It was clear from the beginning that we were going to be a slow bunch.  I was completely fine with that.  This course is a tough course.  There are lots of hills.  There are only a handful of really tough climbs, but tons of little rolling hills and medium hills.  The hills come one right after another and they honestly wear you down, mentally and physically.  By mile 50 it was obvious we were bringing up the rear.  I think there were only a handful of riders behind us. 

tour de cure century 2010 007

I remember George starting to really struggle around mile 60.  Something had gone wrong with his bike making it impossible for him to shift into his smallest chain ring.  Every hill was a challenge and it was taking its toll.  The next rest stop was at about mile 65.  With not a lot of substantial food at the rest stop, there was nothing to keep George going.  He threw in the towel.  I was proud of him for making it as far as he had.   I know he would have done more with a properly operating bike (and proper training Winking smile). 

tour de cure century 2010 012tour de cure century 2010 006

Glenn and I fueled with baked potatoes at the 65 mile rest stop. It was the only thing that had kept us going from mile 50 on, knowing there was “real” food ahead.  My dad just couldn’t stomach eating anything and I knew his “end” was near.  He said he could make it to the next stop, just 10 miles away, and he went ahead while Glenn and I finished our well deserved feast.  Glenn and I caught up to my dad quickly and it was apparent my dad wouldn’t last much longer.  At the 75 mile stop Dad decided to end his journey.  My dad, at 67, rode 75 HILLY miles.  That’s quite an accomplishment! 


With little but sheer will and determination left in us Glenn and I kept moving.  Glenn was suffering from severe leg cramps and every hill was a challenge.  By this time every rider that was behind us had dropped out so we were definitely DEAD LAST.  Glenn was stopping at every hill because of his cramps.  He was apologizing and feeling so badly.  I wasn’t mad.  His body decided to revolt, but his head was still in the game.  He hadn’t given up mentally and I knew he wanted to finish for me (and for him of course). 

I remember the heat coupled with the exhaustion starting to seem pretty unbearable.  I was on straight stretches going just 9 mph (yes 9!!!!) and wondering how the heck I was going to make it to 100 miles.  Because we were last, the SAG vehicle was never too far away.  They offered us water and a ride if we needed it.  Glenn was determined to keep going no matter if his body was telling him differently.  He didn’t want to leave me alone and he didn’t want to disappoint me. 

tour de cure century 2010 017

So we took the water, but not the ride.  I decided the water was better off ON my body and not IN my body at this point.  I emptied a whole bottle of water on my head and chest.  At that point things started to feel better for me.  Maybe the carbs from the potato kicked in or maybe God was just by my side, but I started to feel better and more determined than ever to finish. 

We were now about 83 miles into the ride and it couldn’t have seemed further from the finish.  I told Glenn stopping on the hills was killing me and I would me meet him at the top.  When I got to top, of what would become my last uphill, I stopped and saw Glenn talking to the SAG vehicle.  He was suffering with severe cramps at this point, but I knew he didn’t want to give up.  The SAG vehicle met me at the top of the hill and reported that Glenn wanted to keep trying.  I made a conscious effort at this point to go on ahead of Glenn.  I knew that if I left him behind eventually he would concede to getting in the SAG vehicle and that’s what his body needed him to do. 

I remember a very flat stretch of road and I was moving at a decent clip,  maybe 17 mph.  The sky had the ominous look of a late afternoon thunderstorm.  It seemed to come out of nowhere, but it started to drizzle.  At this point I estimated I was probably a mile and a half from the next rest stop (85 or 86 miles into the ride). I knew this was the type of storm that would blow over quickly and decided I could wait it out at the rest area (mile 87). 

All at once the rain started to come down harder, but I was still on a nice flat country road and I didn’t want to give up.  I had come so far and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.  Then it happened suddenly and all at once.  The rain became a torrential downpour.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.  It was raining, but the sun was blaring and it was creating little rainbows in my vision.  I rounded a blind corner on my flat road and was greeted with a steep downhill.  I knew immediately I had made a mistake.  I should have stopped the moment the rain started.  I felt like I could manage my bike in the rain on a flat surface, but I should have known there would be a hill around the corner (literally). 

The hill (never as impressive in photos)

Like I said I had done the 50 mile ride two times before.  The 50 mile ride and the 100 mile ride come together at the end and ride the same course for the last 20 or so miles.  I SHOULD HAVE known exactly where I was, but I didn’t.  I didn’t realize until it was happening.  I was on the steepest downhill of the course.  Not only a downhill, but a downhill with a sharp turn at the end and if you miss that turn… well, let’s just say you’d be greeted by a 200 foot drop into a ravine.  I had seen someone crash there the prior year and remember being horrified of what could have been for him. 

So yes, all the sudden it became very clear in my mind that I was going down a very steep grade at an accelerating pace and because my bike tires were wet my brakes were not operating properly—like at all.  No matter how hard I clamped my brakes, there was nothing there.  I panicked slightly remembering the bloody crash the year before and knowing I had to find a way, someway, somehow, to stop myself.  There is NO WAY at these speed in ideal conditions, let alone with the wet grounds, that I would be able to make the sharp turn and avoid going over into the ravine. 

With essentially no brakes, I unclipped from my pedals and began dragging my foot on the ground in hopes that it would help to slow me.  I still couldn’t see from the torrential rain and I was picking up speed from the descent.  It was obvious to me that I had to crash.  I just hoped I could make a controlled crash.  The idea in my mind was to slow myself enough and find a “grassy” spot to basically lay my bike down.  I estimate that I was going upwards of 30 mph when I made my approach into what I thought would be a safe landing. 

It was a hard abrupt stop right into a huge ditch of thorn bushes.  I crashed face first into the bush, still on my bike, still clutching the handle bars. Once I stopped I was shaken, but looking at myself I seemed basically uninjured aside from my ego and a few scratches.  There was a huge drainpipe in my ditch (yes it’s now my ditch) that I managed to get myself up on.  I remember thinking if I could figure a way out of this hole (probably 4 feet below the road surface) I could get back up on my bike and ride and no one would have to know I crashed.  Seriously I did!   So there I was in a ditch on a drainpipe without any ideas about how I would get my bike out of the thorns and onto the road.  I surrendered!

My Ditch

I found my cell phone and tried to call for help.  It was still pouring rain and my phone wouldn’t work.  I felt an odd pain in my shoulder and started to wonder if I was hurt.  All of the sudden I heard a car, it was the SAG vehicle.  I yelled at the top of my lungs for help. THEY PASSED ME!  I tried my phone again and it still wouldn’t work.  I began to feel scared, embarrassed and defeated.  The rain stopped and before I knew it the SAG vehicle was back.  They had heard my calls for help and they found me.   I just wanted out of the ditch and save to myself from any further embarrassment.  I asked Glenn to help me out (he had gotten into the SAG vehicle) and when he pulled my arm (not the one that felt hurt) I knew!  I couldn’t move.  The pain was excruciating.   I would have to sit in the ditch, on the pipe, and wait for help. 

My phone started working and I called George to let him know I had crashed.  I reported that I felt as though I had dislocated my shoulder.  I expressed my displeasure in being unable to finish and asked if could he please make sure he gets my T-shirt and goodie bag as I wouldn’t make it back to get it myself.  Clearly at that time I had no idea what had happened and the seriousness of my injuries.   

Over the next half an hour it took for the ambulance to arrive I had an interesting array of volunteer fire persons “helping” me.  Everyone wanted to move my bike out of the ditch, but my feet were resting on it and any movement of my body made me extremely uncomfortable (to say the least).  Every person that came up, I asked them, getting increasingly agitated, NOT to move my bike.  By the time it was all said and done, any new person that walked up Glenn informed them, “Don’t touch the bike.”  Translation:  Don’t touch the bike or she’s going to kill you. 

Glenn kept in contact with George over the phone and let him know what was happening.  My back was to Glenn on the road the whole time, but I could hear his voice being my advocate and I’m thankful he was there.  

tour de cure century 2010 008

By the time the ambulance arrived I was in a pain like I had never really felt before (and I’ve had three kids).  I was imagining the pain that lied ahead as they removed me from my ditch.  It took a backboard a lot of great professionals and some screaming (from me), but I was out and on the way to the hospital. 

The horribly bumpy ride and inappropriate comments from the EMT were just enough to test my pain and tolerance thresholds.  Finally when I was wheeled into the hospital and greeted by the loving arms of my husband I knew, no matter what the doctors had to tell me, I would be okay. 

And THAT is the story of how my fracture humerus, and my fractured wrist came to be.  There were 4 surgeries in total to fix my shoulder, 7 weeks of bed rest, countless tears, but endless love and support. 


One year later I can tell you, I’m still dealing with the physical challenges of a very serious injury, but I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way.  What does not kill us will make us stronger.  I’m just thankful that I’m alive.


Ronald Obringer said...

This is the first time I have ever heard the story in full! Wow Susan! You got lucky!! Look how far you've come!!

tracey smith said...

I can't believe it has been a year. Obviously, it is still fresh in your head. I still feel so extremely guilty for not attempting that ride with you.
Here is another example of how inspiring and motivating you are.
Susan Tirch, you are my hero!

kelly said...

I treated you for how long and never heard this whole story. Wow! Pretty scary and also pretty impressive. How are you feeling?

Julie Hurley said...

oh my gosh! It makes my chest get all tight and panicky just reading that. So glad you are OK (for the most part :)!

Tri4Success said...

And look how far you've come since! A lot of good lessons in here and they do make you stronger in the end. Thanks for sharing.

So much I could relate to in this ..... I didn't finish the full distance at my first Livestrong or BikeMS due to under-training and was driven in much the same way you were to complete them the next year. Also, after my crash (during training just under a year ago) my first thought was to get back on the bike and ride home (didn't realize my bike was in two pieces). Funny how protecting our pride overrides things like whether our body and bike are in one piece.

Autumn Heinz said...

I can relate, somewhat. I fell off my bike last summer (not quite a year ago, but we're coming up on it) and dislocated my elbow. Two reductions, and months of physical therapy later my elbow still does not straighten properly. I had to wear a brace and by the time I was ready to come out of that my elbow was locked into an "L" position. I am an avid runner so this really brought me down. It's amazing how you can go along and everything is going fine, and then all of the sudden you're on the ground with an injury. And in my case, it was a stupid silly mistake that could have been avoided. So glad you were able to recover, and help came along when you needed it.

acspartan said...

OMIGOD, been reading your blog for awhile and I did not realize your injury was during a race. Devastating. So glad you are back at it again though!

momswimbikerun said...


Sally said...

I am so glad you are ok now, I cryed for you as I read your story. you are some special kind of woman. true grit. as I said before Iam proud of you.

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