Like a thief in the night, joy can be taken from the strongest of souls, in a matter of seconds…especially when you watch a multi-vehicle accident within an hour of something you have been planning for more than half a year.
On the ride to the race, Danielle and I got on our bikes at 6:30 in the morning, wearing racing clothes, tattooed up with our race numbers on our arms and legs, and started the ride to the race start. Cycling on the main roads in a big city early on a Saturday morning felt surreal. The city was quiet. The day had not yet started for most, as this was a day off from the normal hustle and bustle. The roads were near empty, and the office buildings appeared vacant of employees. There were few commuters coming in from the suburbs, but we had the roads to ourselves, free of trouble.
So I thought.
The light we were stopped at turned green, and something didn’t seem right. I clicked into my pedals and was about to start moving when I got to watch pinball happen between a drunk driver, city bus and a school building. The drunk driver ran the light right in front of us and hit a moving city bus. The sound of the car getting crushed by the bus was loud, but it wasn’t as loud as the sound of the bus getting pushed off the road and hitting a charter school, taking out the front entrance of the school. No one else was around…Danielle and I were first on scene.
I pulled my bike to the curb, dropped my pack and turned to Danielle, saying, “I am an Eagle Scout, and I am stopping to help out. The race may not happen for us the way we planned. I am going to help the drivers. Can you go and assess the passengers on the bus and call 911 for help?”
Danielle is a trained nurse and mother of three young ones. She got what we were doing and was instinctual in her willingness to help. She found a couple of folks with minor injuries but no one appeared in critical condition. She called 911 and got fire, medical and police to respond.
The front of the car T-boned the front left of the bus, and the impact totaled the car and damaged the battery array and booth where the driver sat. As I approached the car, I saw only one person in the car (thank God), but the seat was reclined and the driver appeared to be out of sorts. Through the sunroof, I called down to see if she was OK. She didn’t respond initially but she surprised me when she asked for a cell phone so she could call her mother. She then tried to start the car…even odder. I yelled down at her stop, since her car was pouring out liquids and fumes from a blown radiator. She then said, “I need to light my cigarette!” with an attitude that convinced me she was stoned/drunk and needed more than just good insurance to make it through this day.
Within a minute, a cop arrived and the bus driver walked towards me crying hysterically. She was mad at the car driver and was sobbing. I put my arms around her and told her that this wasn’t her fault. She quickly rebutted that she had been working for the city for 5 years and had never had an accident. She was concerned not just for her passengers and her health but also her job! She must have heard Danielle and I tell her too many times that it wasn’t her fault that this driver ran a light and hit her.
The next thing that happened was the craziest event of the morning. She stepped out of the car, sat down on the curb, and began eating some French fries that she had kept in her car. There was a bus stuck in the entrance to a school and upset people all around her, all her doing, and her mind was focused on food. I will never understand that moment.
Within 15 minutes, there were multiple support vehicles present and one guy was taking our statements and getting our information so he could reach out to us later for future questions. He sent us on our way and wished us well in the race.
As we started pedaling towards the race, any heart to compete was gone. I was about to compete in one of the most enjoyable events on this earth, and my heart to do it wasn’t there. After we arrived in transition and began setting up, I met the usual suspects and competitors, but I couldn’t put on the game face and game heart that I usually do. I debriefed the event a little bit with Linda and the boys, as well as Randy Whitt, but there was no one to go up to and say, “I am not OK.”
I wasn’t OK.
Danielle was worse off than me. Her mind was elsewhere and she completed only two of the three required bike laps. She got disqualified from the race and was beyond mad. She knew that she was doing well when her DQ happened and can compete at the highest of levels. It broke my heart to see her investment in travel and preparation turn into anger.
Even at the end-of-the-day ceremonies, my head was still not on right. I was literally a second or two from being hit by a drunk driver. I got to see the aftermath of the cost of the decision that woman made and my desire to athletically perform wasn’t what it could have been.
Yet, the results at the end of the race show that I did well. I moved up my ranking 4 places on the first race, and I did well enough in the second race to win the title, “Kind of the Mountain,” for my efforts climbing up Ohio Street. As I walked to the TeamUSA table to initial a form and confirm my willingness and interest to represent the USA in Spain at Worlds next year, I couldn’t help but think about the hysterical driver, whose world had been changed a few hours earlier. I wondered if she lost her job…I wondered if everyone was OK.
But, I got to see Joy. I got to see Danielle connect with other really fit and fast women of the sort that she would not otherwise get to meet in our hometown. That made my day as much as the accident unmade my day. Getting to know and compete with those other women may bring her back, ever after an awful first experience.
Ken Nakata beat me (about time!) and others whom I just got to meet made it onto the podium. My wife and sons got to see the best of the best go all out, and our joint efforts set an example of what hard work can and should look like.
After the race was over, Danielle sent me a link to an article published in the newspaper about the story.
Two days off before training for Zofing