Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Face-Plant at Twenty-Five M.P.H.

Last weekend while competing in a triathlon (swim, bike, run), I experienced an unscheduled strength test of my skeleton that was somewhat unorthodox…I crashed. And just to make sure that you all understand…having a bone mineral density examination is certainly a MUCH safer way to determine fracture risk…but then again, I’m not one to always follow the rules.

As many of you know, the reason I became so interested in osteoporosis was because I myself was diagnosed with this disease 15 years ago. A T-score of -4.3 plus 12 fragility fractures were the impetus for my delving so head long into the study of osteoporosis. My goals were to uncover the cause of my extreme bone fragility and then to find ways to make those bones stronger and healthier. Taking this then one step further by helping others deal with an osteoporosis diagnosis was just the right thing to do. *

I have been an athlete my whole life and I’ve tried to never let osteoporosis impede my activity level, even back in the days when I was frequently breaking bones. (Maybe that’s a clue into why I broke so many bones...hmmm….) I’m now 60 years old and because I continue to race in triathlons I realize the danger quotient is escalating. Traveling at high speeds on my bike, up to 50+ mph down hills, has the potential to cause considerable damage to the skeleton should I crash. I don’t know if any of you have ever raced bicycles but sometimes there can be some unforeseen entanglements with other riders especially when the aggressive factor of racing is high. Such was the case in this race.

The first part of the race, the swim, went well even though my 4% body fat lost the battle against the 60-degree water. Even with my wet suit I was a bit chilly. I exited the water in first place and clipped into my bike for the second leg of the race. I hadn’t gone but two or so miles when it started to rain lightly. I sensed the road getting slick but pushed on at top speed hitting about 40 mph on a moderate downhill. I had driven the course the day before and knew there was a turn after going through a narrow, one-lane, tunnel-like under-pass at about mile 6…but I hadn’t really paid enough attention to the acute sharpness of the turn. As I was coming out of the tunnel I could see just how sharp the turn was and tried desperately to slow down. As I applied my brakes the rear wheel immediately began to fishtail. (I felt like Joseba Beloki in the 2003 Tour de France as I struggled to stay in control.) Four times in quick succession I applied my rear brake and 4 times I fishtailed. Only through sheer luck was I able to keep the bike up-right but, still going 20+ mph, I careened down off the road and into a gravel driveway. Finally I skidded to a stop 30 feet off the road. (Whew…that was close!) I quickly pushed my bike back up the hill, jumped on my bike and started to crank hard, anxious to gain back lost time. The rain continued and the road was becoming slicker, more dangerous.

On the second lap I made it through the tunnel safely but this time, on a straight stretch of road, things got really
squirrely. As I fast approached two slower athletes that I was about to lap, one of them pulled out to the left to pass. I swerved hard to avoid hitting him, crossed the centerline and hit a really bad patch of pot-holed road. At 25 mph I totally lost control and flew off the side of the road. My bike flipped flinging me headlong and performing a perfect face-plant into the road-side vegetation. I hit hard on my forehead and the right side of my chest. The helmet (see photo) saved me I’m sure. I wasn’t knocked out but certainly dazed and lay there for x amount of time. Another competitor stopped to ask if he should call for an ambulance but I said no and got up slowly…looked for my bike (which I couldn’t find at first because it was 10 feet away and under a lot of vegetation)…thanked the blurred racer (I can only barely remember that “being” standing there)…and hopped on my bike. (For any of you bikers out there reading this and worrying more about my bike than you are about me….No, my bike was not damaged…thank goodness!!!)

On the third and final lap with my head and chest a bit sore (but my vision improved) I thought I better slow down and not push my luck. I had already lost at least 3 minutes and I knew that there had to have been a few other competitors that had passed me while I was lounging around on the side of the road in the underbrush. So with first place surely gone…and probably a top five finish for that matter…I just started to relax and enjoy the rest of the race.

As I approached T2 (the transition between the bike and the run) the rain stopped and the sun came out just in time to warm up the run course. I racked my bike, threw on my running shoes and headed out for the final leg of the race, a 6.5 mile run. Since I had backed off on the final lap of the bike portion of the race I felt pretty good heading out on the run. Other than some back spasms as a result of the crash, I was able to keep a steady pace all the way into the finish line.

The whole reason for this long drawn out story is to say that I didn’t break any bones. Walking around after the race, feeling a bit sore in my back, a little confused from the concussion, spitting some blood from a laceration on my tongue, and coughing up some blood that was later diagnosed as a pulmonary contusion (bruised lungs) (a chest x-ray was negative for any real damage)…I was pretty darn happy that I didn’t break anything. I think that’s what makes a person with osteoporosis the happiest….not fracturing when they fall! Sounds a bit strange I know but every time I take a fall and don’t break…I just smile.

Oh…the final pièce de rèsistance after all this? I finished 2nd overall and 1st in my age group. A good day at the races for sure.

* If you would like to learn more about the comprehensive nutritional approach that changed my life, visit
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