It was an alcohol-influenced meeting. A haphazard hello that in a few short months developed into some sort of connection. We grew into one another’s lives. We found the secrets, the hopes, the wonders, the adventures, and the amazing hobbies and habits of another person who were once complete strangers. He had something that I never found in anyone else. He substituted common adventures of a typical 25 year-old male who frequents the local pub, into sober evenings of satisfying his hunger for his bikes and physical activity. He was a soon to be triathlete. He was a biker. A road and mountain biker. He was good. Excellent actually. He won medals. He was proud. He was just beginning to train for a triathlon.
Numerous failed attempts of getting back up on his feet, led to a limp body crouched in the fetal position. He just wanted to get up. He wanted to stand up, get back on his motorcycle, and head home to start the rest of his day. His frail body was in shock. His first memory was the sound of the stretcher legs snapping into place, the look of the roof of the ambulance and the pain exerting from each portion of his broken body. Only ten seconds had passed from pulling out of the YMCA parking lot after finishing his first swimming class. He was four short days away from his first triathlon. In the blink of an eye, success from hundreds of early morning workouts and hundreds of miles put on his bikes came crashing down on him.
A guy who spent early mornings going to they gym was now being poked and prodded by nurses checking his vitals, taking blood, and turning his immobile body because he could not do it himself. The guy who spent most evenings putting 30 miles on his bike rain or shine or stifling wind, was now spending his time in and out of numerous surgeries and getting visited by the countless friends and loved ones offering their thoughts and prayers.
A doctor saved his precious life. Several broken bones, a collapsed lung, road rash, cuts, bruises, and immense pain was what he was given and it was something he did not deserve. Every inch of his body from the neck down had evidence of the horrible accident. But he lay in that bed everyday and woke up everyday thanking God that although death previously lurched over him, the most important part of his body was left with just one scratch at the corner of his left eye.
Andrew was physically torn apart. He could not walk. He was not allowed to walk for three months. For a significant period of time he could not sit up or take out his own contacts. It was hard for him to even pick up a glass to take a drink of water. Each wound on his body was a harsh realization of the extreme nature of his injuries and the accident. But the metal machines that took away his step did not take away his spirit or his determination. We still had our Andrew. No bruise or broken bone could take him away from us.
Three months is a relatively short period of time. Three months of staying in a nursing home for rehabilitation and not having the freedom or ability to walk seemed like a lifetime. Andrews’s goals were no longer a close reality. His athletic life meant the world to him. Every hobby and hope he had revolved around using his body and being physically active and achieving things any normal person did not have the ability to achieve. A goal of participating in every possible WORS mountain bike race was now only a dream. Participation in his first triathlon turned into watching from the sidelines, in a wheelchair. He could not cross the finish line with the other triathletes. However, he would not let his inabilities bring him down. Disappointment was disguised with a smile and he wheeled himself across the finish line, and the flash of a camera will hold that moment for a lifetime. His heart was in the right spot. He knew that next time, one year from that day, he would be swimming, biking, and running like everyone else. Except, he would have something no one else did. He will carry the life threatening experience that would make him kick harder, pedal faster, and run stronger than the man competing next to him.
He is the most determined man I have ever met. He has never given up since the accident and will never give up. He always wondered, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” Time will pass and the future success and pride and strength of a stronger man, a better athlete, and a fully healed Andrew will be the answer.
Each day has been a struggle for him. Each day was a struggle for me. He spent the first few days with just a few brief memories of what had all happened. Soon, he spent the days forcing food into a body without an appetite. For me this was hard to witness, as I knew him as the guy who could eat, a lot. There were days where he could not bring himself to smile. Many nights he woke up in tears, wondering what will happen to him, if he would ever heal back to his normal self. He woke up with tears of pain and thoughts of the days remaining until he would be able to go home. It was a struggle for me as well. I spent days in tears, wanting to be with him every second. It was hard to see a man I was just beginning to love, lying in a bed when just the week’s prior I had always seen him on his feet. It was hard being so far away and not being able to help. In those times I felt I could do nothing but just knowing I was there for him no matter the distance and knowing he knew I cared so much for him, was enough to make it through the day. There were times I only had the ability to make him smile. Even if the smile lasted briefly and was a disguise of the hate and pain he was really feeling, I know it made him and I feel a little better, if only for a second.
One day, something clicked. His spirits began to rise and the determination was back. He could either lie in bed and feel sorry for himself or take each day and make the most of it and focus on healing and becoming physically and mentally stronger. It was during this time that each day brought a better Andrew. Small time periods passed, but healing was becoming incredibly noticeable. Body movements that were not fathomable just a week earlier were now being achieved. There was a time when he needed five nurses to move him up in his bed, then, he could do it himself. There was noticeable pain and it was a struggle for him, but he could do it, and he did not need or want any help. The cuts and bruises and lacerations looked better as each day passed. Andrew had this look in his eye. He was a happy guy, and in his eyes you could see this. That look was coming back.
The lifetime of 3 months was passing by. Soon, Andrew was able to get in and out of a wheelchair allowing him the freedom to go wherever his arms and legs and the chair allowed. Because of his great physical condition he was in, he quickly learned to get in and out of a car and this allowed him to venture to a location more than one mile away. He was progressing smoothly and quickly, at least on the outside. It was at this time we became very close. We got to spend so much time together, throughout the week and every weekend. Andrew learned to never take advantage of anything and we wanted to make the most of the situation and the time we were given. We made everything an adventure. A normal night out to eat was always more fun that it had been before. Every date we had to go to the movies was more than just going to the movies. It was an achievement it was another smile and another laugh that healed his heart and emotions. We made plans and did not pass up any opportunity. If we had an idea to do something, we did it. We never said, “We’ll do it next week.” Minutes, hours, and days were very precious, and we spent each one with a smile. Nothing stopped us from being happy in the moment. Nothing was our obstacle. He was on the road to recovery, and I was by his side. We were not looking back at what might have been. We looked at his accident as something to progress with. Something that will only make him stronger. This strength is something he took to each of his several doctor appointments. Each visit was frightening. There were always those words he wanted to hear from the doctor you are healing well, you can get into crutches now, and in a couple weeks you can walk. Finally, Andrew’s wheelchair now became his standby. Whenever he had the opportunity, he took those crutches without a second thought. Finally, after three long and hard months, he heard the words he waited what seemed an eternity to hear. He could walk. His 6’ 2” frame was vertical.
In the months of healing for Andrew, he became the most inspirational person in my life. I look back and would not change anything about our experience. I hated that this had to happen to him. He did not deserve it. No one deserves it. Although it was a terrifying experience, he has made me a better person, personally and towards others. He changed my outlook on life and made me realize I was the only person who could change myself. It is rather ironic to me. Andrew spent each day without the ability to walk. His inability, turned into my achievement. One day I began to run. It was hard at first, but I was doing it for myself, and I was doing it even more for him. This aspect of my life made him happy. He loved being with someone who was active and healthy. Each run turned more into an obsession, and soon enough, I was entering my first 5K run. Crossing the finish line with him waiting for me, in his wheelchair, was enough to bring me to tears. I would not have been there if it was not for him. I would not have had that enormous sense of pride rush through my body if it was not for him. Every mile I run does not pass without the thought of him. For that, I am forever thankful to him being the incredible man he is.
The most wonderful thing to look at during this experience is how we helped each other. I was there for him and he wanted me to be with him. Even through this horrible time, he stepped up and made a difference to me. Each day was a triumph and even with everything he was going through, he still had the ability to be there for me. To inspire me. He took any extra emotions and feelings and pride and passed that on to me.
It has been about 5 months now since the accident. Two months since he began walking again. Over two months since he got to spend the first night at his own house. It is now Andrew’s time to get himself back. It is now his time to spend hours at the gym and get back in shape. It is his time to reevaluate his priorities and no longer take advantage of his life. This guy who just months ago was told that he would not walk for 3 months is already taking his usual bike rides. He is already going to the gym every morning and planning his daily workout routine. This man is already strategizing and training for his first triathlon and nothing will stop him.
No story or words can fully express and explain the real emotions surrounding the accident and Andrew and those who love him. Words are only shaped into a story and living the life of an accident victim can never be fully explained. But living the life of an achiever and a survivor is something to be sought after. He will succeed. He already has. He is a triathlete. He is a biker. He will again win first place. He will soon finish his first triathlon.
As the years have come and gone, Andrew and I have separated ways, but still keep in touch. He is living a happy and successful life and the accident hasn’t stopped but actually made him stronger. He is a swimmer. He is a biker. He is a runner. I still think about him and the time we spent together. Some of it is happy. Some of it is sad. But to this day, I do not and will not ever regret the amount of time I spent with him. I honestly feel that without my help, it may not have been the same. All of my best to you.