Comeback Kid Stories

Those Cool, Crazy Comeback Kids

I wasn’t really sure what I’d write about here after my knee surgery last winter. I knew I wouldn’t have a triathlon season. I wanted to talk to others who came back strong after being sidelined. It was an idea that was kickin’ around in my head for a few weeks when the unthinkable happened. A dear friend of mine was in a serious ski accident and suffered a spinal cord injury, and a few days later a stroke.

I felt helpless to do anything for him as he lay in the hospital. I decided to start a new series: Comeback Kids. I’d do a new story every Friday for him, his family, and his closest buddies – for as long as he was in the hospital. That was the plan. I had no idea how I’d pull it off. I put it out there and hoped for the best. And I truly met the best in the process.

Friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers who were more than willing to do the phone interviews, email me pictures, and review their story drafts prior to posting on the big Friday deadline. They divulged some pretty personal stuff, some pearls of wisdom, and always some kind words for my buddy.

I’d like to thank each every one of them once again. Hall of Fame Triathlete Karen Smyers who called me from a yellow cab in New York City on a business trip. Pro triathlete Joanna Zeiger who said, “Don’t quit with your rehab until you are satisfied with the results.” Yes, she spent five hours a day doing rehab for her back injury. (She inspires me to keep doing two or three-hour workouts at my rehab gym.) My physical therapy aide and former NFL player, Erroll Tucker, who still encourages me during every weight workout.

I’d venture to say that every single one of these Comeback Kids has a lot of heart, but Dwight Kroening completed Ironman Canada after receiving a heart transplant and Wayne “The Dead Guy” Wright completed 50 Marathons in 50 U.S. States this October after undergoing a quadruple bypass.

Dennis Tapp found a way to ride his bike across the country with the partial paralysis caused by five gunshots. Sterling Kwong completed Ironman Arizona after battling testicular cancer. Casey Kammel completed Ironman Coeur d'Alene in unique style after being told he’d never walk again. Andy Bailey came back from a life-threatening MRSA infection and amputation to compete in triathlons again (at the age of 70). Pitcher Kara Nilan returned to collegiate play after suffering a traumatic brain injury on the mound. My fellow rehab patient, Lydia, continues to bravely fight cancer on top of the severe back pain from her paragliding accident. And my dear coach, Beth Hibbard, became a pro triathlete after breaking her neck.

Tawnee Prazak and Kevin Quadrozzi, I have little doubt that you’ll both make it to Kona some day. My fellow trail patrol mountain biker, Jane, continues to inspire me as I hit the trails with a little trepidation these days. My friend Laurie shattered some bones in her foot doing an Irish jig, and completed an ultra-marathon less than a year later. Ken Stephenson helped me start this series off with a bang and his brother Brad helped me keep the streak alive. (Yes, there will be something nice for you under the tree, I mean in the fridge, this Christmas!)

Some thought their stories and their injuries weren’t that special.
From where I sit, they were all special. Every day someone finds this blog because they searched Google for words like “plica syndrome,” “broken collarbone,” or “tibial plateau fracture.” I’ve received thank-you notes from readers – from Colorado to France to South Africa – who have said they were inspired by your stories. You helped me immensely. You helped my friend and his loved ones. You helped keep this magical thing going for 18 weeks until my buddy was discharged from the hospital.

Last week, he started walking again with assistance. I look forward to the day when I can write his Comeback Kid story.

Until then, I plan to write a few more of these stories in the year ahead. And I thank you for making all of these stories possible. Happy holidays!

The Comeback Kid: #18 in a Series


On August 20, 1994, Casey Kammel and his girlfriend, Lisa, were having a great time hanging out at a resort in Maui. Casey, a personal trainer, dove into the pool headfirst. He heard a massive crunching sound. He opened his eyes and thought, ‘Okay, swim.’ His body did not respond. Lisa saw his head was bleeding and pulled him to the surface.

She asked, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” “I can’t move,” he replied. “What do you mean you can’t move?” she asked. “I can’t feel my body. I can’t feel my arms and legs. I can’t move,” Casey answered.

Lisa screamed for help. And with uncanny timing, she got it. A man jumped into the pool. “Don’t worry. I’m a neurosurgeon,” he calmly explained, “Yeah, he probably has a spinal cord injury. Don’t move his head. Don’t move his neck. Just keep him floating in the pool.” The good-Samaritan doctor and Lisa held Casey in the water. When the paramedics arrived, they floated a backboard underneath Casey, strapped him in, and carefully lifted him out of the water. Then he was transported by helicopter from Maui to a hospital in Oahu.

At the trauma center, the medical team sutured the three-inch gash on top of his head and performed diagnostic tests. His doctor informed him, “You have a spinal cord injury. It’s pretty bad. It’s highly unlikely that you’re ever going to walk again.” Casey told the doctor in no uncertain terms, “F@#$ off! You have no idea who you’re dealing with here. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong with me. I get back up and I go play.” The doctor calmly replied, “Well, you have a spinal cord injury and it’s pretty bad.” Casey shot back, “You know what? I don’t want to see you. Get the hell out of my face.”

The doctors waited a week for the swelling to go down before they performed surgery. Since he fractured C4 vertebrae, they fused his C3, C4, and C5 together. They also bolted a steel halo brace to his head to prevent his neck from being moved while his body healed. He remained in the hospital for three weeks. While he doesn’t remember a lot about that time because of the strong drugs, he does recall being able to faintly move his left leg, right thumb and right toe.

The doctors had him transferred to Long Beach Memorial in Long Beach, California. His HMO only allowed him to remain the hospital for 26 days. Unimpressed with the outpatient rehabilitation that he was offered through his health plan, Casey did exhaustive research to find a private therapist to work with him.

He knew how important it was to get the right kind of therapy. He had been studying physical therapy, kinesiology, and physiology at California State University in Long Beach. “Based on my own knowledge and the expertise of this physical therapist, I just started working out on my own,” Casey explained.

His progress was slow at first. “I was on the Lifecycle for just a couple of minutes,” he recalled, “I went from not even being able to lift my arm to 15-lb. dumbbells.”

This determined personal trainer continued to train his clients. How could they say “No” to doing their workouts when they saw him train so hard, despite his partial paralysis?

He went back to school in January. A month later, he was able to get rid of his cane and walk without any assistance. Casey walks with a limp – the result of the surgery, which left him with a 3/4-inch leg length discrepancy.

Casey continued to focus on his rehabilitation. Ten months after his accident, he was doing 200-lb leg presses on the weight machine and spending 45-60 minutes on the Stairmaster.

By 1996, he was fit enough to walk down the aisle and marry Lisa.

By 1999, Casey attempted his first triathlon, the Long Beach sprint triathlon. It took him an hour and seven minutes to do the half-mile swim. He did not make the cut off to complete the race.

He did not give up. He trained a lot harder and smarter. He figured out the crux of the problem with his swim stroke. The partial paralysis made it difficult to get his hand at the right angle to pull the water. He discovered that a small swim paddle strapped to his right arm helped correct the issue.

The following year, he entered the same triathlon and finished the entire race in an hour and thirty-six minutes.

In 2001, he became the first challenged athlete to complete the Los Angeles triathlon. It was his Olympic-distance event and he had to contend with 8-foot waves breaking on the shore at the start. He also completed his first half-Ironman that year at the Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon Challenge in La Jolla. He finished the event in eight hours.“I was pretty excited about that one,” he explained, “The run was hard for me because I was a baseball and football player. It wasn’t just the disability. I had never done long-distance running before.”

So to work on his running weakness in 2002, he completed the Long Beach Marathon in 4:27:49. Casey also tackled a few more triathlons – and then, for a few years, he put all of his energy into expanding his business and his family. He and Lisa had two daughters

A year ago, he came to an important decision. “If I don’t sign up for an Ironman, I’ll probably never do one because I’ll let everything else get in the way of it,” he recalled. He gave himself one of his own personal trainer pep talks, “It’s now or never. I’m just going to find a race and do one.”

He entered Ironman C’oeur d’Alene in Idaho, a race that would include a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run on June 21, 2009.

Though he trained a year for the event, Casey really cranked up the mileage in January. His friend, Scott Spence, helped him put together a meticulous training plan. Casey’s longest training ride on the bike was 122 miles. His longest brick was a 112-miles on the bike followed by a 90-minute run. He completed a 2.4-mile swim open-water swim. He had done everything right to prepare for this event.

On the morning of the race, there was a mass start of 2,600 people in the water at once. Casey was the only physically challenged athlete in the water that day. He was given an orange cap to wear which was hard to discern from all the red caps worn by the able-bodied men on in the water.

Casey had been in crowded race starts before. He wasn’t prepared for the difference in buoyancy between salt water and fresh water. He wasn’t expecting the violent chop from the 15-20 mph winds that hit him on his weak side. He completed the first lap in 1:01. He had plenty of time to make the cut-off for the swim in 2:20.

“But I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going back out there for a second lap. I’m not a strong swimmer because of my situation,” he explained, “I don’t care how many lifeguards are out there. If they don’t see me, they don’t see me. I’m married. I have two kids. I’m not going to risk drowning.”

Casey walked up the shoot of the race corral, where was greeted by an official. The woman said, “You know you only did one lap.” He calmly replied, “Yes, I know.” “You’re disqualified,” she stated.

Maybe so, but Casey wasn’t finished. At first, he was so devastated by what happened that he collapsed on the ground. He grabbed his gear and his bike out of the transition area. And then he improvised and created his own Ironman course away from the other competitors, so he wouldn’t interfere with the race in any way.

He rode 112 miles on the bike.

He went back to the house he rented and changed into his sneakers.

As he set out on the run, his little girls cheered him on and waved big yellow signs that read, “Go Daddy!” and “Daddy is an Ironman!”

He set out to run 26.2 miles with his wife, Lisa, following in the car behind him. She was a moving aid station, pulling alongside him to give him water, pretzels, gels and circus animal cookies when he needed nourishment. “They don’t have circus animal cookies at the water stations on the course,” she shouted, “You must be special!”

His friends and clients kept calling and texting throughout the night to tell him he was already an Ironman for doing what he did.

At 10:35 p.m. he made it unofficially official by completing a full marathon. When he arrived home, the kids were asleep and he felt like he might fall over from exhaustion. He knew if the conditions had been different, he would have completed the race that day.

The next day, a fellow competitor Hugo Ferlito heard about Casey’s struggle on the swim and determination to complete the rest of the race. In front of Casey’s wife and two daughters, Hugo gave him his finisher’s medal and said, “I was so impressed with what you did buddy that I want you to have my medallion.”

Hugo told news reporters, “The second I heard what Casey had done, I knew what I wanted to do because in my eyes, he is the true definition of an Ironman. I thought he typified the greatest part of the sport. ”

Next year, Casey will return to Coeur d’Alene to compete in the Ironman again. Cause that’s what he does – he gets up, and he plays.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #17 in a Series


Sterling Kwong didn’t have much to celebrate the day after Cinco de Mayo in 2002. On May 5th, he found himself in the waiting room of his brand new primary care physician. Sterling noticed a suspicious lump in his left testicle. Dr. Rosario's next words set off a tumultuous change of events that would forever change him. Dr. Rosario shook his head and stated matter-of-factly, "I think it might be a mass." The doctor ordered an ultrasound – stat.

Four days later, he had an urgent consultation with an urologist. Dr. Marinelli said, “I’m 99% sure it’s cancer. Whether it’s cancer or not, it has to come out.” “It was the size of a wasabi pee,” Sterling explained, “I was lucky. Often, testicular cancer (TC) patients aren’t even aware of a lump to warrant a treatment. It came on suddenly.”

He was 31-years old at the time. He added, “I almost considered not renewing my health insurance, thinking I was young and healthy. I’m glad I did or I would’ve been horribly in debt. “

Since he had recently finished his equivalency degree in music therapy, his career hadn’t taken off yet. He still needed to finish an internship before he could become a Board Certified Music Therapist. He lived at home with his parents who had immigrated from China in the sixties.

He realized there was no way he could keep the job he had with his illness. But the one thing he had to do was keep his cancer a secret from his dad. His mother, who was so protective of both her husband and son, thought it was for the best. You see his dad’s health was fragile. He had been hospitalized the year before for three weeks with congestive heart failure and congestive lung failure. Sterling honored her wishes.

The weekend before his surgery in early June, ten of his friends took him on a fishing trip to June Lake in Mammoth. His buddy, Lou Garzon, gave him Lance Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike. “It was a good time to focus on what was important to me in my life,” he recalled, “My first priority was to fight it. “

The following Monday, he had his left testicle removed. “They took it out from up above to avoid spreading the cancer. I had a five-inch incision in my groin. It looks like a c-section scar. ” Sterling explained. The surgery was an outpatient procedure. He was home – trying to hide his excruciating pain – by 1:00 p.m.

It was the first major step to becoming cancer-free. While he recuperated from the operation, he continued to do research on his disease, which afflicts 7,000 men between the ages of 18 and 35 each year. Despite the rarity of this disease, it is still the most common form of cancer that is diagnosed in young men of those ages.

He scheduled appointments with oncology specialists. He saw Dr. Derek Raghavan at USC Norris Cancer Center, and Dr. Richard Lloyd at St. Jude Medical Center. These two men agreed to work in concert to become part of Sterling's recovery. They discovered that it was mostly embryonal carcinoma. Further testing determined the protocol of how to best treat his disease.

His doctors agreed that his treatment would utilize platinum-based chemotherapy agents. Sterling was quite familiar with this treatment because he read all the gory details of Lance Armstrong's treatment in his book. In fact, it was Lance's doctor, Dr. Larry Einhorn, who pioneered the use of platinum to treat testicular cancer. In the 80's before platinum chemotherapy was utilized in testicular cancer patients, TC carried a most certain death sentence. Amazingly now because of platinum, TC is now one of the most treatable forms of cancer.

Sterling opted to receive his treatment at St. Jude. His doctor ordered multiple CT scans, chest x-rays, and blood tests. There were a couple of spots on his lungs that metastasized. By the time he started his first round of chemo, he had four nodes on his lungs and two behind his kidneys. He didn’t feel well. The cancer set his endocrine system off like a raging fire. The cancer affected everything – from his hormones to his energy levels.

The thought of chemotherapy frightened him. Chemotherapy is sometimes described as using a shotgun to shoot at a pinhole. It is a horribly cruel form of treatment. Dr. Raghavan warned him of the potential for hearing loss, secondary leukemia, fibrosis of the lungs, and hair loss. He also said, “There’s a 100% chance you’ll die without chemotherapy.”

To prepare for the treatment and help keep his mom’s secret, he had his mom buzz off his mane of hair with the home clippers. “I told my dad it was my summer cut,” he admitted with a chuckle.

The next hurdle was explaining why he would be gone for a week in the hospital to receive his first treatment. “My mom told him I was on a business trip,” he said. “But you didn’t have a job!” this interviewer interjected. “I know. It was crazy!” he replied with a laugh.

He had chemotherapy for three cycles that involved a full week of inpatient hospitalization while the platinum was administered. This was followed by two weekly outpatient treatments. "It was a total of nine weeks, which felt like an eternity." They gave him Bleomycin, a plant-derived alkaloid as a "mop up" chemotherapy drug. “Bleomycin made me really sick. I broke out in high fevers, shaking, night sweats, and nausea,” he said. "Even my eyelids were achy."

Four weeks into his chemotherapy treatment, he tried to recoup his strength. So did his dad. They were sitting around the kitchen table, sipping Brands Chicken Essence, a Chinese concentrated chicken extract broth with reported health benefits. Sterling explained, "The broth comes out of tiny jars. We were like a couple of cowboys hunched over at a bar,” he recalled fondly, “My dad turned to me and said, ‘Sterling, I’m really worried about you. Why are you spending so much time at home? You’re not working. And you’re not doing anything with your life right now.’”

He noticed that Sterling was sleeping the day away. His mom anxiously paced in and out of the kitchen as she overheard this conversation. “Right then, I just had to tell my dad, ‘I have cancer. I’m in a struggle for my health and my life right now. This is why I’m not working Dad.’ I really wanted to tell my dad as soon as I found out. I was afraid of his reaction, because I had to break my word with my mom. However, he was quiet – even a bit stoic. He was really careful with his words. I knew he understood me completely. He mentioned, ‘Oh, I know Scott Hamilton and Lance Armstrong are also testicular cancer survivors.’ From that moment on, my relationship with my father had totally changed. I felt his compassion just with the look in his eyes. We didn’t have to acknowledge it verbally.”

It was not only a relief to Sterling that the truth was revealed, but to his friends and cousins who checked in on him and regularly emailed to ask, “Have you told your dad yet?”

Another huge source of encouragement was The Wellness Community (TWC), a support group for young adults with cancer. “They became my salvation to face life again,” he acknowledged. With their love and support through the weekly meetings he began to piece together the meaning of cancer in his life.

A month after his last chemo treatment, Sterling found an internship at a psychiatric hospital under the supervision of one of his teachers, Lisa Jackert. She modified his work schedule to allow him to continue his recuperation. Sterling was still soft-spoken, bald and tired all the time.

By the following spring in 2003, six months after his chemo ended, Sterling started to feel like his old self again. He secretly eyed a flier posted at The Wellness Community that fall. It was an invitation to run in the Vancouver Marathon, if he could do some fundraising on behalf of The Wellness Community. He wanted to give back to The Wellness Community that had done so much for him. He decided to give it a go. Though a knee injury prevented him from running the full marathon in 2004, he finished his first half marathon. He was a bit disappointed in his time, but he knew immediately that he wanted to come back and run the full marathon in Vancouver.

His dad passed away two months later on Father’s Day. He also saw another close friend in his support group pass away Jolie Ross – the wife of his friend Derek Ross. In the throes of grief, Derek challenged Sterling to race a triathlon.

In a hurried rush, just a few weeks before his first triathlon he asked his friend Lou, who knew a lot about bikes, to help him choose a bike. So he took Sterling down to Supergo in Fountain Valley to pick one out. "Lou has excellent taste and is first-class kinda guy. He picked out this bike and I looked at the price and I say ‘Really? Is this how much I really want to spend on a bike?’ It was sticker shock. I followed his advice and bought the bike, a Specialized Roubaix,” he explained with a laugh, “Then I immediately started falling all over the place. I still have scars on the back of my legs from the number of times I fell.“

His first triathlon was the 2004 Lake Arrowhead Sprint Triathlon at 5000-foot elevation. “When the volunteer went to mark my legs, she gasped at my scars. I told her ‘You can write my number really high on my leg,’” he recalled.

After a few strokes of the swim, he panicked and flipped over to backstroke the race. “Safety crews followed me and asked ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Yeah, I’m fine!’ I’m swimming all crooked,” he admitted. His buddy Derek instructed him, “Don’t let anyone on a mountain bike pass you!” Well, the race didn’t go as planned. A couple snuck past him. He had to walk his bike up a hill. On the run, he was out of breath. “It was so humiliating, but I was hooked,” he explained, “I had to learn how to get better at this sport!”

Sterling continued to find strength and inspiration from The Wellness Community. He still attended the weekly Young Adults support group. He continued receiving the A-OK from Dr. Lloyd. He really improved as a runner and began to love everything about being an endurance athlete. Things were looking up for him for a change. So he decided to step up to the challenge and return to Vancouver for the full marathon in 2005. Once again, he raced on behalf of The Wellness Community. He dedicated the race to the memory of his dad and had his teammate write in bold letters on his arm "Daddy I miss you." To commemorate this moment, he dyed his hair bright fire engine red for the event. He had his hair and his health again. Why not be bold and flash it? His friends cheered for him from the sidelines and called him “A Rock Star!”

While training Vancouver Marathon, he worked out with some friends from Runners High, some were accomplished Ironman athletes. “I’d hear about all their crazy workouts like 90-mile training rides and decided I wanted to do an Ironman too. “

There was a shift in Sterling’s thinking. Instead of worrying about the return of cancer, he was thinking forward to his next race. In 2006, he completed the Wildflower Olympic and Big Kahuna Half-Ironman triathlons. He hit the submit button for Ironman Arizona in 2007, but suffered a broken collarbone on a training ride. A dog ran across his path while he was riding the bike course in Tempe and he had no place to avoid tthe dog.

He continued working toward his goal, while caring for his mom who had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and continuing his full-time music therapist job.

In November 2008, he finally got his chance to compete in Ironman Arizona. The morning of the race another athlete offered him a pearl of wisdom, "This is the only piece of advice that I am going to tell you. This day is long enough that your race can actually improve over time." Sterling replied with an incredulous, "Really?!" Little did he know how prophetic that statement would be.

Almost immediately the wheels came off the wagon for Sterling. Something was wrong on the swim. His stomach was bloated and his legs cramped up. However, he still managed to finish the 2.4-mile swim in an hour and thirty-eight minutes.

On the bike, he it got even worse. He had trouble getting the pedals to turn over. Immediately he was nauseous and by mile 10 had to pull over and wretch for the first time. “Oh man, I can’t let my day end like this…I have to finish,” he recalled. The nausea and bloated feeling that he felt now felt reminded him of how sick he was with his chemotherapy treatments. None of the nutrition or hydration was staying down in stomach for very long.

Suffice it to say, the volunteers he met on the first and second loop of that ride were concerned. The most rotund guys in the whole race passed Sterling. Everyone left him in the dust. He really was tempted to abandon the race on the bike during the second loop. He was feeling woozy and unsure of himself . But he was determined to give it his best shot. The only way he wanted to go out was if a course marshal told him to stop.

His dear friend, Jill Fernandez, who was there to cheer him on with her nieces and nephew asked in a pleading sort of way, “Okay, Sterling, maybe on this third loop you could do a little better? Just go a little faster?” All of sudden, his stomach cleared up by the third loop. He made the turnaround of the third bike loop with nary a competitor in sight. It was a long road to face all alone.

He was able to honor Jill's request and pick up the pace on the third loop. He finished the 112-mile bike portion of the race with 10 minutes to spare before the cutoff. He felt much better by the run. This was his strength. He was carrying his cell phone for safety reasons. Around mile 21 of the marathon, he got a call from his concerned mother, “Sterling, I’m worried about you. How come I haven’t heard from you yet?” She’s a little hard of hearing. Sterling had to yell, “I’ve got five more miles!” How many?” she asked. “Mom, five more miles!” he said. “What?” she asked again. “Five more miles. I’ll call you when I’m done.” he practically screamed.

On those last few miles, a light bulb went off that he was almost there. He began to forget all the agony that it took to get him here thus far. "Wow that dude that I met this morning was so right!!" he thought to himself. He managed to sprain his right ankle and his left and right Achilles tendons began aching pretty badly during the marathon. His new mantra became, "Pain is temporary, glory is forever."

As Sterling neared the finish line, Jill handed him a Team Duke flag – the current cancer charity that Sterling represents. As he approached the finish chute, he heard the booming voice of Mike Riley make a legendary call, “Looks like we have a Team Duke supporter here. It is Sterling Kwong from Buena Park, California. You are an Ironman!”

While Sterling was standing punch drunk from the experience with a volunteer finisher catcher on either side of him, Jill asked, “How are you doing?” Sterling still can’t quite recall his reply. “I either said ‘That was dumb.’ Or ‘I feel numb,’” he said with a laugh. He finished the race in 16:22 – a good two hours over his expected time. Fifty days from now, he’ll have another chance to best that time when he competes in Ironman Wisconsin in September.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #16 in a Series


In his junior year of high school, Kevin Quadrozzi was the fastest cross-country runner in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. There were quite a few colleges and universities interested in him. He was in talks with the coach at the University of Massachusetts. His future was bright.

This self-described injury-prone athlete developed a strange pain in his leg. He had a string of stress fractures in the past, but this felt different. After a few treatments from a physical therapist, he realized the pain wasn’t going away.

His sports orthopedist ordered an MRI of his leg and noticed a spot that concerned him. Three days later, Kevin had a bone scan. “They told me it was a tumor. When they showed me where it was on my tibia, it looked like an over-sized jelly bean,” he explained, “That same day, my parents told my sisters and I that they were getting a divorce. We didn’t see it coming. It was a tough time for me. I was scared.”

After undergoing a second bone scan, it became evident that the tumor was benign. “It showed the tumor was disintegrating, which lead to another problem because it formed a hole. The outside of my tibia was very thin like the crust of an eggshell,” he recalled.

His doctors were nervous and thought he might need surgery right away. Kevin was nervous that he might miss his upcoming cross-country races and blow his chances at being recruited by colleges.

The doctors understood and gave him two options. He could postpone his surgery until after his cross-country season as long as he cut his weekly mileage in half. They warned him that he could break his leg at any time. Or he could have the surgery that summer and miss his cross-country season.

Like any red-blooded runner, he opted to avoid the surgery. He reduced his running mileage from 60 to 30 miles a week. He biked and even competed in some road races. And he swam. He did whatever he could to maintain his fitness and baby his leg.

His patience paid off. “I ended up being second in the county going into the championship meets,” he explained, “Then, I ran a race with two of my rivals and I had the worst finish of my high school career. I placed seventh and passed right out. I ended up going to the emergency room and they diagnosed me with mono. The same week one of my best friends died suddenly.”

Since he wouldn’t be able to compete in those final championship events, he thought it would be the perfect time to get that surgery he needed. His doctors did not concur. He couldn’t have the surgery until his blood work returned to normal. He had blood tests twice a week for five weeks before he was cleared to have the operation.

Since Kevin’s condition was so rare, his doctor had never performed this kind of surgery before. He was given the option of filling the hole with artificial bone or his own bone, which would heal faster, but would be more painful. Kevin wanted the quicker recovery.

The next question was where would they harvest the bone on Kevin’s body that was big enough to fill the hole? He went under anesthesia not knowing whether it would be from his hip or his knee. The surgery went smoothly. “When I woke up, I saw the marks on my hip where they planned to cut, but they opted to chisel off a piece on the outside of my knee. I was glad because those marks looked big,” he said. Kevin spent the next three days in the hospital.

Then he spent the next two months on crutches with a DIY (do-it-yourself) rehab program that was more fitting for an Ironman in training. “I probably did a little more than I should have,” he recalled with a laugh, “I biked 400-500 miles a week on the trainer. That was about all I could do. I’d pop a movie in after school and bike for a couple of hours.”

Kevin was definitely ready for his spring track season. He finished high school with a few PRs under his belt, including a 4:32 mile. He went to the University of Massachusetts, after all. “I didn’t even tell my coach about the tumor until my sophomore year,” he admitted. He had a couple of nagging injuries in college, but managed to bring his mile time down to 4:14 and his 5K time down to 15:00. He placed 32nd at the U.S. Men’s 5K Championship, the national road championship, in his senior year.

Now that he has graduated, he plans to get his MBA in Sports Management from Florida Atlantic University. He’s eligible for the school’s cross-country team and club track team. “Once I’m done competing in the mile, I want to start doing marathons. My goal is to do Ironman races and qualify for Kona some day. That’s what I’d really like to do.” He’s come this far. It’s not that hard to picture him running through the lava fields of Hawaii next.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #15 in a Series


Ask 60-year old Wayne Wright how many marathons he’s done in his life and he answers, “I ran 36 marathons before I died, and 39 marathons after I died.” The retired Army major thrives on adrenaline. He was an Army Ranger, a Green Beret, a Commander of a battalion of drill sergeants, and a competitive marksman. He was also trained as an EMT. So when he had symptoms of angina during the first mile of a 10K road race in February 2007, he knew something was wrong.

“I had a pain in my heart. A heart attack has a very crushing feeling like ‘get that truck off my chest,’” he explained, “I didn’t have that – it was just like somebody stuck a knife in my heart.” After he warmed up, the heart got more blood or more endorphins kicked in, and the pain went away. Wayne finished the race. “I had a discomfort that felt like a sunburn, but inside my chest,” he recalled, “A sunburn is not debilitating. It’s just annoying.”

On Monday, he went to see his physician, who told him, “Of course, it can’t be your heart. You’re a marathoner.” Wayne thought he was in the clear. The next weekend, he went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and ran a 3:49 marathon – the second fastest marathon in his life. Two weeks later, he ran a 3:56 marathon in Napa Valley, California. He flew directly from there to Reno to go skiing at Lake Tahoe for a week.

After he arrived home, he competed in a 5K and won his age group. “I still had this nagging sunburn-like chest pain. Aspirin helped,” he explained, “On Tuesday, I was supposed to fly to Indiana. I decided to cancel my flight and went to the emergency room instead.”

A routine enzyme test ruled out myocardial infarction. The ER doctor wanted to send him home. Fortunately, the cardiologist on call knew Wayne personally, and suggested they do one more test as a precaution. When they prepped him for the catheterization, they told him it would only take 15 minutes and he could watch it on a video monitor. “My wife knew something was wrong when it took an hour and a half,” he said, “I knew something was wrong when I woke up from the procedure.”

The doctors discovered that his left anterior descending artery, commonly referred to as, “the widow maker” which serves the entire left ventricle was 80% blocked. Three other arteries also showed significant obstructions. Two days later, they performed a quadruple bypass on Wayne.

The surgical team at Holmes Regional Medical Center pioneered using arteries instead of veins for bypasses. Their theory is that arteries have thicker muscle walls and are accustomed to contracting more with each beat than a vein. They also believe arteries will last longer, but they haven’t been doing it long enough to know for sure.

For Wayne’s surgery, they replaced those blocked arteries with an artery out of his right forearm, a vein out of his left leg, and his mammary artery. “So I can never breastfeed,” Wayne quipped.

Maybe not, but the man sure can run. And he wasn’t about to let open-heart surgery stop him. He’s not one to sugarcoat things either. It was rough at first. “When I woke up from surgery I said, ‘I must’ve died during surgery because this is hell.’” The surgery took four hours. They stopped his heart for two hours. Which is why he’s known as “The Dead Guy.”

He started walking laps around the large hospital’s hallways. Nine days after his surgery, Wayne walked a 5K in downtown Melbourne, Florida. “Those folks made a big deal out of it and put my picture in the newspaper,” he said, “I didn’t have the heart to tell them I walked six miles the day before.”

Four weeks after his surgery, his doctor said, “Well I guess you can start running a little.” Wayne pointed out to the doctor, “That’s like telling an alcoholic ‘you can start drinking a little.’ So let's put some parameters on it.” You see Wayne is a member of the 50 States Marathon Club and Marathon Maniacs. He completes more marathons in a year than many avid runners run in a lifetime.

His doctor instructed him to run a mile and then walk for a few minutes to see how he felt. He was afraid the endorphins might mask the pain. “I ran for a minute and it kicked my butt. Then I walked five. The next day I was able to walk a minute and 15 seconds and walk 4:45. The day after that it was 1:30,” he recalled.

Two weeks after the check-up and six weeks after surgery, Wayne “The Dead Guy” entered the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio. He alternated between running four minutes and walking three minutes until he crossed the finish line in 4:37. “That was the only marathon I ever started where there was a serious concern if could I finish,” he admitted, “I had no idea what was going to happen. I thought it might take me 6 hours or more. I felt great. Fantastic! I’ve got a rebuilt carburetor baby, I’m good to go!” People in his age group joked, “Uh-oh, we know what you could do when your heart was bad. We’ve got to look out now!’

Despite good results at his next few marathons, Wayne was concerned that his Garmin 305 showed his heart rate was a few beats higher than normal – whether he was racing or just reading the newspaper. His cardiologist ordered a nuclear stress test, which showed there was nothing wrong with the plumbing. An ultrasound revealed hypokinesis, which meant not enough movement when his heart pumped. “Normal ejection of the blood out of the left ventricle is 70%. I’m down to 45%. Anything below that is congestive heart failure,” he explained, “I’m right at the border. My heart has to beat three times now to give me the same blood that it used to do with two beats. A small percentage of people have this after open-heart surgery.”

He also watched his father and five uncles die of congestive heart failure. “I watched my father die over a period 10 years. Yes, he was breathing. Yes, he was walking and talking. But he had no quality of life. I’m not going to go that way. I’m going to live every day to the absolute maximum. Each day I wake up is a good one. I’m not going to sit here and wait for death to catch me. I’m going slide into the grave sideways and go ‘Wow, what a ride!’” he explained.

That is certainly one huge motivating factor that drives Wayne to keep running. “I have a can-do spirit, not a defeatist one. In the Green Berets we had a motto, “The difficult, we do right away. The impossible takes a while longer. Miracles are by appointment only.”

Then he added, “Have you seen the movie The Bucket List? My Bucket List is to run a marathon on every continent.” Three weeks ago, he ran the Red Cross Big Five Marathon through a private wild animal preserve in Africa. Before his surgery, he ran marathons in North America, Europe, Antarctica, and Asia, Next year, he’ll go to South America and then Australia. And later this year, he’ll complete his quest to run a marathon in every state in the U.S. He’s returning to Indiana where he was raised to run the Indianapolis Marathon in October. “I’m planning a big party with my family and friends.” The man does have an appointment.

Photos from the Red Cross Big Five Marathon: Top: Runners from the 50 States Marathon Club, this group of six has completed over 1100 marathons; Runners were accompanied by armed rangers to protect them from the wild animals; Elephants blocked the course along the way.



NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #14 in a Series


In March 2007, Kara traveled with her softball team to play a few games in Fort Meyers, Florida during spring break. She was a freshman attending Bowdoin College in Maine. In her first game on the mound, pitching for the Polar Bears, Kara threw a screwball. The batter smacked the ball straight up the middle.

Though her reflexes were quick, it was one of those times when she couldn’t get her glove up fast enough to protect herself from the blow. The ball hit Kara on the forehead with full force and knocked her out cold.

The dad of one of her teammates was an EMT and rushed to the mound to help her, along with her coach and athletic trainer. When she came to again, they were concerned. Kara walked off the mound with a bloody nose, but was soon rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

As luck would have it, her own dad was attending a conference in St. Petersburg. He was able to drive down to Fort Meyers and meet her at the hospital. A CAT scan was performed which showed nothing. But Kara had something more than a run-of-the-mill concussion, which she was diagnosed with that night.

Father and daughter checked into a hotel after she was released. Her dad woke Kara up every hour on the hour, as the doctor had ordered. She didn’t remember getting hit by the ball. She thought she was fine. The doctor even cleared her to play. At the next game, her coach said, “Kara, I can’t let you do that – I saw what happened to you. There’s no way you can play. There’s something wrong with you.”

Instead, he put her in charge of the scorebook. “No one could understand what I wrote. My notes were completely illiterate that day,” Kara recalled, “And I couldn’t follow the game. I kept asking my teammates for strikes and fouls and pitch count. And they kept looking at me and asking ‘Are you okay?’”

After those games, her behavior was just as uncharacteristic for a Polar Bear who just came out of winter hibernation. Kara had no desire to bask out in the sun. She didn’t want to talk because she couldn’t follow conversations. And all she wanted to do was sleep after the team dinners. Yet she thought she was fine.

A week later, the trainers at Bowdoin gave her a 20-minute treadmill test to see if she was ready to play again. Like a trooper, she got through the test, but then she felt like a frat boy who just indulged in too much of a keg. She collapsed by the pool, felt extremely nauseous and thought she might pass out. “That’s when I realized how hurt I was…I took a plane home to Massachusetts,” she recalled, “My dad picked me up at the airport and drove me home right away.”

She stayed home for a few days and tried to enjoy Easter with her family. Kara still couldn’t follow conversations and had an overwhelming desire to sleep. When she returned to school, it took all her energy to walk to class. She took breaks on the way and felt sick. By the time she got there, she was too tired to hold her head up. She gave up on walking to the dining hall. Her friends brought her food to the dorm. Kara became completely reclusive. Noise gave her headaches. She couldn’t even watch television.

Even the smallest decisions became difficult for her. “I didn’t know when to shower or when to eat. I didn’t know how to plan my day,” Kara explained, “Which was weird because I’m a really big planner. I’d call my mom and ask, ‘Should I shower?’ And she’d answer, ‘Kara, what’s wrong with you?’” It turned out that Kara had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her coaches and school administrators recommended she take the rest of the semester off to get the treatment she needed.

Instead of taking finals, she spent the rest of the spring and summer taking neuropsych and hearing exams. She took a part-time job over the summer, but even that proved to be difficult. Kara had to re-learn how to do a lot of things.

When she returned to school in the fall, it became apparent she still wasn’t as sharp as before. She started out with four classes, but her neurologist suggested that she drop two of them. One was a classical music class. Kara had a tough time following the music and processing what she was hearing. “I couldn’t multi-task at all,” Kara admitted.

She saw a speech pathologist regularly in September who guided her through the process of becoming a student athlete again. Kara re-learned how to take notes – only writing what she absolutely needed to know later. She learned how to regroup if she lost her concentration in the middle of a lecture.

Kara was also plagued with nightly nightmares until January. If she was lucky, she got five hours of sleep. Some nights, she didn’t sleep at all. It’s a common frustration that goes with TBI.

A year later, Kara was finally starting to feel like herself again. She took a full course load and played with her team again. She even won her first three games on the mound.

Yet she still deals with the lingering affects of her TBI. She’s always been a consummate planner, but her to-do list today looks a tad different than the average person’s. She writes down the basic tasks to complete each day. And since she’s making up for lost time at school, each day is packed:

5:30-7:30 Workout a the gym
7:30-8:00 Breakfast and shower
8:30-4:30 Work
5:00 – Dinner
5:45-10:00 p.m. Summer school (Statistics and Chemistry) – plus an hour round-trip commute
10:30 – Homework, then bed

Like so many comebacks, Kara’s is more than physical. It’s mental. And it’s life changing. “With my head injury, I’ve decided to go into neuroscience,” she said with more than just a hint of enthusiasm, “I realize I have it a lot better off than a lot of people, so I’m not complaining. The brain is fascinating to me now.”

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #13 in a Series


On June 3, 1969, twenty-six year old Dennis Tapp was working the graveyard shift at a gas station in Vallejo, California. Three men walked into the station brandishing guns. He gave them all the money out of the cash register, the blue chip stamps, and his wallet. Then one of the robbers instructed him to turn around. Dennis felt the first bullet hit him in the middle of his back. He experienced a floating sensation when he was hit with another four bullets. Another man was murdered.

After the men left, Dennis was able to reach for the phone and request help from the operator. The police arrested the group right away. They were sentenced to life in prison, and later released in 1988. The ABC News program 20/20 contacted him to appear on a special called “Life After Death Row” and he was able to meet his assailant face to face. Despite everything Dennis has been through, he is not for the death penalty.

Dennis went through a lot. When he arrived at the hospital, he could only move one toe. He was paralyzed from the waist down. His physical therapist had hope that he would walk again. He had excruciating pain from the spinal cord injury. “But I didn’t let the pain get to me,” he recalled.

He spent the next six months in the hospital, working on his mobility. In the rehabilitation gym, he used parallel bars to balance himself. He wore braces around his knees and a belt with a handle so his physical therapist could hold him up as he attempted to walk. He could not feel much below his feet. His weight dropped from 156 lbs. to 112 lbs.

When Dennis left the hospital, he walked out using polio crutches. He still needed a wheelchair for another two years. Then, after a year and a half, he progressed from polio crutches to canes. And after another year, he was able to walk without any assistance. “I kept thinking positively. I learned how to walk and then years later ride a bicycle,” he explained.

Mind you, Dennis had only been on a bicycle twice in his life. He never really learned how to ride one before. By 1980, he was feeling out of shape and decided to do something about it. “One day with my warped sense of humor, I decided to buy one of those K-Mart specials, a Huffy. So I rode that bike on the sidewalks to get home. That 15-minute ride from K-Mart to my home was a workout,” he admitted.

Since Dennis still had 30-40% paralysis below his waist, he had to lean to the left, his stronger side, to get on and off the bike. He gradually built up his stamina by going a mile further a day. “After a while, I realized I didn’t like that Huffy. It probably weighed 35 or 40 lbs. It was a heavy bike. I decided to buy a 10-speed Peugeot for $400 with all the bells and whistles. Then I found out about toe clips. It took me about a week to get used to them, but everything was a lot easier with those toe clips,” he recalled.

Dennis learned how to cycle well. He could spin 90 rpms. He could stand up on the bike and sprint up hills. “I worked up to 30 or 40 miles a day, then up to 50, 60, 70 miles per day. After a while, it seemed easy. So in 1982, I decided to bicycle across the United States on the Bicentennial Trail which is 4200 miles,” he explained, “I wanted to do something to prove that I wasn’t disabled.”

He bought panniers for his bike and gave himself a budget of $10 per day. People treated him well. He made 200 friends along the way. They invited him to spend the night in their homes, schools, and even jails. Coffee shops and restaurants piled extra food on his plate when they saw him pull up on his bike. He has fond memories of stacks of pancakes the size of plates. “They rolled out the red carpet for me,” he admitted, “The thing I looked forward to the most was a hot bath.” What’s his advice for anyone bicycling across the United States? “Go with the wind. Go from west to east in the summer,” he answered. “I hit heavy 70 mph, hurricane force winds in Wyoming and Montana. They were at my back. I flew over the Rockies. It was fun.” Most of the time, he averaged 12-15 mph with his bike weighing 70 lbs, loaded with gear. Some days he only traveled a block. One day, he rode as far 165 miles (by accident). The entire trip took him three months.

When he returned to Oregon, he got into walking. He managed 3-4 miles per day at first. In 1992, Walking Magazine honored him as the Walker of the Year. After a couple of failed attempts at a marathon due to illnesses, he completed the Portland Marathon in 7 1/2 hours.

A triathlete friend turned him on to hiking mountains. Together, they climbed all of the highest peaks in Oregon, including South Sister, Mount Thielsen, and Diamond Peak. He also climbed the majority of Mount Whitney in California with his wife, but had to stop due to a severe headache from the altitude.

Today at the age of 66, he uses a cane again, but it doesn’t stop him from getting around. Dennis continues to walk in 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons. And what his advice for athletes who are getting over their injuries? “Think positively! You have to see yourself getting better,” he explained, “It’s more than physical. It’s mental. You have to think positively.”

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be the first of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #12 in a Series


Andy Bailey, a former social worker, dreamed of spending his golden years training like a pro triathlete – a sport he had enjoyed for 20 years. At the age of 68, he was still training six days a week for his races. On December 12, 2006, he went outside to wash his car. He looked up and saw a runaway laundry delivery van careening down on him and its driver frantically chasing after the vehicle.

Andy was trapped between his car and a railing when the van struck both, sending him down a steep incline. He was lucky to survive the accident, but the injury to his foot was severe.

He spent the next seven weeks in the hospital. While he was there he contracted MRSA, a bacterial infection that can threaten life and limb. When he was told he had it, he didn’t think he would survive.

On December 30th, his doctor performed an ankle fusion to repair the leg. His wife, Jeri, spent New Year’s Eve with him in the isolation room. Though she was wearing a different kind of gown for the occasion, they celebrated the night together. A friend dropped off a tray of appetizers and sparkling cider for them to enjoy instead of hospital food.

Two days later, two plastic surgeons made a muscle flap by removing his latissimus dorsi muscle and creating a skin graft with a patch of skin from his left thigh – an intricate operation that took eight hours. Andy was placed in an isolation room in the rehabilitation unit for two weeks. A physical therapist worked with him there, showing him different exercises with Thera-Bands.

In early February, he was discharged from the hospital with large wounds. He had difficulty going upstairs, so he scooted up them on his butt until a physical therapist showed him how to maneuver better with his crutches. Two weeks after Andy went home, he started getting eruptions of MRSA on his ankle.

Despite large doses of antibiotics, the MRSA remained a tough foe. In April, his doctors theorized that perhaps a bone fragment and two staples from the plastic surgery acted like a magnet for the bacteria. There was another operation to remove the debris.

Seven months after his surgery, a CAT scan revealed that his wounds were not healing. His doctor discussed the possibility of amputation. Andy was devastated and willing to do anything to save his foot. He saw three more orthopedic doctors. Each physician had his own idea of a possible way to save it. He tried a bone stimulator for three or four months, but the MRSA was still there. In September, his doctor removed a screw in his lower leg where more of the bacteria had formed.

Throughout those months, Andy was in excruciating pain. He also worried about spreading the virus to his devoted wife, Jeri, who learned how to change his dressings. In November, he went off the antibiotics and had another MRSA outbreak. His doctor told him, “You cannot keep doing this…it’s killing you.”

Andy had his lower leg and foot amputated on February 28, 2008. A month later, he showed up at the Ironman California 70.3 race to show support for another disabled friend who finished the race in nine hours. He was inspired by her courage.

By mid April, he was ready to be fitted for his first prosthetic which he wore for six months. Though his stump has healed, he discovered that it is still getting smaller. He and his prosthetist, Dino LaCapria of Orange Coast Prosthetics, continue to tinker with the fit, so he can do the activities he enjoys. You guessed it, triathlon.

In October, he participated in the CAF Triathlon Challenge as part of a relay team. Andy traversed three sets of stairs to the beach to do the 1.2-mile swim. A storm arrived that morning, creating pounding surf and a thick fog. After several delays, the race was cut to 800 yards. Andy was accompanied by two swim buddies, including Jim Fitzpatrick, and his prosthetist. “They kept me out of the fray and dragged me up on shore and up those stairs,” he recalled with fondness, “My runner was the first hand cyclist to finish and my cyclist won his division. We had the second fastest time of the day.”

During the winter, he participated in three short indoor triathlons put on at health clubs in the San Diego area, where participants were invited to swim for 10 minutes, spin cycle for 20 minutes and run on the treadmill for 15 minutes. Andy used a pull buoy for the swim and walked the run portion.

A friend introduced Andy to another gentleman, Fermin Camarena, who suffered a stroke and participated in events with a tricycle. The two teamed up and did the Tinsel Triathlon in December, the Pasadena Triathlon in March, and the PossAbilities Triathlon in April.

He still did not have a prosthetic designed for running. Fortunately, he knew that would soon change. Back in February, 2007 Andy and Jeri attending a banquet for outstanding endurance athletes just three weeks before his amputation. They had a chance meeting with Tabi King, the Marketing Director for Ossur Americas, a prosthetics company in Aliso Viejo. She said, “When you’re ready for your Flex Run foot, let us know and we’ll help you out.” That meant the world to him.

In March 2009, he was ready. He was fitted for this high-tech piece of equipment, just in time to participate in Ossur’s running clinic with some Para-Olympic runners. “It was a trip using the Flex Runner. Everything is on your toes. I’m used to being a heal striker,” Andy explained, “It’s been a big challenge for me. The problem now is that I’m so out of condition, I’m gasping for air. I haven’t run very far on this thing yet.”

On June 14th (last Sunday), he participated in his first 5K, a fundraiser sponsored by the Orange County Track Club, which he has been part of for the past 25 years. Though he did not complete the whole event, he did manage to run a half-mile with his wife and the proud folks at Ossur looking on. Estancia High School also started the Andy Bailey's Challenge scholarship fund for promising cross-country runners headed off to college.

He also received an award from the San Diego Triathlon Club for the comeback of the year as well as a lifetime membership for everything he has done for the club the past 15 years. Andy is also a long-time member of the Orange County Triathlon Club, where he has participated in many fundraising events for the CAF the past nine years. At the age of 70, he plans to participate in many more triathlons in the future.

He closed with another long quote that’s just too good to edit. And since this is a blog, there’s no need to…“When I start to feel sorry for myself for all this stuff that shouldn’t have ever happened to me, I remind myself that there are so many other people who are so much worse off than I am. And they are accomplishing unbelievable things,” he explained, “I saw quad amputees and quadriplegics participate in that CAF Triathlon Challenge. There were 150 disabled athletes down there. It’s just unbelievable. They have a desire to live and do whatever they can to take care of their families. So that’s what I’m trying to dwell on. Be happy that you’re alive and that you can do whatever you can do. A lot of disabled people accomplish more than the average person. I’m not sure I could have accomplished all that I have now if it hadn’t been for those other athletes. If I can inspire somebody else to try to do the best they can do with whatever they have, I’m really happy about it. Life is precious. We need to hold on to it. Don’t give up. And keep trying.”

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

Comeback Kid: #11 in a Series


When professional mountain biker, Brad Stephenson, was 13 years old, he was in a motorcycle accident. He lost control of his trail bike going down a treacherous hill. He flew over the handlebars and the bike rode over him. His friends thought he was joking around. He brushed himself off and convinced himself that he wasn’t hurt. Five days later, the doctors discovered he fractured his wrist, hip, and three vertebrae.

This first big injury was a valuable experience because he learned how to read his body better. Granted, it took time. "Over the years, I realized that my pain tolerance was pretty high and what often seemed like minor injuries were actually not… I’ve a fractured finger, cuts to the bone, and a partially torn Achilles tendon without realizing how bad they were. Now I’m more tuned in with listening to my body and seeking medical attention."

On Halloween of 2007, he had another scary fall. Fortunately, none of his friends witnessed it. “It was really lame. I was returning from a trail ride on the sidewalk, going about a half-mile an hour, when my handlebars tapped a light pole and sent me straight down to the pavement,” he recalled, “My elbow hit first and it was loud. I tried to shake it off and continue my ride. I had to turn around and ride five miles back to my house.”

The older, wiser Brad listened to his body and got it checked right away. He had fractured his elbow. He persuaded his doctor to give him a half cast and a sling instead of a full cast. He wanted to be able to train any way he could.

Two days after his accident, he was back on his bike trainer, pedaling away. To cope with boredom of stationary cycling, he visualized racing and riding more technical terrain. He spent more time lifting weights with his legs and improving his core by doing stomach and back exercises in the Roman chair. “Your core is so important for single-speed mountain biking,” he added.

Though it was near the end of his season and he had already cinched the California State title, he still had one more important race – 12 Hours of Temecula. He was on a two-man team with his brother Todd. They had already won the first two races of the SoCal Endurance 12-Hour Race Series. He wanted to help his brother do well in their last race by completing as many laps as possible in a 12-hour period. He wanted to score another win for his sponsor Sho-Air.

Only three weeks after fracturing his elbow, it was too much, too soon. “I made an attempt to do some laps with my sling at night. Todd came through the line and I took off, but I only went a short distance near the finish line,” he recounted, “I bailed out. I couldn’t keep going. Todd did enough laps for the both of us to secure the title for the year.”

He spent the next three weeks babying his arm and conditioning the rest of his body. He even went for some trail runs. He was determined to have a good season in 2008. He planned to compete as a single-speed professional.

On December 2nd, he went for his first trail ride again. He went on a team ride with the rest of the Sho-Air/Rock N’ Road Elite Masters Team. “It was a hammer ride on some technical trails, but I managed to hold my own,” he said, “It was the most painful ride. My elbow really hurt from the jarring, even though it was healed. When I actually got back on the bike, it felt so good to be back riding again.” Brad never took any painkillers.

Despite getting back to mountain biking in a short span of time, his arm didn’t feel right for another nine months. “Lots of atrophy had set in and it was a slow process to get the muscle and flexibility back,” Brad admitted. After it had fully healed, he started lifting weights to get his strength and mobility back. He soaked his arm in the Jacuzzi and did lots of stretching there.

Did his riding change after getting hurt? “I wasn’t worried about falling again. It’s part of the sport,” he explained, “I think it’s very easy to focus on technical sections and then let your guard down on the easy stuff. So now I’m much more focused, no matter where I’m riding.”

His new approach paid off. In 2008, he won 12 out of 20 races, including a few nationals and he defended his California State Championship title.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

Comeback Kid: #10 in a Series


It doesn’t quite sound right to refer to professional triathlete, Karen Smyers, as a Comeback Kid. It’s more accurate to refer to her as a Comeback-Again-and-Again-and-Again-and-Again Kid.

Karen’s race resume shows she’s an incredible athlete. She won the U.S. Pro Nationals in six consecutive years. In 1995, she was the only triathlete to accomplish the remarkable feat of winning the Ironman World Championship in Kona and five weeks later, the ITU triathlon world title. The way she has dealt with hardships shows she’s an incredible person.

On a warm day in June 1997, Karen decided to change her storm windows and replace them with screens for the summer. A last-minute chore before she flew to Europe the next day for the ITU World Cup in Monte Carlo and an Ironman race in Germany. Somehow a large storm window broke. When she lifted it over her head, a shard of glass came down and severed her hamstring. She was home alone and called 911. After her doctor performed surgery to repair it, he put her leg in a full cast – from her ankle to her hip.

“They told me I would need up to six months of rehab,” she explained, “My husband and I looked for the silver lining and decided a nine-month maternity leave was a pretty good layover for a six-month rehab. My daughter, Jenna, was born 10 months later in May.”

Her body went through some incredible changes that year. While her belly was growing, her leg was shrinking at an alarming rate. The stark contrast of training 20-24 hours a week and suddenly doing nothing caused the atrophy to accelerate. Karen got creative at the gym. She placed two rowing machines next to each other and worked on her cardio. While she rowed, her bad leg glided back and forth, resting on the seat of the other rowing machine. She used an electrical-stimulation machine at home to try to wake up her VMO. And she went to physical therapy for a couple of months to get her knee tracking properly again.

A few months after Jenna was born in 1998, Karen prepared to compete at Kona again. On a training ride in August, she was hit by an 18-wheeler. “I remember the terror that he was going to hit me. He came along side me and came so close that I was trying to hold my line for dear life and not go into the soft shoulder where there were trees and rocks or veer into him,” she recounted, “I fell pretty hard going down a hill. I had a third-degree separation of the shoulder, six broken ribs, a lung contusion, and road rash of course.” Unaware that he struck her, the trucker kept going, but six different motorists got his plate and reported him.

After the accident, she couldn’t nurse her baby without her husband Michael’s help. A week later, she was back in the water at her PT's recommendation. Karen went to Walden Pond and quickly realized it was too soon for a swim in deep water and she might drown. She opted for a friend’s backyard pool to rehab her shoulder. Those 15-yard lengths of the pool were quite challenging for the woman who was accustomed to 4,000-yard workouts.

The bike accident affected her physically and emotionally. “The thought that I almost robbed my daughter of her mom was scary. To this day, I’m still on guard when I hear a motor behind me when I’m on the bike,” she explained, “It causes a visceral reaction in me. If it’s a truck, I have a hard time controlling my trembling. In a way, it’s helped me examine how important the sport was to me. I knew I’d have to get over it. Now, it’s a healthy fear.”

Though she always thought of herself as a conservative rider, she plays it extra safe now. She avoids rush-hour traffic and certain roads with narrow shoulders. “You can’t protect yourself from everything. You still have to live,” Karen added.

She wanted to make a strong comeback in ’99 with the hope of qualifying for the inaugural triathlon event in the 2000 Olympics Games. “I needed to raise my rankings to even be eligible for the Olympic Trials. I did a few World Cup races and placed second behind Laurie Bowden in Hawaii,” she recounted. Karen raced Kona, knowing her body harbored thyroid cancer. Weeks before the event, her doctor discovered the swollen gland by chance when she went in to see him for bronchitis. He ordered an ultrasound and allowed her to postpone a biopsy until November after her final races for the season.

Karen did one more race in Mexico. She was involved in a fluke accident when a competitor's pedal came out the crank in front of her. “I went over my bars and broke my collarbone on the other side from my separated shoulder, which kind of evened me out,” she said with a chuckle.

She flew home and got a biopsy on her thyroid the next day. It confirmed the cancer. In December, Karen had the surgery to remove her thyroid. More treatment would be necessary, but since she had a slow-growing cancer, it could wait until after the Olympic trials in June. Karen was extra motivated to comeback right away after the shoulder injury and the thyroid surgery. The year proved to be too challenging. She gave it her all, but wasn’t fast enough to make the Olympic team.

In August, the doctors prepared her for the radioactive iodine treatment. A pre-test revealed some large lymph nodes that were too big, so they performed additional surgery to remove them. A month later, Karen had the radioactive iodine treatment. She was put into a lead-lined room, and given a radioactive pill from a lead-lined container. All of her remaining thyroid cells absorbed the radioactive iodine. The remainder of the poison passed through her intestines and damaged her organs.

“After the treatment, they run a Geiger counter over you to see if it’s under a certain limit before you can leave the hospital. For a week I couldn’t hold my daughter close or sit next to her when I read to her. I had to keep my distance because I was still a bit radioactive,” she explained, “I had to put my dishes in the dishwasher right away. I had to wash the toilet and shower right away after using them to protect my family.”

The treatment worked. There were no detectable cancer cells remaining. Her stomach was out of sorts for a few months. Amazingly, she returned to compete in Kona in 2001, and placed sixth. She also won the Pro Nationals in New York, a month before her 40th birthday.

Due to her cancer treatment, she was advised not to get pregnant for two years. Once she and her husband Michael started trying, she had two miscarriages before they finally welcomed their second child, Casey, into the world.

Despite everything Karen Smyers has experienced, she has a relaxed air about her. “I think going through those kind of things changes you. It makes you more appreciative of just getting to the starting line. And being healthy enough to compete,” she explained, “ I’m just really grateful for the sport because it was a huge motivator to get through these things. My whole background in sport gave me the tools to deal with adversity as it came to me.”

It’s no wonder she was the first woman inducted into the Triathlon Hall of Fame. Today, she’s passing her knowledge along to other athletes of all ages. She puts on a kids’ triathlon in her hometown, and coaches athletes like Ironman Brazil Champion Dede Griesbauer. Karen still competes at the professional level at the age of 47, and is thankful for her sponsors – Trek has been with her for the past 20 years and Saucony for the past 3 years.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here's why.

Comeback Kid: #9 in a Series


When Laurie, an avid marathoner turned 40, she had a gut feeling to stay in bed. Or as she put it, “A freaky premonition that all hell would break loose if I left the house.” She told her husband Robert, “No need to make a big deal out of this one. I don’t need a big party.” How could he deny her a big celebration for her big 4-0? He flew Paige in from Seattle for the occasion – her best friend and bad influence. Paige has a way of lighting up a room with her energy the moment she walks in.

That night, they hit an Irish pub to celebrate. There was a band playing, but no one was dancing. “We thought we’d do the band a favor and get the crowd going. So we started river dancing, very badly,” Laurie explained, “We did some kicks. I did a very high kick and hit some sort of big, heavy barstool. I didn’t feel any pain until my foot came down and my ankle gave out on me.” By then, she wished she drank more beers to mask the pain.

“Paige and my husband picked me up and put me in a chair. Then my foot swelled up so much that they picked me up and put me in a cab,” she recalled. Her good friend, Melissa, an emergency room nurse came by in the middle of the night to look at her foot and declared, “That thing is broken!”

She went to the emergency room for the official diagnosis. Laurie had shattered her fourth metatarsal and broken her fifth metatarsal. Hours later, she arrived home on Vicodin and crutches with a cast. That’s when she discovered that the party had just begun. Literally. Her husband had spent the past few weeks planning a surprise party at a local bowling alley. He had invited 50 friends, some of whom had flown in for the event. He rented out a local bowling alley and karaoke machine. He had it catered by a soul food restaurant. He even had a funky bowling shirt custom-made with her name on it.

“I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, but I had to make an appearance,” she said with a laugh, “I could barely see straight and was trying so hard to look normal. Somehow, I pulled it off. “ Then they told her, “Before you leave, you’ve gotta bowl first!” “I took one of those balls, hopped on my left foot and just let it fly. I knocked all the pins down – the only time I’ve ever bowled in my life!” she said.

Three days later, she had surgery on Halloween. “It was cool because the nurses were dressed like ghouls at this surgery center,” she added. Her doctor discovered a large hematoma, removed it, and then inserted a plate with four screws.

After spending three weeks on the couch with her leg elevated on pain medication, she was finally cleared to go in the pool. She immediately contracted an infection in her foot, which lead to a high fever and streaks traveling up her leg. Her doctor was shocked and immediately gave her a shot of penicillin and a prescription for several antibiotics. He took a culture, which revealed that she had contracted e-coli and strep in her foot. “I was almost hospitalized on Thanksgiving, but thankfully the meds worked right away,” she recalled.

Laurie spent the next five months focusing on healing and rehabilitation. She went to Sunset Physical Therapy three times a week. She worked out at the gym on the bike and the elliptical trainer. She practiced balance exercises and stretched regularly at home. The whole time she was determined to prove that she would still be a strong runner.

And when the time came to enter a race, she chose one that seemed quite fitting – Mount Disappointment. “I picked that one because I had been so disappointed with myself for getting injured!” she quipped with her rare sense of humor, “It was a 50K ultra-marathon. It was my first ultra-marathon.”

Coach Beth had prepared Laurie well for the 31-mile race. It was a hot, hilly, hard trail run at an altitude of 6,000 feet. At the 23-mile mark, she had a special snack waiting for her. The daughter of Scottish/Norwegian parents and a fisherman decided a tuna fish sandwich would probably hit the spot about then. She quickly opened a packet of tuna, smeared it on a slice of bread and bolted out of the last aid station.

“I felt the power of the tuna. The protein completely revitalized me. I ran with the sandwich in hand and tuna flying out of my mouth as I breathed,” she recalled. “People asked me ‘What are you eating?’ I was amazed at how grossed out they were. The said, "Ooooh groossss’ when I yelled back. ‘It’s a tuna sandwich!’” Yes, Laurie is convinced that Gu gel has nothing on a tuna sandwich. Who can argue with her choice of nutrition when she had such a great race?

“I remember running it and passing my two friends from Runner’s High who run 3-hour marathons,” she recounted, “I remember talking to important people in my life who passed away – my dad, my grandmother – feeling very thankful that I could run again and asking them to help me. It was a very spiritual and cool run.”

Her running since the injury has changed. “I’m a different kind of runner now – more of an endurance runner than a speedster,” she explained, “I’m a little older, a little heavier, but I am happier. And who knows? Maybe I will get faster.”

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

Comeback Kid: #8 in a Series


Erroll Tucker could have played football just about anywhere in the country. Ohio State wanted him. He chose the University of Utah because it would be easier for his parents to make the drive to his games from Lynwood, California.

He continued to make a name for himself as a defensive back in college. Erroll set 10 NCAA records in his senior year. He was the first player in history to lead punt and kick-off returns in the same season. He was the first return man selected as an All-American. He was a fifth-round NFL draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986.

In his second pre-season game, he showed everyone that he was a talent to be reckoned with – he returned a kick-off 98 yards for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins. It was the first return for a touchdown that the Steelers had in five years. Then in his fourth pre-season game, the unthinkable happened. On a punt return, one of his own players was blocked backed into him. “Before I knew it, I was down,” he recounted, “I saw Giants Stadium spinning in circles when the pain set in. I broke the fibular (calf) bone, right above the ankle.” He missed out on the rest of his rookie year.

The doctor inserted a plate and then removed it a year later when the bone was fully healed. When Erroll returned to the field, his foot still wasn’t working right. He knew it every time he ran up and down the sidelines. “To Pittsburgh’s credit, they kept me around a long as they could, hoping I’d be okay,” he explained.

He wasn’t okay. After his first two surgeries, the tendons to his ankle were stuck, leaving his toes curled up. He required a third surgery called a “tendon release.”

Erroll dedicated himself to rehab. “I did so much rehab and working out in the off-season,” he said, “There were so many hours that I spent on the field by myself working out a lot.” He was not about to give up on his dream to play in the NFL. When it was time for try-outs, he was ready.

In 1988, he tried out for the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and San Francisco 49ers. Buffalo’s management asked him where he thought he was physically. Erroll answered, “I think I’m at about 85%.” They responded, “If you’re at 85%, we’ll take you.” He signed up with Buffalo. “They offered me the most money and had a good defense,” he added. They took him to the Super Bowl, too.

“I lost a step and a little bit of speed after the surgery. But hard work, dedication, and a big heart kept me alive and playing at a top level,” he explained.

For the following two years, he played for the New England Patriots. He broke his nose in camp and had to sit out the rest of the year. Of course, recovering from injuries is more than physical. It’s mental, too.

Though he was past the worst of it, he realized he still had some residual fear in 1990. He decided to play for the Orlando Thunder in the World Football League. “We played against the New York/New Jersey Knights in the same stadium in the Meadowlands,” he explained, “I was actually back in the same spot where I broke my leg. I thought about it a lot before I went into that game – this was years later. Up until that point, it weighed heavily on my mind.”

After a productive year, he was drafted by the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League. He played there for three years with quarterback Doug Flutie, and helped take his team to the Grey Cup (our version of the Super Bowl) twice.

“Going through what I went through was God’s gift. With my surgery and my injury, I really have something to give back to others,” he explained, “That’s what prompted me to go into rehab. I enjoy coaching, teaching, and mentoring others.”

Today, Erroll works as a Physical Therapy Aide for Los Alamitos Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. What’s his advice for other people recovering for injuries? (Okay, it’s too perfect to edit a single word.) “Don’t try to rush it. Don’t question it. Sometimes things happen for a reason and it’s out of our control. But the main focus is to do your rehab, be patient, let your body heal and let nature take its course,” he explained enthusiastically, “You get out of it, what you put into it. You have to work hard to get back on your feet. Whether it’s to get back to work, professional sports, or everyday life. You have to do your rehab right. Don’t rush it. Take your time. Do the things you need to do.”

Erroll seems to have a knack for doing things right. He’s giving back in other ways, too. He returned to his hometown, the City of Lynwood to coach youth sports, including football and track, in his spare time. When he realized the kids had been without any Pop Warner or youth football for eight years, he stepped up with his business partner, Eugene Jackson who works with Nike, to put on several football camps each year.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #7 in a Series


In the fall of 1982, Dwight Kroening was about to enter the University of Alberta as a physical education student. His admission required a routine physical where his doctor discovered an enlarged heart, which was brushed off as nothing more than Dwight being an athlete. The 21-year old felt easily winded during exercise. He attributed it to getting older and losing some fitness, so he worked out even more.

He thought his body would adapt. He finished school, married his wife Colleen, and moved to Arizona in 1985. After living in the desert for a few months, Dwight felt worse. He couldn’t walk up stairs without stopping to rest. His lungs were filling up with fluid. He thought he had Valley Fever. It turned out that his heart had been harboring a severe viral infection for four years. He was showing all the signs of cardiac arrest. “I was a ticking time bomb. On June 6th, they told me I had two months to live,” he recounted, “They knew I needed help right away. I was lucky to be a universal recipient. After weeks of preparation, I was only on the transplant list, on the beeper, for two weeks when I got the call.”

Dwight received his new heart on August 4, 1986. His was the 100th heart transplant performed at the Tucson Medical Center in five years.

His two biggest concerns going into the surgery were his wife and how they would pay for it. “I worried about complications and it was so difficult to watch her wait for me to get a donor heart.” Fortunately, her company had just switched health plans. The insurance company had just re-classified heart transplants as clinical instead of experimental. The $40,000 initial assessment and approximately $200,000 in transplant costs would be covered for the young couple.

The doctors waited for Dwight to awaken in the recovery room. They asked him to move his fingers. “I remember really having to think about it to get the signal down to the fingers to move. It was their way of determining if there was brain damage or not,” he recalled with a chuckle, “Then they asked me to move my toes. I thought ‘boy, that’s a long way down.’ I was able to make the fingers and toes move.”

Dwight was in the hospital for 17 days. As soon as he was able, he went down to inpatient rehabilitation. “I really looked forward to it. It was the highlight of my day,” he said. Remarkably, he was running, biking and lifting weights in the hospital.

Once he was discharged, he rode his bicycle six miles to and from the hospital for his outpatient rehabilitation. Where he ran three miles and lifted weights. When his scars healed enough, he also swam a half-mile to a mile in the university’s pool. He was training like a triathlete long before his first triathlon.

More than anything, he wanted to live a normal life. But he discovered that his new heart did have some limitations. He couldn’t do contact sports anymore because of the high risk of damage. He couldn’t push himself anaerobically because the nerve attachments to his heart that receive signals for oxygen demand at a high heart rate from the brain like a light switch had been severed.

“That was a real adjustment. I was still determined to prove them wrong,” he explained, “I wanted to believe in the miracle that the body is an amazing creation that can adapt and learn all sorts of things. I wasn’t at a place where I was willing to accept it. I continued to work at it and continued to play sports.”

Nine months after his surgery, the doctors had more bad news for them in a routine check-up. The doctors gently informed them that they would not be able to have children. Dwight and Colleen smiled. The week before, they had just learned that she was pregnant with their first child. The doctors were elated.

They had a son. They were happy. For a while, they worried about how much Dwight’s heart could take. “You really have live life in balance,” he said. “We waited five years before we had our other two boys.”

“For me to enjoy life, I have to be physically active. There’s nothing more that I like to do than enjoy sports and activities,” he explained, “Especially with my three boys. That’s what regenerates me. That’s what reinvigorates me, relieves the stress in my life, and makes me feel good. When I stop, I feel like I’m digressing.”

So when Dwight was invited by the University of Alberta to participate in a 16-week exercise study in 2001, he jumped at the opportunity. “It gave me a chance to really test what my heart can do without fear. Before that it was always in the back of mind, I can’t go all out. I had to control what I do. I had to pace myself and really monitor my activity,” he recalled.
He told the researchers, “I want you to push me as hard as you can and I’ll go as hard as I can. We want to see what this thing can do.” His pre-assessment VO2 was 48. Fourteen weeks into the study, they had him do intervals. He pushed himself so hard that he finished each session with the dry heaves. His post-assessment showed a VO2 of 59 – a whopping 30% improvement. Anything over 55 is considered an elite athlete.

Fifteen years after his transplant surgery, he finally had the confidence to take his training to a new level. “One of the guys who helped in the study was a triathlete, Ken Riess,” he said, “He’s my coach now. He trained me first for a sprint. The next year, I did a half.” His coach told him, “If you can do a half, you can do a full one.”

In 2006, Dwight Kroening raced Ironman Canada. His coach and heart researcher met him at various checkpoints on the racecourse by riding ahead on their bikes and rollerblades. The chief cardiologist from the University of Alberta, Dr. Burton and his wife, the transplant coordinator waited by the transition area. His wife and family were there on the sidelines. Everyone was cheering for him all day and especially when he crossed the finish line in 15 hours and 33 minutes. He became the first heart transplant recipient to ever complete an Ironman-distance event – a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run.

Two weeks ago, he completed the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 4:01. His goal this fall is to run a sub-3:45 marathon to break the current record held by a heart transplant recipient in Dublin, Ireland. He ran with his coach and heart researcher.

When Dwight is not juggling his career, training, and quality time with his family, he’s mentoring other transplant recipients through the GoodHearts Mentoring Foundation and creating organ donor awareness through the HOPE program (Human Organ Procurement and Exchange) and the Canadian Transplant Association. In 2011, he plans to compete in Ironman Arizona in Tucson to celebrate his 25th anniversary with a new heart made possible by the Tucson Medical Center and a very generous donor family.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #6 in a Series


Jane has been an avid mountain biker for 13 years. She regularly hit the trails three days a week or more with her husband, Robin. Last March, as she traveled down the BFI trail in El Moro, she took a bad fall.

“I made it through all the technical parts, but then as I came over the bridge and tried to move my weight forward, my shorts got stuck on my saddle,” she explained, “I think I got distracted and when I put my foot down to get off my bike, I was too close to the edge.” She thought she’d make a soft landing in some brush. But she went through the brush and straight down a six-foot ravine.

Jane planted her foot and landed so hard that the damage reverberated up her entire leg. She severely sprained her ankle and shattered the top of her tibia. “My doctor said the femur had acted like a pile driver and jammed the top of my tibia. It’s called a ‘tibial plateau fracture,’ she recounted.

A week later, he used a plate, seven screws, and bone fragments from a bone bank to put all the pieces back together like a puzzle. Her doctor’s first priority was the tibia because it’s a major bone that stabilizes the leg to walk. She couldn’t bear any weight on the bone for three months.

What got her through those painful months? Her family, friends, and rehab. Everybody pitched in to help. Every morning before Robin left for work, he made her a fruit smoothie for breakfast and a bag lunch that she could grab easily out of the fridge. Her daughter Kristen came over and did all the laundry. And adjustments had to be made around the house such as removing the small bathroom doors, so she could maneuver in and out of those rooms okay. The smallest things were challenging – even carrying a glass of water.

Though she struggled to get around, she looked forward to rehab three days a week. “People asked ‘Didn’t it just drive you crazy that you couldn’t ride your bike?’ And my answer was ‘Well, no because I was so focused on getting well that my physical therapy was my exercise,’” she recounted, “When my physical therapists killed me, moving my leg around – that to me was my exercise. At least I got out of the house. At least I got to do some form of exercise and I felt like I was doing something active and positive towards my recovery. I didn’t miss being on the bike. I missed the socialization of being with my friends who biked.”

Fortunately, many of her biking friends dropped by to visit. Two of her friends who are retired visited her every Wednesday. Jane joked with them, “Oh, this must be your community service day to visit all the shut-ins.” It brought them giggles.

She was on crutches for ten weeks before she weaned herself down to one crutch and then a cane. She had physical therapy for eight months. She even worked out at a health club and took a pool aerobics class. (The gym could never compete with the trails before.) Jane was willing to do anything to get those endorphins going again. “I had some really bad days and some bad moments,” she recalled, “I was used to doing yoga three days a week, riding three days a week, and walking the dog. I got depressed.” It didn’t help that she knew her body wasn’t feeling right yet.

Unfortunately, sprains need movement and weight to heal. So while her leg and her knee recovered nicely, her ankle was still weak and uncomfortable. Nine months after her accident, she had surgery on her ankle to remove all the scar tissue that had built up. She wore a boot for a couple of weeks.

“After that it was definitely baby steps to get back. I couldn’t even walk around the block with the dog. I’d go two or three houses and then I’d have to turn around,” she said, “It is very slow progress. You can’t really look at it from one day to the next. You have to look at as ‘Well, I’m a whole lot better than two weeks ago.’”

Today, she’s back on the mountain bike. She started out by road biking on the flats. “When I started riding after my injury, I was like a beginner again,” she explained, “So I asked my daughter to come with me since she was new at riding. I felt more comfortable having someone on my level go riding with me.”

Jane not only got in some quality mother-daughter time, she turned Kristen into a pretty good mountain biker, too.” But she’s still a mom out there. “I find myself being more guarded and saying things like ‘Walk this part!’ and ‘Watch out for that hole,’” she admits. Two weeks ago, Jane and her family completed the Wildflower Century together.

Though her accident was just an accident, she still has some lingering apprehension. “I love mountain biking. I love being outside with nature. And I love the exercise. So that’s what I’m focusing on,” she said, “The downhill part and the technical part? I’m okay if I end up walking something I used to ride. At least for now!”

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be the first of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #5 in a Series

In 1995, Lydia went through a series of life-altering events in a three-week period. On a Friday, she was laid off from her dream job as a Western Regional Manager for Tyco Toys after Mattel bought the company. She found a new job with Lego immediately and started the following Monday.

For her first assignment, Lydia flew to a sales meeting in Oklahoma that was already under way. “Tuesday afternoon, they sent us to Grand Lake for a surprise outing to enjoy some water sports,” she recounted, “We had a choice of going water skiing, jet skiing, or parasailing. I thought ‘Oh, I’ll take the parasailing!’ I had done it before in Hawaii.”

She was attached to a harness with a parachute and rope that was towed behind a boat. As the boat traveled at a high speed, the wind lifted her aloft, sailing in the air 500 feet above.

“When you’re up there, it’s totally silent. You just hear a bit of the wind and it feels like you’re floating. It’s a very peaceful and beautiful feeling,” she admitted, “I was loving it.”

Lydia was the last passenger of the day. The kids operating the boat were socializing with the other passengers. They were ready to clock out. And mentally, that’s exactly what they did when she was in the air. One moment she felt like a peaceful bird in flight. The next, she felt a sudden gust of wind. “There was this whoosh of wind in my ears. I opened my eyes and realized I was headed straight towards the water,” she recalled.

At first, she didn’t panic. She thought the captain was going to “dip” her – lower the engine to lose some altitude before revving it again. “Other passengers had asked to be dipped, but I didn’t want it.” There was no dip. The men on the boat never saw that she was in trouble. The boat continued to motor at top speed. She landed violently on her seat and was immediately flipped onto her stomach. “I held my nose and was held underwater for over a minute,” she explained, “My life did pass before me. It was a very odd sensation to be aware that your life is flashing in front of you. I saw images of my father who passed, family members, and my husband.”

Lydia was in a fight for her life as the parasail filled with water and tugged at her in one direction and the boat dragged her in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, people onshore who witnessed the accident screamed and feverishly waved their arms to get the attention of the boat’s staff.

The boat finally stopped. Lydia screamed in pain and shook with convulsions. Her back was covered in huge welts from the harness. At first, she couldn’t even walk. She was rushed the hospital. Lydia had permanent damage to her L4 and L5. Her S1 was herniated. “The ‘farm doctor’ gave me a prescription for some kind of pain medication and a muscle relaxer that is illegal to dispense in California,” she recounted with a laugh.

After she was released from the hospital, she returned to her hotel room and called her husband Bob. Lydia told him, “Sit down. I think I almost died today.” That night, she had wild hallucinations from the strong drugs.

When she returned to California, she immediately started physical therapy in the pool. Two weeks later, she lost her brother who was like a father to her. She was unable to work. Emotionally and physically, she was broken.

“The first thing they had me do was try to walk sideways. I was in physical therapy for months and months and months,” she explained, “To this day, I have to go into the hospital every five months and have the nerves in those vertebrae burnt. It’s called radio frequency thermal coagulation. They put me in twilight and send lead wires down to the disc and inject it into six different locations. It’s an extremely painful procedure that takes a good 10-12 days to get over. It’s my alternative to back surgery.”

What kept her going the past 14 years? How could she give up? She and her husband quit smoking together, they quit drinking together, and they even battled cancer together. Today, she’s in treatment for her second round of breast cancer. Her husband Bob fought esophageal cancer and had his stomach removed. He’s cancer-free after six years. “He’s my hero! He’s a very strong man,” she proudly proclaimed.

And then there’s her mother, a lovely 86-year old woman who 30 years ago hit rock bottom. In the throes of alcoholism, she left her family a three-page suicide note and shot herself. Miraculously, she survived and hasn’t touched a drink since.

“My mother taught me to keep going,” she explained, “If you can come from such a low point that you don’t want to live. You’re a mother and a daughter and that means nothing because you’re in such the hollow depths of depression – not caring about yourself or believing that you have a good future in this world and then turn your life around. That’s what keeps me going.”

“My mom continues to send us cards. They make such a difference when you’re going through a tough time,” she said, “She always writes on them ‘Never, ever give up!’ with the “ever” underlined.” And that’s exactly what Lydia does. She gets physical therapy for her back. She gets treatment for her breast cancer. She doesn’t give up. After all, Mom knows best.

NOTE: The parasailing company on Grand Lake responsible for her accident was eventually taken over by another company/operator years later. Although she still does not recommend this activity to anyone after her experience. If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #4 in a Series


Last year, professional triathlete Joanna Zeiger won the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, Eagleman Ironman 70.3, Vineman 70.3, and 5430 Long Course Triathlon. In 2001, she was plagued by what was nearly a career-ending injury.

It happened 15 miles into a 20-mile training run. “It felt like someone shot me in the back. It was this really painful, sudden onset that stopped me in my tracks. I had to walk back to my car,” she recounted, “Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year odyssey to get this thing resolved.”

She had a hypermobile sacroiliac, a joint dysfunction caused by a hip rotation that, in turn, created a functional leg-length discrepancy. One leg was longer than the other. “It was probably like that forever. I started out as a swimmer and could see that my tan lines were uneven, but it didn’t really affect me then because swimming was non-weight bearing,” Joanna explained, “I had a crazy running style, but no one wanted to change it because I was doing well.” Eventually the leg-length discrepancy and muscle imbalances wreaked havoc on her back.

Though her injury was diagnosed correctly right away, she never imagined how long it would take to resolve it. She followed a number of exercise programs to strengthen her muscle imbalances. She took time off from running. She tried orthotics and heel lifts. She had her bike re-fitted and experimented with many different seat positions. She saw a number of different doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors. But she was still in severe pain 24 hours a day – from her back to her glutes.

“One of the things that kept me going was Lance Armstrong. I thought if he can come back from cancer, I can come back from a simple back injury,” she recalled, “I really believed in myself and thought I had some good years of racing left.”

She continued to compete, but every race was crapshoot. “When I got to the starting line, I never knew what to expect. It was pretty stressful,” she explained, “If I had a good day, I did well. If not, I’d have to drop out because the pain was so overwhelming. I DNF’d a lot of races, including Kona.”

Quitting, of course, did not come easily to her. Joanna qualified for the '88 and '92 U.S. Olympic Trials in swimming as well as the 2000 Trials in the marathon. In 2000, she placed 4th in the Sydney Olympics and 5th at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championships only five weeks later. She even earned a PhD in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Quitting just wasn’t her style.

The unconditional support of her husband, Mark Shenk, and her family, kept Joanna going. They said, “Hey, whatever it takes, we’ll do it.”

“My real breaking point came at the 2004 Olympic Trials in Honolulu. I was unable to finish the race. Sheila Taormina, a friend who competed with me in the 2000 Olympics said, ‘I had no idea your back pain was so bad. My physical therapist Amie is here with me. Why don’t you talk to her?’” Amie Moriarty met Joanna the next day and gave her a cursory examination. “She said something no one else had said, ‘I can cure you.’ That was music to my ears,” Joanna recounted.

Her new physical therapist had a different take on the injury. Amie said, “I really think the problem may be coming from the bike. So why don’t you take some time off the bike, back off the running and swim?” Joanna had never taken a lot of time off the bike. After a week, she already started to feel some relief from the pain.

Joanna flew to Clermont, Florida to receive treatment at the National Training Center for six weeks. She met with Amie, her physical therapist, every day. And she met Chuck Wolfe, her strength and conditioning coach every day. “The combination of getting great physical therapy and great strength training on a daily basis made all the difference,” she recounted, “I was finally able to beat the back injury.”

The crux of her training was working on functional exercises that emphasized working different planes of motion such as side-to-side. “They really worked the muscles in ways I never had before,” she admitted.

Just one month after her intensive therapy and strength training began, she raced the Alcatraz Triathlon and placed third. “It was the first pain-free race I had in years. I felt really good and it was exciting,” Joanna recalled.

Things continued to spiral upward after she left the National Training Center. She placed second at Ironman Canada. “It was a PR. I was so emotional after that race because I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to do an Ironman again,” she explained, “And I placed second at a World Cup six weeks later. “

Today, she works to keep injuries at bay by being especially vigilant about strength training to compensate for the joint hypermobility that is present in her shoulders and knees, too. “Because I have that propensity to be overly flexible, I have to stay on top of the strength training all the time. I go to the gym year round, 2-3 times per week,” she said, “It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind that I need to take care of – so I continue to get a lot of massage, bodywork, and chiropractic care.”

When she looks back on all the things she tried before, “It was like putting a band-aid on the problem instead of solving the problem,” she explained, “It’s a much harder road to go down. It’s much easier to say ‘Here’s some orthotics and see you later’ than to ask ‘Why is there a problem?’ I know some people totally need orthotics, but I think most people use them as a crutch.”

“I never felt right on the bike until I got things resolved. I’m very fortunate now to be working with Guru,” she said, “They make bikes for me that fit like a glove.”

What is Joanna’s advice for people recovering from injuries? “Don’t quit until you are satisfied. I can’t even tell you how many practitioners I saw until I found the ones who worked for me. I think people quit too soon and they just get frustrated,” she elaborated, “It is hard work coming back from an injury. I think every athlete goes through it at some point. It’s rough. It’s brutal. It’s depressing. But you have to dedicate yourself to it to make it go away. If you really want it, you can get through it.”

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be the first of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #3 in a Series

Tawnee Prazak got her first taste of triathlon right after she graduated from San Diego State University in 2007. In her first season, she completed five sprint and Olympic triathlons as well as a few 5K and 10Ks.

She had been active all her life. Working 8-to-5 in the high-pressure deadline world of journalism was still pretty new to her. At the end of each day, she needed to workout the way some folks crave a stiff drink or Doritos. Tawnee loved how she felt after running on the trails, putting in 2,000 yards in the pool, biking with her boyfriend, and lifting weights at the gym.

In January 2008, she felt a sharp pain on the side of her knee – a classic sign of Iliotibial band syndrome. She received physical therapy to balance the muscles and alleviate the soreness. But it became evident that this was not the underlying problem. “My knee would pop and click every time it rotated on the bike,” she explained. Tawnee did what every responsible triathlete would do – she scheduled another bike re-fit at Trek Bicycle Superstore in La Mesa. Turned out, she was pretty dialed in. She tried new stability running shoes. She was still in denial.

She thought ‘No, this can’t be happening. I have all these races to do!’ Tawnee saw an orthopedic surgeon who ordered an MRI right away, thinking it was a routine torn meniscus. Her workouts began to diminish because she couldn’t push past the pain. Without her usual workouts, she felt tired and frustrated, especially waiting for test results, doctor’s appointments and a diagnosis.

In early June, she finally got an answer. “My doctor is as smart as they come and figured it out in about 30 seconds when he looked at the MRI,” she recounted. It turned out she had Plica Syndrome, which is leftover tissue that never dissolved from fetal development. Many people have it and never know it. But it can become a problem for athletes when the tissue becomes inflamed from activity or overuse. Her doctor told her, “If you ever want to reach your goals of an Ironman or running marathons for years to come, you’ve got to have this tissue removed.”

She needed to think about it. She spoke to her family and friends. And in true journalistic fashion, researched everything available on the Internet on Plica Syndrome.

A week later on Friday the 13th, she had arthroscopic surgery where the doctor scoped three different places of her knee, leaving minimal scarring. She hoped it would bring her good luck. After recovering for a few days, she returned to work. “The lack of endorphins and stimulation made me feel like I was going silently insane,” she admitted. “And then on top of it all, about three weeks after my knee surgery, my boyfriend and I broke up.”

Rehab became her sanctuary, even though she couldn’t do much at first. “Stuff that probably didn’t even burn a calorie,” she explained, “But it was the highlight of my day and they made me happy. In therapy, there’s always hope that you’re going to get better and get back on track.”

She started off with 1 lb. ankle weights and leg raises, clams, electrical stimulation and ice. Later on, she built up to walking with an exercise band around her quads and doing squats. Her physical therapist regularly massaged the areas of her surgical insertion to discourage the development of scar tissue. She wondered ‘Am I ever going to be able to bend over again without falling down?’ and ‘How is this ever going to loosen up again to bend normally?’ It seemed impossible. “They were simple movements that laid down the foundation for those muscles to move properly again,” she explained.

Six weeks after her surgery, against her P.T.’s better judgment, Tawnee tested her knee with a long hike. It was too much, too soon but she knew she was on her way. She began training in earnest in September. When she first started out on the bike, she only went 5 or 6 miles slowly. “I was so worried that I might re-injure it. It was hard to get past the fear,” she recalled. Her fitness level was shot. She worked her way up to 18 miles on the flats at 12-16 mph. She was able to jog a little bit. “I decided to enter the Catalina Triathlon sprint to whip myself into gear and to prove to myself that I was recovering,” she said, “I just wanted to do one race in ’08.”

In the Catalina Triathlon, she came in third place in her age group with a time of 1:14:38. She competed with her mom who placed second in her age group. The girls partied afterwards to celebrate their finish. In November, she placed 1st in her age group in the Dana Point Turkey Trot. And in December, she placed 1st in her age group in the XTERRA 15K Crystal Cove Trail Run. She finished the year strong.

Over the winter, Tawnee trained for her first half-Ironman race in Oceanside. She woke at 4:30 a.m. twice a week for her master’s swim workouts. She put in 15 hours a week of training. All her hard work paid off on April 4th. She made the podium, placing 4th in her age group with a time of 5:40:13.

Tawnee’s injury became a turning point in her career. She liked learning more about how the body works from the folks at physical therapy so much that she decided to quit her job and go to graduate school to pursue her new passion with a degree in kinesiology. She’s still exploring her career avenues in between hitting the books and training for her next triathlon.

Her final pep talk words, “I think with an injury, you just have to say ‘This will pass. I will get better, and I will be that much stronger when I do.’” Smart kid.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be the first of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

The Comeback Kid: #2 in a Series


Those of you who read this blog regularly know Coach Beth Hibbard as the woman who single-handedly managed to get lifeguards to stop escorting me during the swim portion of races. Others may recall that she was an accomplished pro triathlete. She’s been such a huge source of moral support, information, and inspiration that it’s hard to imagine her as a newbie.

When she was 24-years old, Beth went on a training ride in Palos Verdes, California with a friend. It was beautiful July day – her first 50-mile ride, her first ride on a brand new bike. As she traveled at 30 mph on a steep 8%-grade hill, she perhaps grabbed the front brake a little too tightly and suffered a violent crash. She doesn’t recall the accident. “When I came to in the ambulance, my first words were ‘I smell cookies,’” she recalled with a laugh.

Beth broke her neck. She was rushed to Harbor General Hospital, which is known for its trauma care. A hospital representative called her parents in Indiana and left a message on their machine, “Your daughter has broken her neck, but she’s okay.” “My poor parents were mortified,” she admitted.

In the ICU, she lay strapped to a backboard with a curtain drawn around her. “I was alone and all I knew was that board was not like a mattress. My foot was killing me and my head hurt too,” she explained. She also had some major road rash on her shoulder blade.

After three days she was transferred to UCLA Medical Center where she remained in the ICU. The doctors performed surgery to repair the damage to C5, C6 and C7. They used plates, screws and cadaver bone to stabilize her spine and fuse C5 and C6. “They were pretty amazed that I could still move everything,” she recalled.

She spent six days at UCLA before returning home to Indiana for six months of recuperation. Beth is not one to skip working out. As soon as she was able, she went to the local gym in a neck brace to walk on the treadmill. “I couldn’t pick up anything that weighed more than 5 lbs,” she explained, “I got really good at picking things up with my toes.” Those workouts were always followed by long naps.

We often hear people describe an illness or accident as a gift. Beth is no exception. “One thing I really took away from the experience was spending time with my parents as an adult. Yeah, it was hard to have the accident. It was frustrating and challenging, but I got to spend six months with my family,” she recalled fondly, “I still get choked up thinking about what a really special time that was when I look back on it. I feel very fortunate.”

Beth was also excited to return to California and become independent again. Her first few weeks back on the job at the Toyota Fitness Center as a personal trainer were challenging. Some days, she continued to wear a neck brace because it was all she could do to keep her head up. “I had this little cocktail that I needed pretty regularly when I returned to work. It was two Advil and a Diet Coke,” she said with a laugh. It felt like a major accomplishment to get through each workweek.

On the weekends, she rested. Then, she faced her fears. “I tried to jump back into things. I went for a ride with a couple of friends on my mountain bike on the road,” she recounted, “It took a while to get over the fear.”

Ten months after her accident, she competed in her first triathlon – Wildflower’s mountain bike race. Adrenaline and absolute joy hit her at T2. “I was so excited that I ran off the course with my bike helmet on,” she explained with a chuckle, “I was just so thrilled to make it through the bike course. I had to stop again to take off my bike helmet.” Beth continued to race as an amateur for three years.

The turning point in her competitive career occurred when she was accepted by the Olympic Training Center to attend a camp. The coaches there encouraged her to race professionally.

Her employer was behind her too. The Toyota Training Center sent her to a USA Triathlon Certification class in Minneapolis, so she could coach multi-sport athletes.

Despite some reduced mobility in her neck and weakness in her left arm, she thrived as a professional triathlete. One of her favorite race memories was the Long-Course Nationals in Muncie, Indiana where she attended college at Ball State University. She came in fifth place. It was good to home again.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why. And if you need an exceptional coach, please contact beth.hibbard@gmail.com.

The Comeback Kid: #1 in a Series


In 2000, Ken was working for a dot com in San Francisco as a web producer. A few weeks after a layoff, he decided to go clear his head with a mountain bike ride among the Redwoods in the San Francisco Peninsula.

On a downhill descent, he did an acrobatic endo with a superman dismount and rotating flip. If there had been any witnesses, the German judges would have given him an 8.5. He landed on his shoulder with such force that the ligaments holding his shoulder in place snapped apart.

When a couple of other mountain bikers happened upon him, they asked, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said with part machismo and part denial. He rode his bike uphill, one-handed for two miles back to his car. He struggled for about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get his bike back into the trunk of his compact Corolla. He drove himself to the hospital and waited in the E.R. for four hours on a Saturday night only to learn that he needed to make an appointment with a specialist.

Ken wore a sling for a five days until the doctors performed the five-hour surgery. Apparently, we are born with an extra ligament behind the shoulder blade. So, in their wisdom, they not only removed the damaged cartilage and repaired two ligaments, they also used that extra ligament as reinforcement. They had good intentions. They had no idea how often his shoulder would be tested in the future.

Two days after his surgery, he woke with a high fever and blisters all over his body. He had contracted Chicken Pox in the hospital. The combination of the pain and the pox interfered with his sleep for two weeks.

Ken lived on a 33-foot sailboat with a low ceiling, no head (toilet) or running water. He slept in a narrow berth of this 50-year old vintage vessel. Maneuvering around was a royal pain those first few weeks. When a storm blew in, he had to go out and secure the dock lines with his good arm and constantly check the bilge for leaks with a flashlight the entire night.

A month after his surgery, his stitches were removed and he was ready for rehab. He was greeted by his physical therapist with a friendly, “Are you ready to do the Twist & Shout?” “What’s that?” Ken asked. “I twist and you shout!” he replied. He received two months of treatment with electrical muscle stimulation and exercises, while gritting his teeth in front of the other patients. “They sent me home with a pulley thing to do exercises,” he explained, “You’re supposed to attach it to a door knob. I attached it to the hatch.” On his last day of therapy, his P.T. said, “Thanks for the memories!”

Three years later, he went mountain biking on the Pacific Crest Trail in Tahoe. He fell again on the same shoulder. A hiker stopped to see if he needed help. He borrowed her cell phone to tell his parents, “I’m fine. Don’t send Search and Rescue, but it’s going to take me a while to get home.” He rode the remainder of the two miles of trails one-handed again. Then he rode another 13 miles on the pavement back to his car. He must’ve looked pretty bad because a woman in a black Suburban offered to give him a ride. “She looked a little afraid of me, but also concerned,” he recounted. “I said I was fine.” He lied – again.
“I stunk so badly and was so hungry that I showered and ate before I went to the emergency room,” he said. An X-ray revealed he broke his collarbone in three places. The ligaments where he had his previous surgery were so strong that there was no give for the bones when the impact happened. No surgery required this time. They sent him home to heal.

In 2006, this daredevil went for a mountain bike ride on his road bike in Laguna. His skinny tire didn’t give when he hit a deep rut. Any guesses what he landed on? The same right shoulder. He broke his collarbone again in the exact same spot. Nothing they could do, but send him home to heal.

Hopefully, the third time was the charm and he’ll never, ever hurt this shoulder again. “Were you ever afraid to get back on the mountain bike again after everything you’ve been through?” I asked. “No, not at all. I keep my mountain bike in the back of my truck in case it ever breaks down while I’m working on my film in Death Valley,” he answered.

Ken thrives on adventure. On a whim, he bought a road bike and rode it 550 miles from San Francisco to Orange County for a family party. He regularly explores Death Valley National Park for weeks at a time without any assistance. These are the times when his family and loved ones wish those surgeons implanted him with a GPS chip instead.

His treks to Death Valley are also the reason he never wants to accept any help. Every hardship is an opportunity to train for his next adventure.

NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be the first of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.

A New Series

I’ve had an idea stirring around in my brain for a while. I want to write about how other athletes have come back from their injuries. Initially, this was for purely selfish reasons. I needed it to help me get through a season that would not include the excitement of races.

But now I have a whole new motivation to make this happen. Two weeks ago a good buddy of mine was in a serious ski accident. He’s in a hospital bed right now hooked up to tubes and machines. The great news is he’s all there. He’s a phenomenal athlete. A tough dude. He’ll be in the hospital for months though. To remind him that things will get better, I would like to post a new Comeback Kid story every week. Sort of like a virtual get well card. I have a few stories on the backburner already. I’ll need a lot more.

If you have a good comeback story, please email me at sixtwothreetries@gmail.com. Must be up for a phone interview, so I can give it my best effort. And, of course, your story won’t be posted without your approval in advance. It can be any kind of comeback story – physical, emotional, or even financial. A healthy dose of optimism to give us all a lift, especially my buddy.