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!