|Tuesday, 09 October 2012 21:13|
I had been out of work since January 2001; a full 21 months of full unemployment. I was impacted by a downsizing to start 2001, but in that moment I was partially glad it happened because I was eager for a new challenge. I had two degrees and a good resume, or so I thought, and despite being let go my optimism was high. I had always rebounded quickly from failure, so I had no reason to believe I would be out of work for long. I was wrong.
For 21 months I exhausted my usual proven methods of success to no avail. I had a couple of small odd-jobs that provided some help, but none remotely resembling a career for someone with an MBA. I burned through my meager savings, ran out of unemployment assistance, and eventually had to rely on family support to not end up on the street. I was broke and piling up more debt with each passing month, not only to creditors, but also to my family who endured my sufferings as well. In the spring of 2002 I moved into the basement of my Aunt Polly. I was 32 years old.
What did I do for 21 months? As you can imagine I interviewed a lot, but each time they either did not call back or I turned them down. I was struggling to find a good and lasting fit. Looking back I can easily see why my methods and my goals were in dire need of evolving, but in the moment we lack foresight to realize we have chosen the wrong destination. At this point in my life I was already riding a bicycle and racing competitively, and with no job I doubled down on my commitment to enjoy bicycling. I was Cat 4.
Occupationally this period was humbling and humiliating, but athletically I was having the time of my life. My professional baseball experience was hugely rewarding, but the new challenges of bicycle racing captivated me. I got as fit as any Cat 4 possibly could and even won the TBRA Cat 4 jersey in 2002. One could argue I had an unfair advantage with limitless training time, but at the time I would have traded it all for a meaningful job.
Now you have the context leading up to the pivotal moment of October 9. My memory picks up from the time I was riding back into town from Percy Warner Park. It was a dreary day filled with overcast skies and light drizzle. I was proudly riding my Cannondale CAAD 3 R800, which was my first real bicycle purchase back in 1998. I made my way to the stop light at Blair Blvd and 21st Avenue South, patiently waiting to turn left to ride into Hillsboro Village. The arrow light turned green, I clip in, and immediately ride to the right side in the right lane. There were no cars ahead of me, no cars to my left, and no cars behind me. It was just me on my bicycle, in plain view, on a two-lane wide road. She never saw me. Thank God I was unemployed.
A new life began there at the corner of Bernard Avenue and 21st Avenue South. From my left peripheral I saw a dark image in the nanosecond before impact, a blur really. Everything could have easily ended right then and there. For reasons God only knows I survived the forceful impact of a Jeep Cherokee. During rush hour traffic the driver was turning left onto Bernard Ave from the other direction, but somehow did not see me. I was doing 24 mph at the point of impact. The pavement was dry where I lay.
Our instincts are to immediately bounce up and take stock. I tried but stopped at my waist. I was aware and conscious, but writhing in indescribable pain. Almost immediately a man was at my side to calm and comfort me. He removed my helmet and held my hand. A few feet away I saw a woman covering her face with her hands, looking at me in horror, and instinctively I knew her to be the driver.
I was meant to see it. The reason I was pinned to the ground was there for all to see. The impact had snapped my tibia and broken it through the skin by what looked to be three or four inches. I was struck by the sharp contrasting colors of my white bone and the red blood slowly trickling around my skin. If you had scripted this moment you would have thought it to be more gruesome and nasty. However, I was coherent and the image was crisp and clean. The damage: an open fracture tibia with an additional broken fibula. I had plans to race the Greenville Classic that weekend. I was a newly minted Cat 3.
Nobody wants to be a burden. As I lay there I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. In an instant I had just become an even greater burden to my family and there was nothing I could do about it. All I knew to do in that moment was pray. My prayer to God was simple. “You have me right where you want me. I am in your hands now Father. Please give everyone who touches me with the extraordinary ability to heal me, through You and for Your glory.” I said this prayer over and over as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Although I had already turned my life over to Christ I knew then this moment was His signal to me that I had been trying to follow a path to nowhere. This moment was my light.
As if the mountain was not already big enough it was about to get much bigger. Here I am with no job and no health insurance, riding in an ambulance, on my way to two major surgeries while racking up nearly $70,000 in health care costs. I am living proof it is true that it can always get worse. However, this valley of hopelessness was my wake up call to go about things in a different way. I received the great care I requested and a financial settlement to wipe out the misery of not only of the accident, but also the previous 21 months of hardship. No more collection agency calls or knocks on the door from the repo man. The bills got paid and I still have my Volvo. I had a clean slate.
My first priority was to regain my health, which meant learning to walk again. There were countless smaller battles I had to overcome between the point of impact and my first steps without crutches. Simply using the bathroom was a chore, along with brushing my teeth and shaving. Soon, like a kid, I learned to love taking baths. Simply standing in a shower was out of the question. As each little battle was won I regained emotional freedoms I had taken for granted. My family went out of their way to care for me, and had it not been for their unconditional love I would have failed miserably. We all needed this experience.
I did not require encouragement because self-motivation is something I have never lacked, but I was in great need of a new direction. The hardest part was not the rehab process, but rather the change and growth process afterwards which has brought me to today. At the time there was zero demand for my talent, nobody was calling. I stopped going after the usual interviews that had led me to nowhere. Instead I walked into a bakery and café, asked for an application, and applied to my first ever food industry job. At this point I was beginning to question my own work ethic, and something in my gut was telling me to apply to this one company. Nobody called me for many weeks.
I did not shy away from bicycling even though it had broken me into pieces, which was against my mother’s wishes. From November through February I rehabbed with Craig O’Neil as he methodically brought my body back to a new normal. I was finally able to ride outside in mid-February 2003, and in April I did not hesitate to race the Raccoon Mountain Road Race. Of all races to make a comeback this is not near the top of the list, especially as my first Cat 3 event. I was fully expecting to get dropped on lap one once the long stair step climb began up the mountain. Not only did I not get dropped, I survived lap two up Raccoon, and found myself on the front of the descent headed towards the finishing climb. I was dropped one kilometer from the finish. In my mind I had won.
They finally called for an interview. Was I willing to empty trash? Yes! Could I handle serving a demanding clientele? Yes! Can I stand on my feet for eight hours a day while smiling? Yes! Alright, with one not-so-strong leg I was concerned about standing so much, but I was determined to prove myself. I made $8 an hour starting out, but was soon promoted to manage. Within two years I was a General Manager leading a staff of 25 people with annual sales topping three million. I will be forever thankful for the opportunity they gave me. I worked full-time for Bread and Company for over two years before my dream job came along, and even then I worked another three years part-time because I loved the company. I did not say goodbye for good until December 2008.
The accident stole my opportunity to race the Greenville Classic in 2002, but I committed myself going in 2003. It was on this trip the idea of NashvilleCyclist was born. During the drive my travel partner and I, a guy named Aaron Yancey, hashed out all the ideas behind a website focused on local and regional cycling news. A website in St. Louis was my inspiration, stlbiking.com, and by the time we returned home my mind was made up. With the help of my friend Gregory Byerline, himself a racer at the time, we developed a logo and launched the website in April of 2004. It did not take long before the site gained traction and set off a chain of events I never imagined during that drive to Greenville.
I have always held strong opinions, but had trouble expressing myself in words or print. Up to this point I did not consider myself creative or good at writing or good at personal expression. However, my experiences of late were eroding my preconceptions of myself, what goals I should aim for, and how to achieve them. The more I wrote the better I became and the better I became the more clicks I received. The website spawned the idea of a racing team and attracted the sponsorship to do so, while also pulling me into the world of race promotion. Neither of those two things were why I created the website, but I quickly realized this idea was going to take me into the great unknown. What an understatement.
During the summer of 2005 my alma mater posted an opening for the cycling coach position. What did I know about coaching cycling? Nothing. My gut again was telling me to pick up the phone, call, find out if I would have any chance at the job. I called my life’s greatest mentor, the baseball coach at my alma mater, Coach Woody Hunt. I will never forget Coach Hunt’s words to me, “We were just talking about you about this job.” Talk about uplifting words!
It was very difficult to tell my boss and owner of Bread and Company about my decision to accept the coaching position. I had poured my heart and soul into that company. I loved working there and still go back when I can to eat and reminisce. I will never forget his response. He bowed his head in disappointment and said, “Man, I wish I could do what you’re doing. You have the chance to follow your passion. You have to do it. We will miss you but I fully support you.” John Clay’s response is why I worked another three years before finally turning 100% of my focus to cycling. My time at his company was one of the more rewarding occupational experiences I had ever had, but the best was yet to come.
I became the head cycling coach at Cumberland University in September of 2005. I now have the opportunity to help shape lives and lead college athletes along what I believe to be a successful path in life. Our program has stabilized and grown into one of the more prominent collegiate cycling programs in the country. We have had our share of team success along with some incredible individual results. I continue to add elements to the program that will stretch our abilities and take us all farther in life. The characteristics of hard work, sacrifice, determination and will are the ones I try to impart upon them most. I call them the Four Pillars of Success. Those pillars to success work. Try them for yourself.
Here in 2012 I have the benefit of hindsight, and it is amazing to me the progress made. Time and distance provide the clearest perspective, and it allows us to more easily see how our cumulative decisions have affected the outcomes. Not only does the progress astound me, but also the new experiences we can be exposed to if we allow ourselves the opportunity. In the past ten years I have more regularly asked myself if I am who I am supposed to be. That question has been my measuring stick of accountability. I do not always live up to my own expectations, and like you I occasionally feel isolated and unsure if my steps are correct. Believe in your gut.
In many ways I feel as though I am just getting started. These past ten years have been my most fruitful by far, but I am convinced the next ten will be even more plentiful. My challenge is to determine whether to remain on the current path or create a new one. God fills my head with incredible ideas on a regular basis. To be honest, it is difficult to decide which ones to pursue or put off for another day. I am imagining my new path to include not a fork in the road, but rather a roundabout, one allowing me to circle back to what brings me joy. Letting go is hard.
All this to say, sometimes our saddest and most difficult moments are also a pivotal moment towards our greatest achievements. There are millions of people in America today who are suffering, and my story is not that much different from what many has or are going through now. I would not trade that day ten years ago today for anything in the world. The experience I suffered and overcame along with the scars it left behind made the single biggest impression on my life. I am thankful for it, grateful for it.
We never know when our pivotal moment will occur. We usually have no say in the matter. All we get to do is respond. The human spirit is an amazing thing.