November 16th 2004 was the day that changed my life forever. I was working as a snowmaker at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and just ending a graveyard shift doing our final rounds. When walking up to the last machine to shut down the system, one of the hoses came lose. The metal coupling on the end of the hose slammed into my left leg just below my knee. I was taken off the mountain and brought to the local hospital. They found my injuries were beyond their means to treat. Flight for life was called and I was transported to a major trauma center in Denver. Emergency limb salvage surgery was performed to try and save my leg. The injury itself was compared to shooting a 12 gage shotgun point blank to my leg. They estimated that my tibia was in 30-50 pieces and the break spider webbed down to my ankle and up through my tibia plateau (knee). There were hundreds of pounds of pressure in the hose and it literally hit me in the only place on my body that I could have lived. They were able to save my leg and piece it back together with many surgeries in the first few days at the hospital. Without any solid bone they could not use a rod to connect what was remaining so they had to use plates, exterior fixator and cadaver bone.
Things got much worse while recovering in ICU. I developed compartment syndrome which is extreme swelling of the muscles and ended up losing 3 muscles in my leg that were surgically removed. Compartment syndrome is by far the most painful thing you could imagine. After a total of 12 surgeries, month in ICU, I still had the leg and to this day, I still do. They had to do several experimental surgeries after my muscles died. My calf muscle was moved to the outside of my leg to help with blood flow. Due to these missing muscles I have a “foot drop” which I am now not able to lift up my left foot or toes. This creates an altered gait with many side effects and the need to use special braces in order to walk somewhat normal. I had 9 surgeries during my initial stay at the hospital. The additional 3 surgeries I had over the next 4 years which also came with there share of complications such as becoming infected with staph and pulmonary edema. Both very serious and potentially life threatening.
For quite a few years after my surgeries I was barely able to walk, let alone do any major physical activities. I was always a very active person and constantly outdoors. I raced mountain bikes and alpine ski raced. I was a cross country runner and loved just about anything that you can think of outdoors. Not being able to do much of anything killed my soul and I fell into a state of deep depression. It was like my life was taken away from me. My leg finally got into a stable place in 2009 but I knew that I would never be able to do impact type sports ever again. It was at that time that my father encouraged me to get back into cycling. This was the best thing that I could have ever done. I was able to work with a very good prosthetist that built a custom AFO which is attached to my cycling shoes. This AFO (ankle foot orthotic) keeps my ankle in a fixed position. Even though I have my leg the AFO, in essence works like a below the knee prosthetic. At first, getting on a bike was just a way to get some exercise and try to get back my sanity and move on with my life. Soon it consumed me and I found it is the only athletic activity that I could still do and potentially do very well. Things evolved quickly and am now racing at a elite level in both able bodied and para. My leg is still in rough shape and I have to have lubricant shots in my knee every six months, lower back issues from my altered gait, nerve and chronic bone pain are still daily issues. More surgeries in the near future are unavoidable. My father always told me that a true character in a man is determined in the curves of life, not in the straightaways.
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