When I first starting date Rich, I was forewarned of the lifestyle of a triathlete, and especially one of an Ironman. It was, “He will never be around, triathlons come first, it’s only swim, bike, run,” etc. His training never really bothered me. I know what it’s like to love your sport, want to give it your all, and spend your free time living and breathing it. I was very supportive of his long training days, and didn’t quite realize how many hours it was or how it actually effected our relationship until he pointed it out.
As a runner, even training for a marathon, I can be done training on Saturday by 11am. In Ironman training, he usually got home around 4:30 or 5:00 on a Saturday. I guess I was so used to doing things on my own, I didn’t realize how much time we were spending apart and how much he was training.
If you’ve been reading for a while or you know me in real life, I am insanely type-A about my training. Well, I did the same thing with his training. I encouraged every workout, asked about the results, showed him how a change in diet made him feel better, etc. His training was SOLID. I knew all his efforts were going to pay off.
I think I was just as excited for Ironman Wisconsin as Rich was. I planned tons of surprises for him: custom cheer shirts, cards, videos, and pictures from loved ones and lots of post race treats. We had a blast in Madison. It’s a super cool town and is very pedestrian friendly (i.e. great for my runs). I loved seeing all of the athletes around town and seeing what all really goes into training and prepping for this race. Driving the bike course, doing several practice swims, buying extra food, CO2 cartridges, spare tubes, and the IMWI gear were just a few things on the to do list before the race.
We sat down on Saturday afternoon and really planned out his goals and where we expected him to be with his times and where I would be to cheer him on. I had absolutely no doubt in his abilities, and knew it would all come down to the run, which is the only place I could give him advice (I ran the course on Saturday). He was ready.We were up bright and early race morning to get the special needs bags dropped off, check on the bike, and get ready for the swim. As we waited for the swim to start and I said my goodbyes, I knew it would be a long day. I started to tear up. Months of preparation, excitement for the day, and genuine admiration and love for this man just built up.I watched the swim start and knew I had an hour (gave me time to setup with some of the finish surprises) to get back to the condo and back to T1 to see him transition from the swim to the bike. I caught him twice. He and Katie were out of the water at the same time and hit T1 at the same time. He had a great swim, coming under his goal by 1 minute with a 1:09. He was able to see me on the bike as he headed out for the 112 mile ride. I rode with some of our ATL friends to the first spot on the course that we were going to cheer (around mile 32, I think). We were some of the first spectators to arrive, and the volunteer was very adamant about us moving half way down the hill so that the athletes could see the cones, the gravel, and the turn. So we moved down a bit and were ready when the elites came through. I was prepared with my signs and cowbell! I got lots of laughs, smiles, comments and even a few high fives while I was out there. I saw Katie come by and saw no sign of Rich. I started to worry. He should’ve been right behind her. I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I finally saw him and he pulled off. He said he had a flat earlier, and if anyone has a extra bike lever to bring it with me to the next cheer spot. I told him I would, even though I was quite confused because I didn’t know what this was, and that I would see him in about 10 miles.
I let the rest of the group (they had already left to cheer on their athlete) know what had happened, told them what Rich said, and I moved to the next spot. I was a bit frantic because I was worried about his tire and worried that he was frazzled and not having the ride he wanted.
Again, at the next spot, I saw Katie go by. I expected Rich to come by about 45-50 minutes after I last saw him. An hour went by. Then an hour and fifteen minutes. His times weren’t updating on the Ironman site but everyone else that we knew racing was updating correctly. I was really freaking out. I didn’t think I had missed him, so I stopped one of the tech trucks (that helps the athletes with any issues) and described Rich and said he should’ve been here by now and asked if they had seen him. Nada.
Several of the ATL crew was trying to keep me calm (the bike course was easy to spectate so they were popping over to the next area and stopped to see what was going on) but it wasn’t really working. I just knew something was off.
Within a few minutes, a van pulls up and I see Rich teary eyed, with a make-shift sling, his shoulder a mess, and his jersey all torn. I lost it. Straight hysterics. He said he was okay, and the van drivers/medics said they were taking him to the medical stop which was at a church about 10 miles away.THANK GOODNESS for our friends that were there spectating. One of them, Lauren, kept me calm and drove my car to the church to meet him. From there, we dropped her back near downtown and the exchange areas and I took Rich to the ER.
To see the man that you love, the one that is so incredibly full of life and laughter 99.9% of the time in so much pain and so quiet was heart breaking. I cried for him. He was attempting to be so strong and held it in and it just hurt me to watch. I wanted to take it all away, change the day, still be cheering, and not have him broken or hurt.
I learned that about two turns after he saw me, he hit gravel (on another turn) and basically had the option to wreck with other bikes or hit a cone. He hit the cone and the bike came to a stop and he flipped over (Side note- we later learned there were a LOT of bike accidents on this course and I learned that the bike lever had nothing to do with this accident).
The doc in the ER took great care of him. Lots of pain meds, fluids, and a few x-rays later and we got the diagnoses. While we had thought it was just dislocated and they were just going to pop it back into place (they would’ve knocked him out first), we were wrong. Broken collar bone. Four hours later in the ER and we wound up with pain med prescriptions, an arm sling, and instructions to see an orthopedic doctor when we got home. We left the hospital, finally grabbed food, and picked up his post race treat (still much deserved-for weeks all he talked about was chocolate chip cookies post race). We had to get his transition bags and bike and he still wanted to see some of the finish line. I openly admitted I wouldn’t have been a big enough person to hang out at the finish, but again, that’s the type of person he is. We had a lot of time to talk post accident. I kept putting myself in his shoes. If I had trained for THAT many hours, spent THAT kind of money on a race, and KNEW what I was capable of, I would want a re-do. But Rich is different. Before the race, he had already said that this was his last full Ironman for a while. He wanted to do shorter distances so that we could have more time together (yes, he’s that great). I insisted that if he wanted a redo in 2015, I fully supported it. He said no. He meant what he said. He said if he hadn’t already completed 2 Ironmans, it would be different.
To fast forward….the last week started out really tough, but has gotten a lot better. The Rich I know has slowly come back, and the moaning and groaning from the pain has stopped. There really is nothing worse than seeing someone you love in so much pain and there is nothing you can do. We saw two different doctors and they had 2 different opinions. We trust the second one more, and he suggested we meet with his partner (a surgeon) to discuss options.
So, yesterday we met with the surgeon. Just as we had expected, Rich needs surgery. The pictures are quite shocking, and the doctor is actually surprised the bone hasn’t come through the skin yet.Based on where the break is, a plate will need to be put in.The surgery needed to be scheduled asap, so Dr.Myers (the surgeon we met with), is making room for Rich next Wednesday. The recovery time in a sling is 4-5 weeks, and is actually a faster recovery than without the surgery. He should be able to do leg weights and start running within a few weeks, but swimming and biking are out for at least twelve weeks.
Again, Rich has handled it all really well. The one good thing about it all, is I’ve been through it (to a degree). I can help him through the post surgery and recovery and I know what it’s like to mourn the loss of your sport. The other upside is he can spend some time on the pavement with me once he gets the go ahead to run again.
I’m incredibly proud of him. He’s held his head high, stayed positive, and is looking forward to 2015. I’m lucky to call him my boyfriend, my best friend, and his ironmate…even if he didn’t get his three-peat in Wisconsin. The journey of the Ironman and his triathlon training didn’t hurt us, it actually made us closer and stronger. We will get through the surgery and he will be back to training in no time.
Have you trained for a race and ended up with a DNF? Know anyone that has broken their collar bone? Is your significant other an athlete? If so, are you just as invested in their success as you are your own?