Updated: Jan 16
By Catherine Bares:
2020 will undoubtedly go down in history as a crazy, unprecedented year of challenge. But, 2020 will not be considered my most challenging year in recent history.
Since April 2020, we have been forced to slow down and take a step back. During the “shutdown,” I had a chance to reflect on my life. I am fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to work virtually from a home office with clients in an essential field. So, I was able to work, but my travel halted and left me with additional time on my hands.
To say I struggled with depression when the pandemic hit is putting it mildly. I took the necessary steps to overcome that depression and am feeling much better now. During that time, however, I found myself revisiting some tragic moments in my life. As bad as the world is right now, 2013 will go down as one of my worst years because of an accident I had during a triathlon.
The Morning of the Triathlon
March 24, 2013. It had been raining for hours, and I was afraid the triathlon would be canceled. Later that day, I found myself wishing the race had been canceled. I was not ready for what was about to happen.
The race starts with the swim portion at the pool. There were many swimmers who did not understand how to line up properly, which made it more difficult for swimmers to get around them. It was frustrating, but I focused on getting to the wall.
While climbing out of the pool, I was excited because I knew that my swim was strong, which was going to result in a big improvement from prior-season efforts. I spent a great deal of time training for the swim, which was my biggest weakness in prior triathlons.
When I exited the pool building to head toward transition, the wind hit my wet body and almost took my breath away. After the rain moved out, a cold front moved in. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees, and the wind picked up.
Swim Complete; Time for the Bike Portion
I fought a headwind during the first half of the ride. I focused on knowing that once I reached the turnaround, the wind would be at my back and I could then settle into the ride. That part played out, and I was able to drop my energy expenditure and just ride. Cycling was my strong suit, but I did not prepare myself for the mental side of the "what ifs." With the wind at my back, I did not have a good gauge of my speed. That was my first mistake. I knew I was in trouble when I started tapping my breaks to slow down for the turn, which caused me to panic and resulted in my second mistake. . . .
I pictured two scenarios: hitting the curb and flying over the handlebars or jamming my breaks and going down. I made a split-second decision and went down. When I came to a stop, I can remember lying face down on the ground, afraid to move. A volunteer for the event asked me if I was okay and asked if I wanted to sit up. When I tried to lift my shoulder to roll over, I felt some bones move in my upper back area. I thought my shoulder blade had shattered. Turns out that I had a broken collar bone and seven broken ribs!
While they were loading me up in the ambulance, a second person went down in the same spot and busted her head. I could hear the eyewitnesses talking about how bad she was bleeding. They asked her to wait a moment while they loaded me in the ambulance and then they would take care of her. Then I heard her say, "I'm finishing this race," and she took off. From where I sat, that was not a good decision.
Recovery From My Injuries
My broken collar bone required surgery to repair. The doctor wanted to wait at least two weeks to perform the surgery so that the soft tissue could begin to heal. Once the surgery was complete, it was like starting all over with even more pain to endure. It was a long, painful recovery. I was unable to lay down for four months, forcing me to sleep in a recliner.
Over the first two months, every breath I took, no matter how shallow that breath was, would cause the broken ribs to pop. I spent every waking moment managing pain and had plenty of time to relive those moments repeatedly in my mind. I realized that if I hadn't panicked, I could have overshot the turn, slowed down, and turned around. The accident was my fault and could have been avoided. Admitting that to myself was a tough pill to swallow and left me dealing with guilt and depression after the accident.
I think the rehabilitation was the worst part of the entire process. My mobility diminished in my left arm and shoulder area from being in a sling for a long period of time with little-to-no movement. The broken ribs complicated the rehab process. Whenever my shoulder blade moved, it would get hung up on the broken ribs. The worst parts were laying down and the stretching. The broken ribs were on the back side, which made laying down excruciating. The shortened muscles fought every stretch we were trying to work through. I was unable to lift my arm more than 3 to 6 inches from my side at the beginning of treatment. Every step toward improving that distance came with a painful price.
Important Lessons Learned
Volunteers are great and a necessary part of the events, but that doesn't mean they know what is best for the injured. Instead of asking me to stay still and calling for an ambulance, one asked me if I wanted to try to get up. When I told her I didn't think I could get up, I remember her asking, "What do you want me to do, call an ambulance?" My reply, "That would be a good idea."
Focusing too much on the race put me at greater risk. All I could think about was improving my time and finishing strong, which resulted in a terrible mistake that I paid dearly for.
What I Learned During My Recovery
My husband loves me with all his heart and soul. He slept on the sofa for three weeks so that he could be in the same room with me at night in case I woke up needing his help. He also gave up the Lazy Boy for four months. That's true love, LOL!
Life goes on without me.
How many people in my life I have touched in positive ways. I saved all my cards and notes that I received from everyone. A year after my accident, I pulled them out and read each one with tears rolling down my face. I hung each one on the bulletin board in my office for positive reinforcement.
The accidental insurance worked into the event fees is worth every penny. After my health insurance and accidental insurance paid my bills, I paid $21.00 out of pocket. That was a big stress reducer.
I realized that buying short-term disability insurance was a smart investment. During my recovery, I did not worry about bills. I took a week of vacation pay and started receiving disability insurance checks two weeks after my accident.
I had no idea how much pain I could learn to live with. Getting addicted to pain pills during the recovery was a major concern of mine. So, I talked to my doctor about this at length, and he walked me through my concerns with the reasoning behind relieving the pain. Because I had this discussion with my doctor, he reassured me and taught me how to know when I should trust the recovery process and stop taking the pain pills. As a result, I believe it kept me aware of my concerns and lessened my risk of addiction.
It has been seven years since my accident. I became reclusive, withdrawn, unsure, fearful, along with a whole bunch of other insecurities. Some of these things I have overcome, but some still linger inside me. I no longer trust myself and have struggled to find my confidence and fearlessness again. I finally realized that I may never be that person again, but each day I continue to work on creating a better version of myself.