Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

That Time I Got Hit By a Car: 4 months later

I’m ready to talk about the crash. I was debating whether or not to share but I feel like each week there is another rider getting run off the road, another triathlete stuck in the ICU, another cyclist buried. Even if it only contributes in the tiniest of ways, hopefully my story can be one more voice toward better bike safety and improved awareness of cyclists for cars out on the road. While biking in DC, it was always a “when”, not “if” as to when I was going to get hit by one of the distracted, aggressive DC drivers. Much to my surprise then, it was in Austin—only six days after I had made the move south—that my riding luck ran out.

My first weekend in Austin was President’s Day weekend – so after round one of tackling the local dam loop and Texas hill country on Saturday, I headed out again on Monday to sneak in a bonus ride. Again, it was amazing. The ups and downs, passing (and getting passed by) other cyclists, getting wearing shortsleeves and sunscreen on a ride in February. I was happier than ever and loving every second of my new city. I rode about 90-minutes south and west of Austin before heading back into town.

I didn’t have time to react.

I was playing by the rules – I was in my bike lane and going the speed limit. When I went back to the scene later, you can see that I was less than ten feet from a crosswalk and two separate bike caution signs:

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The car made an illegal left turn in front of me, as if he had misjudged my speed or was simply trying to beat me to get across the intersection in time. Thankfully I had slowed as I came back into town and was only going 16-mph at the time but breaking as hard as I could and attempting to swerve to get around him just didn’t work. The last thing I remember was yanking on the breaks and shrieking “NO NO NO NO”.

In fact, it looked a lot like this, from this D.C. rider's experience (start at :32):

[youtube=http://youtu.be/oM2xpIKOWOA]

The next thing I remember is that there is some woman was standing over me, stabilizing my neck, my head was throbbing and it felt like someone stabbed me in my upper chest. Thankfully she was a nurse (it’s always a nurse, isn’t it? Amazing people...) so she talked me through everything and kept me from freaking out more than I already was. The pain and nausea were so bad, I felt like I was either going to throw up or suffocate and could not open my eyes. I pretty much knew I had broken my collarbone – no doubt about it.

They kept asking me questions – What is your name? Maggie. What is your address? I don’t know. Do you know where you are? No. I didn’t know if it was the head injury or being new to the area but not being able to answer such basic questions was terrifying.

The ambulance arrived and I was loaded onto the backboard, strapped into a full neck and head brace and lifted into my very first ambulance ride ever. My mangled bike also came along, with the police report safety-pinned to my bar tape. They pumped me full of painkillers and yet I could feel the two edges of my collarbone grate against each other every single bump of the way. In a strange moment of clarity, I asked the EMT with his lovely Irish accent whether I could borrow his phone. He obliged and dialed my dad, who I then very calmly told I had been hit by a car, was being transported to the hospital and asked if he or my mother would be able to drive over to pick me up from the ER.

At the hospital, they finally removed my helmet, my shoes, cut my Rev3 team jersey off me in order to assess for any possible neck/back injury and inspect the collarbone and road rash. I got more painkillers (yay!) and mostly just got left alone once they determined that I only had a concussion and no neck or spine damage. They also bandaged up the gashes on one of my hands, which had managed to bleed all over the ER bed and floor and make a mess. I was x-rayed for the collarbone and any other injuries, which happened to be one of the most painful experiences ever - the photos required that you lift both arms above your head and position your body at strange angles. Again, I could hear the grating of the two bones and feel them jostling each other even through the massive amounts of painkillers (I broke it in 3 places). It was definitely a grit your teeth and cry kind of moment.

time for a new jersey...

Later I would understand the pain, seeing that my collarbone had "tented" along my shoulder, where the top part had detached and pushed up my skin so I had a little mountain along the top.

I was then ready to be released but my mom, driving over from Louisiana, was still hours away. Since I didn’t have my phone on me and was new to Austin, there was no one I could call to come pick me up. I remember sitting in bed thinking to myself that I have never been more alone or pathetic in my entire life!! Thankfully, my dad was able to find a family friend with a son in Austin, who was my lifeline and came to pick me up from the hospital.

Granted, we had never met before and he’s showing up to find a bloody, unshowered girl sitting in tiny tri-shorts, hospital socks and a white t-shirt given to her from the hospital lost and found that she can only get her head and one-arm through. I’m in a soft sling, all my belongings in a plastic bag and a mangled bike next to me, slumped and drugged out in a hospital chair. Real classy.

He threw my bike into the back of my pickup and drove me home. By now it was around 11pm and I had the pleasure of figuring out how to shower and get myself into bed… without the help of any painkillers. It turns out that the hospital cannot send you home with meds so by the time I was at my apartment, I was drug-free and in pain. I somehow managed to scissor off my sports bra, lefthanded, shower in my sling and then attempt to dress myself. My neighbors must have thought I was getting murdered, because every single movement was excruciating and I was howling in pain. That night as the bruising set in - you can see the bone sticking out where it should not be:

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I finally ended up just slipping into an old strapless dress and attempting to sleep (which never happened thanks to nausea from the concussion...).

My mom would come in the next day, we would research surgeons and then go to Dr. Elenz, who happened to treat Lance Armstrong a few years back when Lance broke his collarbone. Proof (from a later check-up):

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We got the prescription for the pain pills (hallelujah!) and scheduled the surgery and recovery, both of which were huge successes! I got a plate and seven screws:

heading into surgery

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And a lovely linebacker-like sling that I was stuck in for the next week. It also was constructed of ice packs that hooked up to a mini-cooler that I was connected to 24/7 for the first few days. And, yes, this was the only dress I wore for about two weeks -- I cut the strap so I could tie it on without having to move my shoulder too much.

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The biggest difference today is how I interact with cars while out running or riding. Every intersection is taken up on the hoods, never in my aerobars and I make eye contact with each and every single driver before proceeding. Yes, that means some of my training rides are probably slower at times than I would like but it’s worth every precaution. My routes have changed some – until I was 100% confident in my post-surgery riding, I only rode the Parmer route in Austin – where it’s a straight shot with a wide shoulder and only three or four intersections. Granted, none of this will ever prevent some of the freak accidents you continue to see but it’s a right step toward ensuring that I avoid a worse fate if and when this happens again.

Last Monday marked four months since the accident and I am happy to say that this season is far from a complete wash. I feel lucky to be alive and well and back into action! This past weekend I ended up finally feeling like myself again at Rev3 Williamsburg and am looking forward to crushing my next few races!

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