Ive been struggling for some time now on how to update this blog, at a loss for what to write. I finally found the words as I traveled back from interbike this week, and as it turns out I had a lot of words. Its nearly a mini novel, so i’ll put the important stuff here at the top and if you want to read my story of London its below.
First off, im alive! And lucky to be at that. My injuries were pretty serious. I crushed and lacerated 54% of my liver and put a hole in my right lung. It took three operations and nearly two weeks in the hospital to get straight. The recovery has been long but im getting there and expected to make a full recovery. I have one more surgery next month to remove the stint in my liver then I should be free sailing from there.
I am starting to be active again, and yes… back on the bike! Just cruising around for now, I have to stay clear of any impact for a few more months, but plan to get back out on the USABMX race circuit in January and already setting goals for Worlds in New Zealand.
I have been overwhelmed with all the flowers, cards, messages, and prayers for my recovery. Thank you so much, I read them all and each has been a drop in the bucket to getting me back on my feet. Ive had an amazing team of family and friends helping me through this and I couldn’t have done it without them. Huge thanks to my sponsors Intense, THE, SINZ, Nike, Oakley, FLY who have supported me through a difficult year and are continuing to support me. Solid people behind me. Thanks also for the messages and condolences sent regarding the death of my brother-in-law last week. As I mention below, his passing has really put everything in perspective for me.
Because I didnt post them before, for more scoop you can listen to my podcast with BMXNEWS and/or read this article from the DESERET NEWS Ive also finished up my USOC Qualified series on youtube, last three episodes discussing London and my plans moving forward
With that, here’s my story…
It’s been seven weeks since my crash and I still have a hard time comprehending that it ever happened. I’ve thought about you and that day a lot over the last seven weeks. Waking up the morning of Jul 30th, my 27th birthday, thinking it was going to be the greatest birthday ever because I was an Olympian living my Olympic dream and less than 48hrs away from departure to the games. As put on my Olympic uniform to practice in for the first time, I felt so empowered, so excited for my last real training session.
While I was out on the track warming up I remember thinking how GOOD I felt on the bike, for the first time all year I was healthy and my skills felt better than ever. I was peaking. I popped out a few gates then spoke with my coach James about the days structure. “3 half laps” he said “that’s all” to be honest I wanted to argue. Only 3? I felt good enough to spend a few hours out there but he was boss so I bit my tongue and loaded in the gate. It slammed down, first straight was good, perfect backside first jump, second jump, a few fast cranks then I pulled and extended hard to jump the entire 42ft triple in the first turn– I had just started jumping it the week before and to me it was the final marker that I was ready for the games. Few girls, if any, would be jumping that triple in London. A big smile swept across my face as I came out of the first turn, I always got the best adrenaline rush booting that jump. More pedals. Spotted my landing on the first jump, another crank, pushed hard through the second jump then looked ahead to the big 30fter into the turn, my halfway point, almost there. 3 more pedals 1, 2, then it happened. My nightmare began.
I heard it and felt it all at once, time slowed to a crawl. There was nothing underneath my legs as they tried to pedal, my wheel locked but my body was still moving forward, hurdling me over the bars as I hit the lip of that third jump. I was high, so high up there, flying like superman horizontal to the ground with my bike somewhere behind me. I was confused. The ground was rushing up at me so fast. What do I do? Don’t stick your arm out, I thought, then I slammed into the ground. I rolled down the landing into the turn before my body finally came to a rest. The impact had knocked the wind out of me and I laid there for what seemed like an eternity fighting to breathe. What was that noise? Then I realized it was me. I was screaming. I tried to get up but could only get part way propped on one elbow. The pain down my right side was searing hot. I ripped my helmet off in an attempt to get more air and saw Quincy, our sports med director, sprinting towards me. Everything gets fuzzy after that. I remember him trying to calm me down. Was I still screaming? “Breathe” he kept saying. Im trying! I made an attempt to stand, but I was dizzy, my vision was blurring and I felt pressure in my ears. He helped me into the golf cart that had appeared from nowhere and I was transported into sports med. My face was wet, I touched it, blood? No, tears. I was crying? I was finally getting some air but it was shallow, the pain in my right side was getting worse. I was carried into sports med and Brett came to look me over. Dear sweet Brett. “Can you knock me out? Please? Stop the pain? It hurts so bad. Make it stop” I begged. His eyes were sad. “I can’t” he said, “I’m so sorry, Im calling this in Arielle, you need to go to the hospital.”
That’s when the fear set in. Not the hospital. No. No. I cant. I am going to London. My bags are already packed. I am going to London… At some point the paramedics arrived, there was a debate about life flight or ambulance. Life flight? Seriously? No that would be too long of a wait they said, “we need to take her now.” They loaded me into the back of the ambulance, Quincy poked his head in and said he’d be following behind then the doors slammed shut and the siren turned on. Some lady was asking me questions, another lady was poking me. “I’m going to London” I kept saying, “I need to go back, I’m going to London.”
We got to the hospital, more people, more questions, more poking. My side felt like it was on fire. Someone had some scissors to cut my uniform off. “No!” I shouted “you can’t cut that, it’s my Olympic uniform, I’m going to London.” Some looks we’re exchanged then they gently helped me remove it. Someone started taking X-rays with a portable unit, someone else was drawing my blood and the room got blurry again. Suddenly I was in a different room, there was a CT scan, the pain was unreal. “please hurry” I remember pleading. Then the doctors were there. Half a dozen white coats surrounding my gurney “Arielle you’ve lacerated and crushed your liver and punctured your lung, your bleeding internally pretty bad, we need to operate immediately ” a woman said. She looks nice I thought, wait… Did she just say operate? I felt narcotics seeping into my veins. Finally some relief from the pain. I closed my eyes.
Something was choking me, something in my throat. I tried to pull it out. My arms were instantly pinned down to my side. Get it out! What is in my throat? I was panicking. I can’t breath! Then darkness again
Someone woke me up. Was it before or after the surgery? I didn’t know. “There are some important men from your church here to give you a blessing, we are going to leave you alone with them for a minute” a white coat said. Two men walked in and for the first time the fear was replaced by a calmness. They were indeed important men, standing before me was the president of the San Diego mission accompanied by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Was I dreaming? They laid their hands on my head and a blessing was administered. I don’t remember the blessing itself, just the peace I felt as I drifted back to sleep.
The next faces I saw were my coach James and my sports psych Jason. I asked when I could leave. They looked at each other. A nurse came into the room. “when can I leave?” I asked again. “I have to go to London” she looked at James and Jason then back at me “umm I’ll go talk to the doctors” more blackness. Hey, there’s my friend Rob. Then my husband Mike. When did he get here? James and Jason were gone. The white coats came back. “When can I go to London?” I demanded.
Do you understand London? I fought so hard for you, half dead and hooked to machines but unwilling to give up.
One of them stepped forward and said bluntly “Arielle you are not going to London, your injuries are severe, there is no way you can travel. Your going to be here for awhile.” Everyone stared at me, the silence was heavy. “I need a minute” I choked out. My curtain partitioned room in the ICU emptied out and the sobs came. I don’t know how long I cried. I prayed that it was just a horrible nightmare. When was I going to wake up? This can’t be real. Was I really going to miss the Olympics for a second time? My foggy brain tried to find a solution. Maybe I could talk some sense into the doctors, maybe the nice blond doctor lady would let me fly over if I promised not to race, just stay in the village for a day or two then let Brooke take my place. Maybe USAC would understand. James will have my back, yes James will know what to do. I grabbed my phone and texted him “Please, don’t pull me from the team yet… I still believe I can do this coach, like Keri Strug in ’96. Just give me a few more days please. See if they can push my flight back to Friday” I waited for his response, holding the phone tight hoping until I eventually cried myself back to sleep.
I woke up in another room to an old lady across the curtain yelling that there was a cat rubbing her feet. My parents had arrived, my sister in law. I searched for my phone. Mike had it, “give it to me” I demanded. “No” he responded sternly “not unless you promise not to try booking a ticket to London on it again” What? I was obviously not remembering everything. I promised and he handed it over, I checked the date and time, it was midday Aug 1st. Where did yesterday go? Then it came like a slap in the face, the team had left without me. Someone showed me the official press release from USA Cycling announcing my crash and Brooke as my replacement. I felt crushed as the reality set in. It was really over. “I am no longer an Olympian” I whispered. Mike, my mom, sister, everyone tried to console me. Maybe I could go to closing ceremonies they said, your still an Olympian, they can’t take that away from you, but they didn’t get it. I knew how it worked, once I was replaced my title would be stripped and I wouldn’t be going now, tomorrow, or at closing ceremonies. “I am no longer an Olympian” I said again as bitterness filled my heart. You had given up on me London.
The next few days went by pretty fast. Flowers, cards, and get well messages started pouring in. I set the TV to NBC and drifted in and out of sleep watching the Olympics. “You sure you want to see this?” Mike asked at one point but I felt like I had to watch, had to see it all unfold even if I wasn’t there. I still had friends competing, I still wanted to be a part of it even from my hospital bed.
One morning I woke up to a text message from my good friend Amy Hastings who was at the games competing as a distance track runner. It was a picture of her cleats with a #15 written on them. She said “These are going out there on the track with me tonight. I am so sorry Arielle, but I am so extremely happy you are going to be ok. You will get through this because you are the strongest, toughest, kindest, most bad-ass person I know. Im sending lots of love your way. Get well!” I wept as I read the text. It seemed like I had been crying nonstop since the accident. We were supposed to be there together. That was the plan. What had happened?
Five days in and I wasn’t improving. I felt terrible. “Trauma” the doctors kept telling me, I just had a lot of trauma. I wasn’t able to get out of bed anymore, I felt like I was getting worse. Eventually another CT Scan was ordered. The white coats came back, the blond lady was with them again. She told me I needed another operation immediately because I was still bleeding internally. I didn’t care at that point, they could do whatever they wanted with my broken body. Two liters of blood and bile were removed from my abdomen and a drain was placed coming out of my liver with a bag that had to be emptied every hour. I felt better for a day or two then worse again. A third surgery was ordered to place a stint inside the liver to direct the bile flow. The day after the third surgery I was in excruciating pain, but in the middle and left side of my abdomen this time. More tests were done and it was discovered that I had pancreatitis, an unfortunate complication from the stint being placed. Liver, lung, and now my pancreas was fighting me. I just wanted to get out of that place, out of San Diego, as far away from my nightmare as possible.
I had a constant flow of visitors and my room had been transformed into a botanical garden with all of the flowers that were arriving. My phone, email, fb were blowing up with get well messages–the support was overwhelming. I had my husband and my family constantly by my side despite me being unpleasant and unresponsive. My nurses did their best to cheer me up (even buying and sneaking me special popsicles when I got sick of the generic ones) and Mike would willingly disobey the rules to take me outside on walks. I was so grateful for them all, and especially for those rootbeer popsicles, but nothing could really combat the loss I was feeling.
I hadn’t responded to anyone from the team since they left. We had grown pretty close over the last month as we trained together and prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the world, we were a true team within an individual sport. My crash left me feeling like I had let them down, my coach down, my country down. It was too difficult for me emotionally to interact with any of them, but as the race approached I finally sent them all a message, including Brooke, wishing them the best and letting them know I was pulling hard for them, because I still was. They flooded me back with get well wishes telling me how much they missed me there. It was a small consolation and I felt a sense of pride for them, being the elder of the group to have led them, watched them grow into phenomenal athletes, qualified alongside them.
I watched the race unfold live early in the morning streaming across my phone. I felt very detached. It was surreal to see the thing that I had been training for exclusively for four years happening without me. As the camera panned across the gate for the women’s final to Brooke she stuck out her hand and I saw my initials bright and bold written in silver across her palm. AMV. She was giving me a shout out from thousands of miles away and my heart swelled as the tears came again. She was living her dream as an Olympian but competing in my place, and I knew it had to be tough on her to be thrown in like that, in that way, yet she was honoring me as best she could and it meant the world to me in that moment.
And then it was over. Champions crowned. No medals for the US, and another four years before the opportunity would present itself again. I had been in the hospital for 12 days, had three surgeries, and lost 12lbs. On the 13th day I was finally released, unable to travel home but allowed to go back to my San Diego apartment and rest.
The day after I was released I examined my bike for the first time. My chain had dropped off the rear cog on the inside and jammed my rear wheel. I looked it over with the five other men in the room and we tried to spin theories as to how it happened. We put the chain back on and it was in alignment, not too lose, not too tight. I was hoping for some sort of vindication, an answer, a reason other than my chain just came off but we couldn’t find it. Current theory is that the particular chain I was running was too wide, too stiff, but I’m still not satisfied with that answer. Might as well call it an act of God because I found no solace in seeing the bike.
I said my goodbyes to my friends in San Diego, to the training center, to the life I had known for the last four years. After more scans I was eventually cleared to leave, Mike loaded all my things into the back of our Scion and we made the 1200mile drive home to Washington. Two weeks passed and my body slowly started to heal, but emotionally I had been broken. I was still carrying you with me even after the closing ceremonies were finished and the rest of the world had moved on. I bought a french bulldog puppy, created projects to do around the house to keep me busy, and tried to make plans for next year, but was left with the empty hole in my heart that you had punched.
On Saturday Sept 8th as Mike and I were preparing to take the pup for a walk a phone call came informing us that his oldest brother Rob had been in a cycling accident while competing in LOTOJA and it was quite serious. I was sick, anxious, as we waited for word and when it finally came I only got sicker. Rob was gone. It was shocking, so unexpected. I suddenly felt an overwhelming pain and loss like I had not known, not comparable in the least to my crash or injuries. Rob and his family had become my own. He was a huge supporter of my cycling career, insisted on coming to see you, London, on their last family trip together, just so they could watch me compete. I cannot adequatley describe the amazing man and incredible life he lived, successful at everything he did, the most loving husband to his sweet wife, the best father. The kind of person everyone looks up to and aspires to be.
As we drove through the night across the blackness of Idaho towards Jackson Hole where our family was gathering I had a moment of clarity. A reality check to what is really important in life. It’s quite simply that, the gift of life. Family. It was time for me to let you go. To be grateful for my life that I was blessed to still have, for my family, friends, for the relationships I have had the opportunity to make. To be grateful for BMX, for the places I have gone and experiences I have had. I am so lucky to have traveled the world doing what I love and in that moment as I shared my husbands grief over losing his brother, his hero, I said goodbye to you London. Farewell. You are just another chapter in my story and its time to write the next one.