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  • Writer's pictureRon Saetermoe

My Queen K Crash

Everyone in the cycling/triathlon community knows there are two kinds of bike riders: those that have crashed, and those that will crash. I can honestly say that I’ve had my share of crashes, thank you!

In December last year I put together a good race at the Indian Wells 70.3 and secured my slot for the 70.3 Worlds in New Zealand this year. My girlfriend, however, didn’t fare as well because she was seriously ill (but raced anyway, of course).

Not wanting to go to New Zealand and sherpa for me, she scoured the Ironman calendar to find a race to her liking and landed on the race in the Dominican Republic called Ironman 70.3 Cap Cana. It’s hot, humid and fast. She’s going to love it.

To get ready for that race (and to escape the unbelievable rains here in SoCal) we decided to go to our place in Kona for a 12-day training camp. Awesome! Days filled with swimming, biking and running, our favorite.

Day 1 of our camp was a one mile ocean swim. Day 2 was a four-hour ride, so we started out before sunrise. The morning temperature felt great and there weren’t a lot of cars on the road. Since I was having trouble with my aero bars, I’d be on the hoods all day, which was fine.

We did our customary stop at the Veteran’s cemetery which is about 12 miles from home and continued our northerly voyage up the Queen K. Early morning, like late afternoon, is a bit tricky on the Queen K because you’re constantly going in and out of the shadows from trees, brush and the long grass that grows on the side of the road.

Well, it was one of those transitions from bright sun to shadow that got me. Without warning my hands flew off the bars and I was heading down. I tied to save it to no avail.  Then, nothing . . .

The next thing I knew my girlfriend was telling me to stay put. Sadly, I’ve done a similar thing to her before (crashing right in front of her on the base at Camp Pendleton) so she had nightmares. She swerved to miss me by riding into the car lane (luckily, no cars hit her) and stopped immediately and stopped the car traffic so no one would run me over.

As I lay there surveying my body the only thing that hurt was my head. Now, I have no idea exactly how I landed or what that looked like but it’s pretty common to have extensive road rash after such an incident. I went back and looked at my numbers and I was going 20.3 MPH at the time of the crash, so I was moving.

At this time, traffic was stopped in BOTH directions on the Queen K with dozens of cars backed up. At least two good Samaritans called for an ambulance, which we quickly called off. I made it to my feet and was disoriented but surprised I felt as good as I did, all things considered.

After another survey, I knew how lucky I was not to have massive amounts of road rash and apparently no broken bones. I know plenty of people who have crashed less severely and broken their collar bones.

Obviously, we were in no position to drive the 17 miles back to town so a really nice guy with a bald head and a grey beard that would make the guys from ZZ Top proud, called Carrie (not sure about the spelling, sorry mate) drove us all the way home. Along the way he kept talking to me and looking into my eyes. He knew full well about concussions from his medical training and what to look for and wanted to make sure I was doing okay. We’ll be back in October, Carrie, and hope to find you (we should have gotten your number) so we can buy you a pint.

We showered and headed to the hospital. I was very impressed with our PA (no doctor on the schedule apparently) was very thorough ordered a CT scan on my head and x-rays on my elbow and collarbone.

He confirmed no broken bones but some bruising on the back of my head and swelling of the brain. He ordered me to take it easy for a couple weeks and take something for the headache as needed.

I was lucky that day. Things could have been so much worse but the trauma of a crash like that does get to you mentally. You start to wonder about whether you want to ride outside anymore or compete in the sport we love so much. Then, the first few times after the crash you’re ultra-sensitive to everything.

My advice is not to rush the healing process, and I’m not just talking about the physical healing. The mental healing may be even more important so if/when it happens to you, give yourself some time to recover from the trauma.

Nearly two weeks after the crash I still have a low-grade headache, which my retired ER doc friend, Mark Song, says is normal. I guess I won’t worry about it.

So, just like that, my 70.3 Ironman training camp was over. Sucks, but it could have been worse.

The next 10 days I was a dedicated sherpa for my girlfriend who executed the rest of the camp as we had planned (albeit a bit more cautious on the bike). I was happy to do it and thoroughly enjoyed the drive up to Hawi twice, in the car.

You can take every precaution and tell yourself to be careful on your bike rides, but things still happen. In the moment it sucks but you need to realize that’s just part of the journey. I get back on the horse tomorrow so I can nail my race in Cap Cana on the road to 70.3 Worlds in November.

See you at the races!

Coach Ron


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