12/28/12 - Tragic Accident Won't Stop Us
by Elyssa Hill
John and I met in August of 2009. It has been an ongoing joke that we cannot remember the exact date because it was such a chance meeting that we never kept track. I was on a blind date that was less than interesting and John was hanging out with a couple friends after a run. Somehow we ended up at the same location. My date ended but I stuck around because I was determined to have some fun and shortly after that my path crossed John's and we've been together ever since.
One of the main attractions that we had to each other was our love for the outdoors and delicious but healthy foods. I won him over with my cooking and he won me over with his willingness to try new adventures. We built our relationship on going for walks, hikes, runs and road cycling trips. It wasn't uncommon for us to take off and ride 30-50+ miles.
In August 2011 we decided we wanted to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. John's goal was the full and mine, the half and we started training together. We planned our routes so that my training distance would end at our house and he would run further until reaching his mileage for that day.
On October 2nd, 2011 we decided to meet up with my brother, a seasoned mountain biker, and take our biking to the trails. We loaded up our mountain bikes, headed south to Brown County State Park and took off on one of the less difficult courses. About half a mile from the trail head John hit a root or a rock stopping his bike in its tracks and sending him over the handle bars. I glanced up from the trail and saw him in the dirt; his bike bouncing unmanned. I yelled up ahead and though John was still conscious he said he couldn't move. The next several months proved to be the most confusing and gut-wrenching time of our lives.
John suffered a burst fracture to his 5th cervical vertebrae rendering him quadriplegic. Upon arrival to the hospital he was prepped and sent off for two back to back surgeries totaling about 5 hours. He spent the next three weeks in Neuro ICU intubated the majority of that time. His lungs were compromised by pneumonia as a side effect of being intubated and was unable to breathe on his own with the amount of fluid buildup he was experiencing. The muscles in John's chest that normally would assist with expanding his lungs to breathe and allowing him to have a productive cough were paralyzed and at 25 years old, he consequently had a tracheostomy. After ICU, he went to an acute rehab center to stabilize his breathing further and then spent about six weeks in a rehabilitation hospital where he underwent a grueling series of physical and occupational therapies four hours a day, six days a week. John wanted to get better so he requested extra days of therapy and extra time in the gym. He set a goal to be strong enough for discharge by Christmas. He came home on December 23rd, 2011.
In July of this year, I was talking with some family members who reminded me of jogger wheelchairs. I got a rush of excitement from the idea that John and I would still be able to finish what we started together last year. It would just be a little different as I would be pushing him on the course. I gathered all of the information I could find before proposing the idea to John. It didn't take long to get him on board and training ensued. I contacted some organizations to see about borrowing a jogger wheelchair (as they are fairly expensive to purchase outright), got in touch with a non-profit organization called My Team Triumph and arranged a meeting to borrow the chair. My sister and her husband were now planning on running with us. As everything fell into place our excitement grew. We were on our way to finishing something we had already intended to do but now it had more purpose and meaning AND it was really happening!
Our goal was to finish between 2hrs 10min and 2hrs 20min. We anxiously stood at the starting line with our family and friends cheering us on at the sidelines. We were seconds away from what at one time seemed so far away. Before we knew it, we were on our way. Though we had a training run with the jogger, it proved harder to maneuver than expected and from making many small adjustments to get through the initial crowd I was wearing out after four miles. My brother-in-law and sister and I switched off back and forth the rest of the way. On my off times I would run up next to John and throw in the occasional "Babe! This is it!" or "We're doing it!" John would tell us how great we were doing and smile despite the chilled sub 40 degree weather. As the miles passed and we closed in on the finish line our excitement swelled. Before we knew it we were at the last bend. We rounded the corner and heard our friends and family cheering us on before we could find them in the crowd. Smiles stretched our faces as we finished strong from this surge of encouragement and were welcomed with open arms and tears of joy. We didn't win, heck, we didn't even place, but at that moment the race was ours. We did it! At 2:33:30 we crossed the finish line and although it wasn't as fast as we wanted, we couldn't be more proud of finishing strong, our dedication to training and our dedication to each other.
When John had his accident, he and I made a decision to not let it dictate how we live our lives. To this day we are still finding ways to be adventurous together. That will never stop.