“He said I had Broken wings. Son you have to look deeper, look beyond the hurt, the hate, the jealousy the soft pity. Way down deeper where the dreams lay. Find your dreams son. It’s the pursuit of the dreams that will heal you. “
– Billy Mills, Olympic Gold Medalist in the 10,000 meters 1964
Billy Mills is one of the greatest inspirations in my life. He is literally the reason that I won my first race, and a large part of the reason that I found passion in running. I remember watching him guest speak in 2002 in Rochester, NY (my home town). He talked about the power of the mind and its ability to accomplish amazing things. I specifically remember him telling us his Olympic victory story. In his words…
“For me it was a form of self hypnosis. And I visualized dozens of times a day. Then I started with my workout book. Now how do you improve your time two minutes? Or a minute and fifty seconds? Its almost too phenominal to think about. So I just went to the simplist form of something I thought I could believe. Once around the track, 25 laps. I just have to put forth (snaps his fingers) “that” much more effort each lap. Times 25 laps and thats fifty seconds. My thoughts changing from one more try one more try to I can win I can win. 30 yards to go my thoughts became over and over again I won I won I won, but I’m still in 3rd place.”
At that moment I realized I had just learned something incredibly special. And I was pumped about the next day’s race. I was new to Cross Country, but had an old soul for it. I remember the back third of the race (Mendon Ponds Park for you Rochestarians ) Devils bath tub, suicide and cardiac hill). Coming into the last hill I started snapping my fingers. I seemed to forget my fatigue at that moment. So each minute of the race I would pick up my pace for ( snap- snap – snap- snap – snap) 5 seconds. Well 5 seconds turned to a minute and before I knew it, I was in the lead. In fact, so far in the lead I couldnt see my opponents. As I came up on the final 400, I started chanting “i’m going to win, i’m going to win, i’m winning”. And from that race on, I found this increasingly passionate love for the ZEN of running, for pushing my body past what I thought was possible. If we stop where we think our limits are, are we really pushing ourselves to the limit? Or are we sacrificing our true potential? I’m not sure…but I was willing to find out.
Fast forward 10 years! Most of you reading this know me and my history of running, turned love of swimming and biking and pursuit of a career in triathlon. In fact, most of you are waiting to hear what the heck happened. The truth is, I wasn’t just trying to give you an exclusive look at my knee cap. Although I must say, i’m glad its still there 🙂 There is a point to the story of Billy Mills….bear with me 🙂
Last Saturday I headed out on a brick ride/run with one of the most talented triathletes in this area. He has qualified for Kona 14 times. We rode a hilly loop to Lake Berryessa (out near Napa Valley, CA). For the first time, I hit 40 mph coming down off the “hill”. More like a mountain- but anyways. Bryant asked me why i did so well keeping up with him on the uphill, but trailed behind him so far on the down. I told him I was still a bit timid as I haven’t had many opportunities to do such hilly courses with steep declines. I also didn’t know the roads (note to self- know your route!). I struck up a conversation on the next uphill to pass time. “Hey B- you ever had a bad crash?” “Yupp, when I lived in Kona.” He went on to tell me the story of how the road ravaged his bike and sent him on a little flight on the hawaiian coastline. Then he asked me “You? ” I replied- “Nope…but I know everyone has their first crash. And that’s always scared me.” Well I hope you never do he said as we were pumping up the hill.
About 30 minutes later he told me to jump ahead of him and “be careful Kate, this downhill is very steep and technical”. I will B- Thanks. I wasnt sure what to expect, but given the fact that he thought it was technical made me extra sensitive. I remember thinking- okay, this isn’t so bad. There just isn’t a shoulder. I squeezed my legs together and got low to lower my center of gravity. I took a big turn to the left and it started getting really steep. My senses were supercharged now as I glanced up to see what was ahead. With no recovery time, I was into the next turn and had only a split second to decide. Oh god i’m not going to make it flashed through my head. I knew I could do one of two things: 1) Turn into on coming traffic or 2) tap my back brake and pray it will slow me down enough to JUST miss the side of the road. As I tapped my back brake, my rear wheel locked up and I felt it start to skid. I let off the brake but it was too late, my pretty new Giant Time Trial bike had sent me going 30 mph into a wooden stake sticking out of the side of the hill. It seemed as if life were in slow motion at that moment. I remember everything. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard my brake, the bang of my bike , my body hitting the ground and I remember moaning as my body skid across the rocks. I remember praying God let me stop skidding. I remember being terrified another one of those wooden stakes would impale me. Finally the ride stopped and i was laying face down. I rolled over and felt excruciating pain in my left knee. I looked down and saw my knee cap. I screamed Bryant’s name but he was still trying to safely brake from the descent himself. The car behind me stopped and rushed over with a shirt. I threw it over my leg and said GOD HELP ME GOD! Ugh…sorry too much detail. At that point I remember thinking that I had these tools. My coach Mary and my team QT2 has taught me about being mentally durable. I wasn’t ever really sure what that felt like. I thought it just meant muscling through everything. The water, my peddle strokes, my hack squats. But at that moment, I realized that mental durability meant being able to show courage in the face of fear. To show strength in the face of weakness, and to be at a place within yourself that no one, no injury, nothing tangible could ever touch. And at that moment, the pain vanished. I smiled at Bryant and said “B- I think I need a new helmet”. I laid my head back on the floor mat from the generous civilians car and waited 20 minutes for the EMT’s to arrive. We had no cell phone signal, so a passing car drove to a call box to phone for help. I honestly don’t remember anything but nothing. I remember everything about the nothing. The sounds, the smells, the sights, but I felt nothing. I had put myself into this zone and no one was going to touch it. I had never felt so strong yet so powerless at the same time.
Once the paramedics arrived, I had begun to feel some pain in my neck and back. My nose hurt and I wasn’t sure if it was broken or not. They decided to back board me in case I had any spinal cord injuries. The EMT asked if I wanted morphine, and I said “No thanks…i’m good”. I remember thinking Lets see how tough I really am. I think he thought I was crazy.
I remember taking my phone out to call Adam 4 or 5 times while I laid there, forgetting every time I had no cell phone signal. What was I going to do? He was in Seattle! We just got my new bike! Now I cant do my long run tomorrow! STOP KATIE STOP. Thought stopping is an amazing skill. You just stop everything negative going through your head at the moment and STOP. I asked the medic how my bike was and he said I think it might need some work 🙂 Dang- I just got that thing!
At the hospital I was poked and x rayed. The numbing and scrubbing of my laceration was more painful than the fall, but I kept thinking durability durability durability. Lisa came and held by hand and took me home (an angel as always). I’m not sure what I would have done without her. Taken a cab home? Adam called in the troops and his friend Brandon Jones stayed the night with me. My friends and neighbors picked up meds, offered dinner, came to visit and lifted my spirits. I was amazed at how loved I truly felt. From the bottom of my heart. I love you all! Even my long distance supports, my parents, friends, and fellow team mates. Thank you!
My prognosis is good. I have a MRI of my brain tomorrow to check some inflammed blood vessels found in a CT scan. Hopefully just a concussion. Other than that, every day is getting better and better. I talked to coach and we are already planning my recovery. Lots of swimming in my near future! I am grateful to be alive, partially healthy, and so loved.
If you ever find yourself questioning your ability to move forward. Take Billy’s advice. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Break things into manageable pieces. My recovery plan? Listen to my coaches, thank God i’m still alive, recover stronger, faster, and better than ever. And learn how to hit a steep descend without going over my handle bars :O)