By Josh Jacques
Before every distance race, runners line up at the start line with plenty of excitement and nerves. If you were to ask the person next to you, “Why are you running today,” he or she will likely have a unique story to share. Many run to lose weight, reach their individual goals, or even to honor the memory of loved ones. Paul David, a native of Washington, shares his “Why are you running” story often, one that includes a Ford F150 rolling over his head.
David was riding his bike to work when a driver late for a job interview turned in front of him. He got into a catastrophic accident that resulted in loss of vision in his left eye, a collapsed lung, multiple broken facial bones, broken ribs, a broken scapula, a broken collarbone, and a severe traumatic brain jury. He chronicles the recovery experience on his blog.
David’s journey back from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a very inspiring story. According to Traumatic Brain Injury.com, a TBI is a complex injury with a broad spectrum of symptoms and disabilities. Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries. Recovery is a functional recovery, based on mechanisms that remain uncertain. No two brain injuries are alike and the consequence of two similar injuries may be very different. Symptoms may appear right away or may not be present for days or weeks after the injury.
In David’s case, he had his skull removed and was put into a medically-induced coma in order to allow the swelling of the brain to reduce. He woke up a week later, without any memory of what had happened.
David discussed the hardest part of living with TBI following the accident.
“It’s a wicked thing,” David said. “There is no straight path back and that was very, very hard. Doctors couldn’t tell me what tomorrow looks like.”
David, an avid runner prior to his accident, had spent many hours training for and competing in distance races.
He spent nearly a month at Harborview Hospital in Seattle. When he returned home, he faced what many people who suffer from a traumatic brain injury face, which is fear of the unknown.
“In the running world, what’s needed in a situation like this is a steady ration of goals ahead of me,” David said. “When I was flat on my back and not able to get up and around, one of the things I missed the most was the fulfillment you get when you identify a goal and you go out and do it. I had pretty much decided running is one of the ways I feed my soul.”
As soon as David was able, he began to walk everywhere that he could. He wanted to get back out and begin running because of the emotional equilibrium that it provided him before the accident. Two days prior to the accident David had completed a 30K race along with a friend and he really wanted to do it again.
Near the end August 2008, David had surgery to reinsert the bone to his skull. The road to recovery was not without challenges. Many days, David would overdo it and end up in the emergency room.
On the frequent trips to the doctor he would ask, “When can I begin running?”
The answer was always the same until one day he asked, “What are you worried about?”
The doctor replied that his physical stamina would probably not be up for running and that he could he could hurt himself by falling. David explained that he was going to gym, swimming long distances, spending a lot of time on the elliptical machine and the stationery bike, and that his aerobic health was fine. The doctor finally gave him the green light to begin running carefully on soft surfaces.
“I plotted the course from there,” David said. “Nine months and three days from the accident, I was lined up at the starting line in Ellensburg, Washington doing the Yakima River Canyon [Marathon].”
David had gone from being flat on his back in a coma to lining up for a marathon in just over nine months. He credits his friends and family for giving him the gift of hope.
“As strong as individual is, unless they believe they can do it, it’s not going to happen,” David said. “My wife, my kids, my brother, and all these wonderful people that sat with me in the hospital kept things as upbeat as they could… I am going to be saying ‘thank you’ for the rest of my life and doing so happily.”
He also credits all of the people that helped by saving his life following the accident. From the first responders who stabilized him at the scene to the personnel in the ICU at Harborview Hospital, he has been able to thank them and show them that because of their efforts, he is alive today. He is living and breathing proof that they make a difference on a daily basis.
The Yakima River Canyon Marathon turned out to be a difficult day for David. It was his first marathon back and he walked some of the hills. He was still happy with his ability to finish the race.
“The experience of crossing the finish line again, the experience of just being out there and being able to do it was just magic,” David said.
He finished the marathon with a time of 4:09:48, an average pace of about 9:31 per mile.
“2009 was year of recovery with a vengeance,” David said.
David continues to participate in long distance runs and looks forward to being there with his children as they participate in running and set their own personal records.
The next time you line up for a race, ask the individual next to you, why they are running. You may get an inspirational story that can help you get through the wall. You can share your story as well that just may inspire someone else to keep going during the race.
It’s connection that fosters endurance, and for distance runners, endurance breeds connection.
Visit Paul David’s site for more on his inspiring story.
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