2009 Vic Teacher Games win (a good day!)

Victorian Teacher’s Games, September 21-22 2009.

There were 40 competitors who fronted up for the road race in Bairnsdale on Monday, and from the moment the race started the attacks began, we wanted to shed as many as possible as quickly as possible, and before long there were only 5 in the lead bunch, including me. With only one other person in my age group in the break, I was very pleased when he attacked on a steep hill; I could see he was struggling, waited until he was exhausted, looked over at the two young fellows I was working with and counter-attacked; we blew him and one other rider away. Once it was just the three of us, we just worked together, me doing turns with Shane Stiles, A-Grade rider from Warragul CC and Victorian Masters Road Champion(!) who put in some massive turns, the other rider just hanging on to us. When it came to the end, I took the sprint and won my age group (40-49) and the Overall race, so I was pretty excited to say the least! Two gold medals for the day had me smiling all night!

So off I trotted to the Colquhoun State Forest the day after the road race for a three hour enduro 2 person mountain bike race, not having a single clue about what I faced, having never completed a mountain bike race in my life, and so nonchalant about it I ate fish’n’chips beforehand. So, on wife Tracy’s MTB, and with a partner (Brett Harvey) I only met a few minutes before, it was off to the start line. When I looked at the hardcore bikes and riders I was up against, I felt so out of my depth, especially when two got off their bikes to set my bike up properly (“How much air have you got in those tyres mate?!?!”).  The first lap was…TERRIFYING!! I had been told that it was just a simple circular course, so when I found myself in a single line of riders, on a track inches wide, flying down a treacherous hill, with riders passing me left and right, as well as JUMPS (fer gossake!!), logs to hop over, low branches to decapitate even me and a massively steep uphill section (including one 100m bit you had to carry your bike up) I was ready to give up. But the second lap was a little less terrifying, and so on, and I slowly found myself actually enjoying the thrill and danger, and my lap times were challenging the guns, so I used lap times as a challenge. I found the better, more technical riders were much quicker than me downhill, but that I then caught and passed them with ease going uphill due to my fitness, especially as time wore on and fatigue set in. My average lap was 10 minutes; my best 9:27, and my partner was lapping well @ 12 minutes, so we were in it with a chance. As we neared the three hour mark, I was told I needed to do the last lap in under 9 minutes to win, so I just threw caution to the wind and rode like a maniac on the downhill section, then climbed as fast as I could, passed the leader and got to the line in 8:47, which meant Brett and I were one lap up and took the win and another Gold Medal!! I couldn’t believe my luck!

Lock, stock and three busted vertebrae

Fog. So thick my consciousness cannot push through it. Back to black. Again and again.

The fog lifts a little. Some sensation of harm, of pain, immobility. But only distant. An opening framed by bright sunlight. Am I in a car? No, it’s too big and there’s medical equipment everywhere- an ambulance. My mind registers that information but can’t go any further; I don’t know why; I don’t care why. No biggie. I am decidedly nonchalant about the whole situation, even though it’s a mystery begging to be investigated.

Someone framed in the sunlight, talking. In a uniform. Oh, a Police officer. Bits of bike. Everywhere. Again I can see the bits but it just doesn’t register. My lights are on but nobody’s home; my inferential powers are failing me.

I feel like a third-person watching, not the protagonist in this drama. Disconnected somehow. Okay. I’m in an ambulance and the Police are just outside. Push your memory Mark; step back a little. I was on my way home from work, heading for a Wednesday night crit at VU. Pretty happy about it too; me, the old hack, in A-Grade.

(At 5pm on March 9, 2016, a car travelled through a red light and hit me at 60-70 kph, catapulting me through the windscreen, over the top and onto the road some meters away from the point of impact. The driver was distracted by a mobile. The driver did stop, render assistance and call for help, then broke down in distress.)

‘You have been in an accident mate, so stay really still.’

I let that sink in, take a look at what I can see, semi-reclined and strapped down. I wiggle my toes; some movement but not much luck. My legs don’t look right; a few lumps and bends. I try to wiggle my fingers… a rising sense of fear as my left hand works and my right does nothing. Oh, fuck.

‘Just stay really still mate, no moving’. I comply, not aware of the gravity of the situation. (I learn later that I kept repeatedly ‘waking up’ and asking the same questions, over and over again. The paramedic told me I kept repeating ‘But I had the little green man’ over and over…)

A grinding pressure is coursing through my head and neck, pushing through the euphoria created by whatever the ambo’s are sending down the I.V. In and out of consciousness like waves hitting the shoreline. My head is swimming, revolving; completely stationary and yet moving, nauseous.

We’re moving, no lights or sirens, so I figure I’m either a dead man walking or stable. Either way I don’t seem too bothered; I’m in good hands. I have always trusted authority and ambo’s are rock solid. I lapse back into the fog.

I’m in a room. It takes an eternity for my mind, moving at a glacially slow pace, to build enough reality to get where I am. I ask a few questions. They look quizzical. ‘We have been talking to you for hours. You have been here a while, had an x-ray and other tests. Don’t you remember?’ Nope, I do not.

I’m frustrated by my inability to control my mind or body. I ask the Medico to repeat everything whilst I’m clear-headed. So we are waiting for a specialist to come see me. Tracy arrives, looking upset. I feel like shit because I know I put her into this situation. I get a bit upset, and apologize. She’s stoic and just rolls with the flow and keeps me positive.

Reality takes a holiday in my dreamlike state. I have decided that I should be able to make the weekend race – the violently disintegrated bike and injuries haven’t permeated my belief that I am indestructible yet…How can I be thinking about riding now? And then the doctor arrives and tosses me a grenade.

Doc can we take this collar off now please? It’s very uncomfortable. (Little do I know how long it is staying on.)

‘Mark, your x-rays contain some good news and some not so good news. I don’t know how, but you have no broken bones in your torso and legs, which is remarkable, but…’

Here it comes.

‘You are very, very lucky you aren’t a paraplegic. Your neck is broken. The C 5, 6 and 7 vertebrae; in a spiral pattern.’ Like a slap to the face this penetrates the fog and reality hits.

He scribbles a diagram to help me understand. ‘Now we could operate and fuse them, but that would mean you would never get back to being who you were and there are substantial risks. You’re in good nick, and the broken bones are all staying put in the right place.’

‘Are you a disciplined person? We could immobilize you and put you in a Philadelphia Collar. If all goes well, you would make a much better recovery.’

The information continues, but I’m unable to digest what he is saying, partially due to disbelief and partly due to the severe concussion. And maybe I’m a little traumatized. How close is very close to never walking again? I can’t get past that one. Immediately I see myself as mortal.

Because everyone is so fixated on my neck injuries, the plethora of other injuries seems to be going untreated, which concerns me, but there’s so much to deal with I’m overwhelmed.

What is all through my hair and embedded in my back and neck? It hurts. I tell the nurse, who just fobs it off. Tracy takes a look and I’m covered in windscreen glass; it’s in my hair, stuck in my back, and on the sheet under me – glittering rocks of pain. Tracy spends some time dealing with it as there is no help around. Getting glass out of my skull was not fun for me or her. My right arm has limited mobility, but my god the pain. This is like nothing I have ever experienced before. This phantom 11/10 shooting pain that exists and doesn’t at the same time; shooting up and down my arm but has no cause, as my arm is untouched. I learn later that it’s the nerve damage sending ‘unreferenced signals’.

To be continued…