It was a dark and stormy morning

Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~Albert Einstein

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By Mike Comerford

It was a dark and stormy morning in Millstadt, IL. I helped Jeremy get onto the stretcher and loaded into the ambulance and knew that now would be my only chance to ask the question. “Jeremy, your bike is still rideable and mine is trashed, can I ride yours the rest of the way in?” His response was not really coherent, but his friend said, “go ahead”. I told the guy who couldn’t move his jaw and whose right eye was beginning to swell shut to make sure my bike got put on the truck and taken to the finish line. As I rode the rest of the 16 miles, I felt sorry for the people I passed as they had to look at the bloody mess I had made of my right shoulder, and leg.

My brother had called me Friday morning and told me to consider coming down to Belleville for this little Biathlon (no cross country skis and no rifles; 5 mile run followed by 22 miles on the bike). I didn’t have anything planned and thought it would be fun to go down and do the race with him. It rained the whole night before the race and we drove in a mist all the way to the race site. As we registered, the heavy stuff came through and we joked that this may be a triathlon after all as we may need to swim part of the course. My brother wondered if they would reverse the bike course because of two big hills that would be treacherous going down in the rain. We both put that in the back of our minds once the run started and the skies cleared overhead.

I felt really good on the run as I have been doing some faster, shorter runs to try and improve my incredibly slow pace. I came in right at 8:30/mile pace after 5 miles and jumped on my bike knowing I was going to feel good. The roads had dried and some of the faster bikers really took off. I kept pushing for 4 miles to settle into a good pace, and was just starting to relax my back. The mist started in again and I slowed down on the next few hills. As I rounded a tight curve and started down another hill, two bikes in front of me braked and hit the pavement hard. I knew as soon as I saw them crash that I was also going down; but I was able to control my wipe out in a Matrix-like moment as I was saying in my head “Don’t break your clavicle”. I was going too fast for the conditions, but was not totally out of control and slid on my back about 15 feet on the pavement and ended up in some leaves. 2 more bikers crashed within the next 30 or 40 seconds, but none of us hit each other.

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I had some serious skid burns/road rash on my right leg and elbow and felt a lot of burning on my right upper back, but didn’t hit my head hard and didn’t feel any bony pain. I got my bike out of the way and went to look at the first two guys. The first biker that fell landed right on his hip and rolled over a few times as far as I can remember and when I went up to him the second biker was already with him and he said he couldn’t move his right leg at all. Bad sign. We did some crowd control and safety stuff right away with one of the race volunteers and had everyone go as slowly as possible down this slick hill with a curve. We knew this first biker would need help getting off the course and the race volunteer called for police and an ambulance. I found out the first biker’s name was Jeremy. We tried again to move him, but he really couldn’t do anything with his leg. The other biker who had fallen with Jeremy was a friend of his and stayed with him while I checked on the other two who had fallen after us. One had hurt his jaw and right eye but was able to talk and said he would be OK, the other biker said she just felt dazed and didn’t really want to move at that moment. Soon the first police car arrived and was very helpful with arranging for Jeremy to get off the course and to a hospital quickly. I then began to think about moving back onto the course as I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I looked. I went to get my bike and realized the rear tire was in the shape of a W. Well, so much for that idea. My brother then came by and saw me and asked if I was OK. I told him I was scraped up but nothing bad, but my bike was toast. I wanted him to continue on and he did. The ambulance soon arrived and took great care of everyone, but especially Jeremy, who needed to be put on a board just to get him onto the stretcher and into the ambulance.

I went to look at his bike at that point and realized both wheels still spun and the chain was intact. The handlebars were in fine shape and the frame was sound. I went back to the ambulance at that point and made my selfish request. The ambulance pulled away and I got onto the bike and SLOWLY went down the rest of that hill and rode the next 16 miles on a too small bike with pedals I couldn’t clip into. My brother was at the finish line waiting for me. Soon, Jeremy’s Mom showed up and asked us to help us load his bike onto her truck. She had talked to him and set he was just going in to get X-rays done, but he sounded OK. I told her to tell Jeremy thanks and I would be thinking of him.

My injuries were mostly skid marks and some sore muscles the next few days. I’ll have to fix my rear wheel, but can’t wait to get out and pound some more pavement. I’ll just make sure it’s drier and I take my hills more slowly.

– Mike

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Comments

  1. Peter Wise says:

    A story of grit and compassion. Commerford hews to the Code of the Hemmingway hero. And writes in the Hemmingway style! I bow to your skills as an athelete, medic and poacher of bicycles. Peter Wise

  2. Steve Comerford says:

    Mike does a great job of describing what will now and forever be referred to as That Dark and Stormy Morning. Aside from all of the drama that Mike and his cohorts felt the need to create it was really a fun event. I look forward to Mike coming down and safely finishing again next year.