By Jennifer Caudill

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of columns by Jennifer Caudill. Caudill is an accomplished writer, photographer and journalist. She graduated from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism, has worked in creative advertising for Turner Broadcasting Company and published several travel memoirs. She is a recreational cyclist and an avid runner. Jen also serves as a podium hostess for North American cycling races as well as a fashion and editorial model for her modeling agency based in Atlanta. She frequently travels between Northern California, Georgia and Spain, where she currently lives with her boyfriend, Garmin-Transitions professional cyclist, Steven Cozza.

It was only the second stage into the Tour of Qatar. Usually, I would have heard by then from Steven how the day went for himself and for the team. But hours had passed and had already posted complete results. Starting at the top of the finish list like always, I began reading down the list of names. Nearing the bottom and hoping I had just missed his name, I finally saw it:  DNF Steven Cozza Garmin-Transitions

Panic. What happened? He hadn’t felt spectacular the day before, but the morning email I received was positive and he was ready to race. Thanks to technology, I quickly went to Twitter to see if the cycling world knew something I didn’t. Ah, there it was – Vaughters had tweeted, “Cozza’s collarbone is broken …”

Cozza hit the deck in Qatar

It is very difficult to explain the sinking feeling I had just then. Steven’s family has been dealing with these accidents for years and I honestly don’t know how they can stand it. I began to feel sick to my stomach and my heart ached, wondering where he was and in how much pain he might be. Lastly, I wondered if his shoulder was all he hit and prayed he hadn’t landed on his head.

I wasn’t scheduled to fly to Spain for another two weeks, but I immediately resolved to change my flight. Sitting at my parents’ house on an extended holiday while Steven was in a sling by himself across the Atlantic didn’t sound very productive. Via Blackberry (the way we typically stay in touch when we’re in different countries), I typed, “I hope you’re ok. I heard what happened. I’m going to try to get an early flight out of here.” An hour or so later, I got a response, “I’m alive. Just left the hospital. Yes, please.” So that was that, we both wanted me to be in Spain to help out. I changed my flight and started packing.

As I was getting myself from Atlanta to Barcelona, Steven was in Belgium getting hacked, drilled, sawed, stitched and more. His collarbone had been broken so badly that the smaller broken piece attaching to his shoulder could not be repaired. It was removed and synthetic ligaments were somehow inserted and tied around the remaining bone to hold everything in place. Or … something like that.

The work begins

My duties began the moment I landed in Spain. We went to the supermarket and I did all the shopping. This may not seem like a big deal, but let me explain. I hadn’t slept in thirty hours, hadn’t brushed up on my Spanish and couldn’t think straight. So purchasing food for several days for the both of us — in Spanish — wasn’t the easiest task.

Steven had only been out of surgery for three days. He could barely move his upper body except for his right arm. But even moving his right arm, he couldn’t move his left arm and had limited movement in his neck. He needed a shower and help washing his hair. The dishes had piled up in the sink because, needing one hand to hold a dish and one hand to wash, he wasn’t able to get much done. He had been sleeping on a mattress with a comforter because he couldn’t get the sheets made properly.

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It's not all podiums and flowers.

The next 48 hours

… were nothing short of brutal. Call me a fool, but I honestly couldn’t have imagined how much help Steven would need. I was his nurse, maid, cook, trainer, motivator and friend. He needed help sitting down, laying down, standing up, getting dressed, putting on his shoes, pouring water to take his medication … It isn’t easy to put socks onto a grown man’s feet. And for me, it isn’t easy to cook!

What a frustrating time. I couldn’t understand how he was feeling. I have to admit I had moments of insensitivity. How many times was he going to ask me to pass the remote control or re-situate his pillows or tie his shoes? Most of my closest friends and family would agree that I am a fairly nurturing person, but after a couple of days of such an intense situation, the caretaker in me began to unravel.

The hardest part has been keeping up his spirits. Steven’s job is to be strong and fast and healthy. He takes pride in his abilities and certainly feels like himself when he’s “flying” on the bike. This break and the recovery that are coming along with it, are testing his patience and his spirit and quite frankly, pissing him off.

Where we are now

By the sixth day after his surgery, Steven was able to get on his trainer. We rigged a contraption to help support his upper body and keep weight off his arms while riding. This rudimentary design consists of a bicycle tube and a Levi’s leather belt. Spare me the dirty jokes; the truth is, it does look like some sort of torture device. But it works.

Steven hits the trainer. Photo: Jennifer Caudill

We have a functional morning routine; I get him set up on the bike (he still needs help getting into bibs and cinching up his Bonts), then I head upstairs to make sure all the dishes and laundry are done. It’s also crucial that I know what we’ll have for lunch because as soon as he’s off the bike, he’s going to be hungry, and as we Georgia Peaches say, “bless his heart” because it’s nearly impossible for him to make a good lunch with only one good arm.

Actually, just this afternoon, Steven was able to take a ride around the block by himself. I was upstairs and from downstairs, I heard, “Jen! Jennifer! Watch this!” I recognized the tone in his voice. It was the “I’m being sneaky” tone. Looking out the window toward the driveway, I saw something blue streak out of the driveway and onto the street. He must have decided he was done with the trainer and well enough to hit the road.

Can't take any more: Steven in the driveway. Photo: Jennifer Caudill

We’ve both come a long way in the last 10 days. Steven’s pain has subsided and is now replaced with the discomfort that comes with rehabilitation. As he has submitted to the situation and found a rhythm and a path toward recovery, I too have found balance and an understanding of his specific needs. At the moment, we’re both relaxing on the sofa now. He’s reading a book about Muhammad Ali and he keeps shifting around in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position. It’s still hard for him, but he is improving every day. He keeps his Blackberry close by to make sure his team knows he’s getting stronger and he’s on track to pursue his quest in the Belgian Classics.

While he reads and I write, I sure enjoy the down time. It has been an exhausting couple of weeks and a crash course in this new life for me. He keeps looking over at me with a grin and I know we’re both happy to be sitting next to each other. In the big picture, things could have been so much worse. Don’t be surprised to see a mustache-clad Steven Cozza powering over the cobbles in April. We’re both determined to make it happen.