The road curved left gradually, and the black SUV was coming over at us. I briefly wondered if we were dealing with some sick joker trying to scare us, someone texting who would swerve at the last moment, or if this was truly about to happen.
I remember the feeling just before impact, as I realized that, indeed, this was about to happen.
I remember lying on my back and reaching out to hold Ramon’s hand, his vacant gaze pointed toward me.
I remember the sensation and whir of the helicopter lifting off, someone’s hands pressing against my neck painfully.
My next memories do not begin for another day, the fading in and out of consciousness post-surgery as I tried to reconstruct what happened. I knew the stretch of road that we’d been riding, headed back to the hotel after three hours of work, our sprint efforts done for the day. I remembered my position in the group, that John had been on my right, because I was about to tell him something before the crash.
That was the extent of my knowledge: which of my friends may be dead. So I passed the time, that unknown span between fits of sleep, by scouring my brain for any recollection of their well-being, and by praying that I was the worst-off. I was miserable, but if that meant that my friends were okay, I was willing.
My self-assessments, lying motionless in some Spanish ICU room, were actually very reassuring. I seemed to not be restrained in any way, and although my limbs weighed 100 pounds each, I could move them. Fingers accounted for, I played Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise — a good mental test, too. The right side of my face felt the size of a basketball and like some alien was trying to bite it off. My teeth felt normal. Could I have really been that fortunate?
I was certain, however, that I would never ride a road bike again. I was officially done with the sport. I want to get married and enjoy life with Kate — I can’t go through this again.
Eventually my questions were answered by a visit from the team doctor and the sympathetic face of Caleb, my friend and teammate. I had been the most critically injured, but our injuries were all unique, and each of us faced our own challenges to return to competition. We were all alive, though, and had a lot to be thankful for.
My phone, which was found undamaged near the site of the impact, some 100 feet from where I came to rest, was returned to me, and I spent my whole battery (and lots of energy lifting my heavy arms) experiencing the outpouring of support from around the world. I got to talk to my family and fiancée (“talk” is used loosely here, I mostly mumbled and cried), and received an immediate boost by the knowledge that she would be next to me soon. I intended to sleep as much as possible until then, a task that was complicated by the nurse’s suspiciously-frequent checks on my catheter.
As I endured another night of fitful sleep in the ICU, my spirits lifted by the mere thought of the help on the way, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could wallow in my misery and pity myself through recovery, constantly asking, “Why me?” as I fail to gain any understanding of this crazy world, or I could recognize how blessed I am that I fought a car with my face and basically walked away with a few flesh wounds. That I don’t even have a concussion is a miracle.
I made that choice. I’m here now, and no self pity is going to change that fact. I can grumble that Kate has to grab a hand-crank from the box in the hall to raise my bed up, or I can laugh about how I crashed in the 1970s. This hospital is full of material, and Twitter gobbles it up.
I also decided that I am not done racing. Far from it, in fact. That driver has already had more influence on my career than she was due, but she doesn’t get the final say. The way things were going with my training, 2016 was going to be a big year, and the season has barely begun. I’m going to get back to that place again, and in the not-too-distant future it would seem.
Recovery never goes as fast as we’d like, but I’m already addicted to the steady progress being made. Everything is sore and slow, but I am increasingly mobile — last night I used my teammates’ visit as an opportunity for spotters while making my first steps down stairs (best to avoid the headline, “Haga extends hospital stay after falling down stairs”). My body is gobbling up food faster than I can get it in there, and my support crew has been amazing at encouraging me along and helping where needed. It is also plainly clear that Team Giant-Alpecin is a big family, and they’re all with me, happy to see me crookedly and painfully smiling again.