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Friday Feature: Near-Fatal Accident Can’t Break an Athlete’s Spirit

Think you’re having a bad day? Well, Seven-sponsored multi-sport athleteFabio Selvig’s story will help you keep things in perspective. Hit by anoil truck while riding his bike and subsequently given virtually no hopeof living, Fabio can teach us all a lesson or two about what’s really important.BackgroundIn September 2000, then 33-year old Fabio Selvig had just returnedto a job in high-end sales at nationally renowned bicycle retailer BelmontWheelworks of Belmont, Massachusetts. At the time, Fabio was an active,successful multi-sport competitor, averaging 15 hours of training a weekand racing

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Think you’re having a bad day? Well, Seven-sponsored multi-sport athlete Fabio Selvig’s story will help you keep things in perspective. Hit by an oil truck while riding his bike and subsequently given virtually no hopeof living, Fabio can teach us all a lesson or two about what’s really important.

Background

In September 2000, then 33-year old Fabio Selvig had just returnedto a job in high-end sales at nationally renowned bicycle retailer BelmontWheelworks of Belmont, Massachusetts. At the time, Fabio was an active,successful multi-sport competitor, averaging 15 hours of training a weekand racing every other weekend during the June to September racing season.

The Accident

When asked when his accident occurred, Fabio is quick to respond, “September27.” It was ten days after Fabio started at Wheelworks that tragedy hit.While riding his bike in historic Lexington, Massachusetts, Fabio was knockeddown by an oil truck that proceeded to “make a right turn right over me.”Conscious for about ten seconds, Fabio later learned that police and medicalteams on the scene were certain that he wasn’t going to survive.Fabio was transported immediately to the Leahey Clinic in Lexington.There, according to Fabio, medical staff “stabilized me, closed my severedarteries, and filled me back up with blood.” The clinic e-mailed his x-raysto the Boston University Medical Center where Fabio was transported thatnight.The next day, surgeons at B.U. performed four to five surgeries on Fabio.For the next four days, Fabio says, “I was completely out,” and his doctorsdidn’t know if he would live. Nevertheless, roughly one week later, hisprognosis changed, primarily, Fabio recollects, because “I was in greatshape when the accident occurred, and my doctors were top notch. I thinkit was the best-case scenario for all involved — I was fit and strong,and they were excellent doctors. The impression I got was that people whosuffer the type of damage that I did don’t usually recover as quickly asI.” Despite Fabio’s upgraded status, orthopedic surgeons said that therewould be a slim chance that he would one day walk without a cane. Competitivesports? Forget it.

Rehab

Fabio spent a month and a half at the B.U. Medical Center. Once hewas out of the woods, he spent another month and a half at the SpauldingRehabilitation Hospital where he began rigorous physical therapy. At thatpoint, his therapists were teaching him the life skills he would need tosucceed in our world as a person confined to a wheelchair — how to usethe bathroom, shower, and enter and exit buildings, for example. They werecertain that this is how Fabio would spend the rest of his days.But with his athlete’s conditioning and innate desire to succeed, Fabioembarked upon an accelerated rehab program. He took heart in “little things,”simple milestones, that were, in reality, huge events for him. And he knewhe was making progress. Any time he had the opportunity to try somethingnew at a therapy session, by the end of that session, he could do it onhis own. The taste of success was something he relished.His doctors came to realize that the only way Fabio was alive was becauseof his fitness. And, they said, his athlete’s motivation — “the fact thatyou’re wired that way” — made Fabio capable of surmounting huge obstacles.

Going Home

Fabio remained in a wheelchair until December 19, almost three monthsafter the accident. On the 19th, Fabio was released from the hospital andgiven the green light to go home on crutches. At first, he lived with hisparents, but eventually moved back into his own place. Being on his own,he was routinely tempted to try new things. Moving without crutches wasone of those. Slowly, he began to regain his strength.Formal rehab sessions continued to be a part of his everyday life. Atlast, on January 9, 2001, he was given the go ahead to “try standing upon your own.” With that major accomplishment under his belt, Fabio wenthome that very same day and got on his trainer. No matter what, he said,he was going to push for ten minutes. Fabio recalls that, “It hurt likehell, and I had absolutely no power. But over the past three months, I’dexperienced a lot more pain than that.” Fabio gritted through his ten minutes,got off his bike, and cried. The tears were those of happiness as Fabiorealized that all he needed to do was work hard, and hope that nothingwould limit him from riding again someday. And that first day back on hisfeet was a great way to start out.

The Road Back

During his recovery, Fabio read all sorts of motivational books, includingthe stories of Shackleton’s journey and Lance Armstrong’s battle with cancer.A poster of Lance adorned his training room. And Fabio dedicated himselfto getting back in the saddle with the mandate that he was going to rideuntil he couldn’t go any longer. In February, he declared that his shortestride on his rollers would last for one and a half hours. He persevered,and come June, on a whim, he and his roommate went outside for a ride,Fabio’s first.

You’re Gonna What?

After that, it wasn’t long before Fabio was racing, competing in relaysfor Team Belmont Wheelworks Multisport with friends Steve Upson and GarthShaynefelt. With Steve leading off on the swim, and Garth closing on therun, the bike leg was all Fabio’s. Should it really come as a surprisethat Fabio’s team won four out of the five relays in which they competed?In September, Fabio entered his first solo triathlon since the accident.“This was going to be my first run, except for the 17 minutes I’d accumulatedon a treadmill. I expected that I’d walk the 3.1 miles.” His results? “Offthe bike in second place, but slaughtered on the run,” Fabio laughs. “Iwasn’t fast and it was amazingly painful, but I did it. And that race wastwo weeks after my physical therapist told me I’d never run again.” WhenFabio reported his results to his doctor, the M.D. could only laugh. Fabiohad amazed him throughout his entire recovery, and this achievement wasno less remarkable.In preparation for next season when he plans to race on his own again,he plans to spend lots of time swimming this winter. He’ll take a breakfrom running to cross-country ski, continue to lift weights, and ride hisCompuTrainer religiously. He has his eye on the ’03 Ironman, and if youdoubt for a second that he’ll do it, then you don’t know Fabio.

Looking Back

A lot has changed in Fabio’s life. Today, he notes, “I have a morepositive attitude, haven’t had a bad day since the accident, and nothingreally bums me out.“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so I’ve learned to speakmy mind. I make it a point to tell friends and family how much they meanto me, ” he says softly, “and I don’t want the last words I share withsomeone to be words of anger.”He’s learned not to take life for granted, and refuses to lose sightof what’s important. “Tomorrow,” he says, “will not necessarily be liketoday.”And his attitude about competition? At times, he says, after finishinga race, going for a ride, or coming back from a run, he breaks down simplybecause he’s amazed at how lucky he is just to finish. Other times, headmits, the competitive, aggressive athlete emerges. He expects to win,goes for it, and refuses to use the accident as a crutch. The spirit isstill there.One of the things that amazed Fabio most about the months followinghis accident was the level of support he received from friends, family,his Wheelworks “family,” and the cycling industry. After the accident,knowing that Fabio had a long, expensive road to recovery ahead of him,the staff at Wheelworks got together, contacted local cycling companies,and asked for product donations for a fundraiser for Fabio.His friends Steven Upson and Kristen Ferrulo reserved a club in downtownBoston for a night, set up a raffle, and sent invitations to the localtriathlon community. Two hundred and fifty of Fabio’s closest friends attended,and the event was a huge success.Fabio credits all the people around him with helping him to recover,recalling, “I drew so much energy and support from all these people. Itreally helped me. And I simply couldn’t believe how my situation allowedpeople from all over to transcend boundaries and join together for a commoncause.”Transcending boundaries. Sounds like something that Fabio Selvig knowsall about.

This story originally appeared in the newsletter The Seven Sun, produced and distributed by SevenCycles.