BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — When Ian Crane smashed into the back windshield of a team car in the Colorado crosswinds, a shard of glass nicked his jugular.
He shredded his mouth and face, taking nearly 1,000 tiny stitches inside his mouth and another 50 on his face.
He broke the bone that bridges the skull and spine. He injured his brain so badly that doctors blanked Crane (Jamis-Hagens Berman) into a coma so that he could heal.
But now, two weeks after crashing into the back of a car while struggling to get back to the race at the USA Pro Challenge, Crane, 24, left St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood with one thing still perfectly intact. Never mind the fact he can’t yet balance just right, or that he has no idea when he can ride a bike outside again. Never mind the fact that the smoke of a deep brain injury obscures medical timetables and hopes.
“Yes, of course I still want to be a bike racer. This sport has its ups and downs, obviously, but the ups are so great that it makes the everyday risk worth it,” Crane said via an e-mail from his sister (he’s not supposed to talk on the phone). “I am currently weighing two contract offers from continental teams for next season.”
Which is remarkable, given the fact that he could have bled out on the road or never emerged completely from the thick fog of a deep brain injury. All told, his family knows that had not one thing gone exactly right — excellent care on the road to slow bleeding, a helicopter ride that had him to the hospital in 30 minutes — this could have been a very different story.
“Things are awesome now,” said Tela Crane, 27, Ian’s sister. “He’s 100 percent normal Ian. He had maybe about a two-week period of time from the last stage of the race until maybe a couple days ago that are pretty fuzzy for him, and that’s understandable, obviously. And honestly, were pretty happy he doesn’t remember any of that, because it was a rough week for sure.”
What Crane would remember if he could wouldn’t be much fun. There was the induced coma, the prods in his brain to take pressure measurements, the stitches. He was intubated to help breathing and prevent complications, and it was when he was able to speak that his family could tell that the Ian Crane they knew before was still here.
“The extent of the trauma to his brain was really significant. And they weren’t sure what he was going to be like. So to have him be normal, awesome, funny, Ian is pretty great,” Tela said.
Crane aced the memory tests and story problems he was recently given. He does have some lingering issues with his balance, however. “He broke part of his skull, the occipital condyle is what it’s called. And that’s what interfaces with the top of your spine. So he’s in a neck brace for the next 8-10 weeks.”
He’s now at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle for continued treatment, physical therapy, and some neurological treatment. Most of the activities Crane will focus on are related to physical therapy, just to make sure he gets proper strength and range of motion back. Successes are both big and small. On September 2, his goals were to eat soft-serve ice cream, wash his hair, compose a “witty Tweet” and to “go outside + breathing exercises,” as seen on a tweet.
“He broke his scapula. He had to get a lot of stitches in his face from the glass of the windshield. Right now the big excitement is that he is eating on his own. Which he was pretty happy about. That was a big frustration. He had a feeding tube,” Tela said.
If one asked Tela and Ian’s mom if they should keep racing, the answer would probably be different than the one the kids would give, Tela said. But racing, and competition on such a plane, is the spark to greater fire. Asked if Ian’s injury has given Tela pause — she’s a racer in her own right, the 2014 USA Cycling Elite national champion in the scratch and team pursuit races — she said no.
“I think, as bike racers, you have to acknowledge that there is always this risk. And I know for me I just have to not think about it. If I went into every bike race thinking about the worst-case scenario it would be really hard to race bikes, right? For me, I always get a lot more nervous about Ian racing because everything is completely out of my control, whereas at least with my own racing I feel a little bit more that I’m at least controlling something,” she said. “Bike racing has kept me from going crazy many times before … Sometimes when you’re on the bike you need to go think about things and other times you just need to go hard and have that be your break from thinking about things.”
For now, the neck collar is the only official element with any timeline, at about nine weeks. The rest remains in the haze of medical progress. The stitches in Crane’s face will come out soon. And he must work on his balance. But there is still a bike racer in there, waiting to come back out. Whenever that may be.
He doesn’t recall much, but he knows the best way to avoid such a crash in the future is to … be at the front. Lessons learned the hard way.
“From what I have been able to piece together about that day, it doesn’t seem like it was any one thing at fault,” he said. “I guess what I want to do to avoid something like this next year is just be way stronger so I can always be riding at the front.”