By Ray Fauteux
It was right near the end of the first bike loop of the two-loop Ironman CDA 2003 bike course when disaster struck. I was a bit close to the edge of the shoulder and slipped right off and there was about a one-inch drop as the shoulder was cut and not tapered.
My first reaction was to steer back up onto the shoulder and of course that was the wrong thing to do. The narrow tires of a road bike doing 25k or so an hour are not going to make that one-inch climb at that angle. In hind-sight, there were only two ways I could have gotten back onto the shoulder safely. I could have slowed down and pulled up on the front wheel and tried lifting it high enough to clear the edge of the shoulder(and hoped the back tire would make it okay) or I could have simply stopped the bike and lifted it back up onto the shoulder and got back on again. That's actually what I should have done.
However, I did neither as all of this happened in a split second and I just made a bad choice.
Of course I crashed big-time onto my left side. I knew right away that besides the inevitable road-rash and torn cycling clothes that I had some sort of damage to my left shoulder. I stopped at an ambulance parked at an aid station and they said it looked like a separated AC. That probably explained why I couldn't extend that arm very far or put any pressure on it.
Anyone who has done Ironman CDA will be aware of the technical sweeping downhill curves of that bike course. You really had to pay attention and they had many signs up warning cyclists to slow down for sharp turns at the bottom of some of the downhills.
To this day I am not quite sure how I managed to complete over a full loop (about 62 miles) of that course with basically one arm that worked. Over the years and 13 previous Ironman races I had developed a good awareness of how much pain the excitement and adredaline of the day can normally mask. I can understand that part of it, but I'm still not sure how I managed to balance myself on much of that bike course because all my weight was basically being supported by one side. I was never a great cyclist and that makes it even more perplexing. A lot of what transpired on the remainder of that bike ride remains a blur to me to this day.
I went into the medical tent at the bike-run transition and they confirmed that I had indeed torn the AC in my left shoulder.
From there it was an easy decision for me. In the back of my mind I was certain before the starting gun even sounded that morning that the "competitor" part of my Ironman career was winding down and this could well be my last Ironman event. In my 13 previous attempts I had a few dnf's over the years, but it was important to me to not end my career by dropping out of my last race.
In some sort of complex way of thinking that I can't really explain, I think I believed at that moment that I would have been dis-honoring the Ironman and all that it had done for me in my life if I just quit in that particular situation and in that particular race.
On that note, I left the sanctity of the medical tent and the pure physical bliss of not having to move and tackled the marathon course. My reasoning was that the worst was over and I didn't have to use my arm or shoulder for anything and just kept it imobile against my chest. It really bugged me that I could only swing one arm because our arms are meant to move in unison with our legs. It seemed like I was off balance for the entire marathon and I guess I actually was.
The first loop of the CDA marathon takes you within feet of the entrance to the transition area and you actually have to run past it for another km or so and then turn around and do another loop. That was a very difficult time for me. It was the last and most difficult obstacle I had to overcome. The desire to stop and lay down was so overwhelming and it took all the discipline I had left to make the turn and pass that entrance yet again and head back out onto that super-hot highway.
It took me well over 14 hours to reach the finish line that day. The time was really insignificant to me anyway. As my career had wound down, I just loved being a part of this great event called Ironman. I am so glad I stuck it out that day. I realize now that it was the years of Ironman involvement that provided me with the mental, physical, and emotional tools to finish that race and in effect, I had gone full circle. The event that was so instrumental in building my confidence, self-belief, and self-esteem over the years had in effect, given me the strength I needed that day.
In my mind, I had payed respect to the event itself by leaving it the best way I knew how. It was not about being a hero or superman......it was about honor and having a passion for the Ironman itself.
However it was still a sad time when I had another triathlete lift my bike onto my bike rack for me that night in Couer d'Alene.
Deep down I knew this sturdy bike that had not failed me when I needed it most would never see another 112 mile Ironman bike course and it never did.
Ray Fauteux is the creator of www.Ironstruck.ca and the author of "Ironstruck...The Ironman Triathlon Journey" and "Ironstruck? 500 Ironman Triathlon Questions and answers"