Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Friday, August 24, 2012

An extremely consequential training camp weekend up in Collingwood

Near the end of the every season, races begin to be a little bit further between and fewer on weekends. We still have a few big races (marathon nationals, provincials, and the legendary University Cup series), but it’s a good time to refocus, reenergize, and throw a good block of training into the mix. Long time racing buddy James Clarke invited  Jon Slaughter and myself to his beautiful chalet near Talisman Resort (amongst the escarpment in the blue mountains) for a weekend of epic training. The plan was to do a 95km day on Saturday that climbed up the escarpment 6 times (you can thank the crazy Belgian Etienne for that), and then put some good time in on Sunday on the provincials course.  This would be a sweet weekend! We were riding all day every day with buddies, hanging out at a chalet on the escarpment at nights, and doing it all over again – without the stress of being in peak performance for a race.

Saturday’s ride turned into an unforgettable and extremely consequential one. After riding up and down the escarpment 4 times, including up Blue Mountain and down on the downhill trails (it may have been the highlight of my weekend to yell “RIDER!!!! “ at a fully equipped downhill mountain bike rider and see the shock in his face when a spandex-clad cross country rider came flying by him onto a bridge and proceeded to gap over the latter part of the bridge). Jon had been riding very strongly all day, and is an incredibly technically astute rider but as we were descending a very steep, long, technical section at Three Stage something happened, and Jon ended up head first into a tree. I was the guy behind Jon and was first by his side. He was lying absolutely still, swearing. He and his bike were back off the trail by the tree, which had clearly stopped him dead. His helmet was cracked, and he told us that he couldn’t feel his right arm at all. We asked him some questions, he did not appear to be concussed, but something was seriously wrong.

Jon lied down there for about 20 minutes before he sat up. We discussed the idea of calling in help, but we were so far in the middle of a forest, and didn’t know really where we were. The fastest way for Jon to get to the hospital would be in one of our cars. I tried to comfort Jon with the novel idea of going into a big tube and getting a CT scan, but he wasn’t quite ecstatic on it. We all knew of the severity of his injury though.
I fashioned a sling for his arm out of a bike tube, and the man of steel, Jon Slaughter started walking out with Kelsey while Etienne led James, Jerome and I to the road. James and I then screamed down the road about 20 minutes to his van, and Etienne and Jerome went back for Jon and Kelsey to show them their way out of the bush properly.

I was the first to actually visit Jon in his hospital after Kelsey and I rode to Blue Mountain, picked up his car, and got there. Jon had been scanned in the “big tube”, and left on a hospital bed, still in his spandex shorts, and with a hospital patient gown on. As I entered the room, Jon (now equipped with a neck brace) was trying to squirm out of the bed.
“NO, NO DON’T  MOVE!” screamed the nurse
“But I just have to pee!”
“I’ll get you a jug then”
“And I’ll hold it for you!” I added
“Oh good idea” said the nurse.
The look on Jon’s face after this exchange was the funniest I had ever seen Jon muster, but of course I gave him privacy.

At least blue is Jon's colour, and he looks great in polka-dots

We found out later that afternoon that Jon had two fractures in the vertebra of his neck, and that he would have to wear a “halo” for 12 weeks. He was transferred to Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto to have the incredibly invasive apparatus screwed into his skull. Jon is extremely tough and lucky and considering what happened, this may be the best case scenario. One of his fingers remains numb, but he is in surprisingly good spirits, and chuckled when I surprised him with a visit all the way up in Muskoka on Tuesday.
Etienne and I are on the way to Quebec as I am writing this, the only two left that are in for the Canadian Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships. This will be a seriously grueling race, but it’s a challenge that I am looking forward to, and I’ve got some yellow tape on my bike, to remind me that I’m riding hard, because at the moment, Jon can’t.  Check out the course profile, and the awesome video for it!

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