Updated: Jan 30
His eye lids fluttered back and forth. The rapid movement signaled a surge of life flowing through his body. His heart was still pumping, his lungs were still breathing. With one more silent push his eyes shot open and slowly focused on the room around him.
The intermittent beeping of the EKG machine gave a clue to where he was. He tried to move his head but the brace around his neck stifled his curiosity. Trying to survey the rest of his body, he could see the morphine pumping into his veins, he could feel the staples stitching the torn skin on his head together, and peering down he saw the jagged scrapes and swollen state of his mangled arms. Looking up at the bland, white ceiling, he noticed the lights were turned down low, it must have been nighttime.
The next morning, the pain he was righteously numbed from the previous evening came into full focus. His right arm burned and the jutting pain in his head forced him to keep his eyes closed for extended periods of time.
"Scott?" she said quietly.
He recognized the voice of his wife. She had come to check on him. After receiving word of the accident she needed to see him, to see the body of the man she knew so well.
"What happened?" he whispered.
Softly, she pushed the tears away from her cheek, "You were in an accident. Don't you remember?"
He peered blankly down at the soft covers laying on top of his feet. The beige color bounced off the gray of the plastic hospital bed he felt himself helplessly confined to. He felt incredibly uncomfortable in this place, attached to instruments specifically designed for the opposite.
"The last thing I remember is screaming," his hoarse voice cracked over the soft beeping of the electronic time keeper.
"I screamed, 'You're too f*cking close! And then it was black."
She raised her hand to her mouth, holding a wadded piece of tissue paper to catch any stray tears floating down her face. To her he looked so helpless. The doctors had said he had multiple lacerations to his skull, a badly strained neck, a swollen left arm with multiple lacerations, and a right arm that had all of the muscles pulled off of the bone resulting in them sinking down to his elbow. But the worst injury was one the doctor's could not visibly see, at least not without imaging help. Scott's brain had bled and he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
"What happened?" he repeated.
She sighed with empathy and once again began to explain that he had been in an accident.
"Am I going to be able to run again? Or work out? Or bike? Or move?" The pain in his eyes shifted to worry and eventually terror. Everything he had worked for up until this moment had been taken away. All the sweat, and pain and dedication, and now he thought he may never walk again.
Closing his eyes he sighed. The morphine warmed his blood and quieted his despair. Without blinking his eyes awake he stated out loud, "I'm going to run a marathon in 6 months. And I am going to be an Ironman."
Swinging open the glass door, the aroma of cheeses, sauce, and spices filled his mouth with saliva, anticipating the salty taste of the familiar $5 pizzas from Little Caesar's. This was his ritual after work. He would routinely hop into his car after quitting time, slide onto the familiar streets of Washington, PA, and land in the parking lot of a close fast-food restaurant. Lately, his vice of choice was pizza and soda from Little Caesar's.
"Thanks!" He exclaimed to the cashier as he slid over his money.
Stalking back to the car he made his way home, to the quiet place he was renting, and delight himself with the seductive tastes of eating an entire pizza by himself. Often times during these solitude dinner sessions, his mind would drift to his wife and daughter. Familiar memories would flaunt themselves in his imagination, pulling on his heart and rendering his nostalgic reminiscences one of his few lonely pleasures.
His wife and daughter were still living in Delaware at the time. But Scott had to go where the jobs were. And being a Presiding Judge at a Standardbred horse racing track meant you had to take the jobs no matter where they opened up. But he missed being away from his family. The distance often times seemed impossible to overcome. His support system turned from one of caring love for himself and his family to the cheap consolations in food and his career. The latter which he was obsessed with.
He pushed himself farther into work than he had ever before. And because of this, he lost sight of other portions of his life, most notably, his very own well-being.
Staring at the empty pizza box and taking one last sip of soda, Scott began to feel pain in his lower back and midsection. He slowly rose himself from his chair and walked into the bathroom. Staring into the mirror he stepped on the scale sitting on the linoleum floor. It read over 260 lbs.
A week had passed before he had decided to seek the help of a doctor, but when he did, the news was both shocking and expected.
"Scott, you have diabetes. This means you are going to have to track your insulin levels to make sure they remain in a healthy range. Otherwise you may go into shock and die. This is serious now. You have let your health go. And I must also advise you to seriously consider changing your diet and begin to exercise daily," the doctor said gravely.
To Scott it seemed he had gone through this script with other patients before him. Despite the dry delivery, Scott took in his doctor's advice. He was tired to feeling the way he did and looking the way he did. This was his life and he wanted to be able to spend as much as he could with his family and friends. It was time to change.
But the thing about change is, it's difficult. Our minds are shaped around our thoughts and these thoughts are often times reflected in our actions. For what we do on a daily basis ultimately becomes who we are. Most people tend to live unconsciously. And more often than not, we are forced to live this way due to our rigid schedules, inherited eating habits, work, family obligations, financial difficulties, and a host of other circumstances we find ourselves in on a daily basis. But what shapes us the most, what programs our minds to think, feel, and ultimately act in the manner in which we do, is repetition. It is the strongest deterministic factor of where we are in our lives. And through strong repetition, Scott had found himself immersed in unhealthy eating habits, in an unhealthy body, on the precipice of reaping damaging results of his repetitions. But through small incremental changes, he began to reprogram his mind, and his actions, and ultimately himself.
Through the will of which he showed in the dedication towards his work, Scott channeled his energy into exercise and diet reprogramming. Every day he exercised. Running became his newest obsession, not because he enjoyed it, quite to the contrary, but because it burned the most calories. He also rode his bike as often as possible or used an elliptical machine with a goal of hitting 1,700 expended calories per day. He restricted his caloric intake to a strict 1,500 each day with no more than 150 calories in carbohydrates. He rid himself of the self sabotaging habit of trouncing pizzas and fast food by himself, instead replacing those meals with balanced, healthy food which nourished his body and made him stronger. And through his determination he went from 260 lbs to 167 lbs on September 20, 2014.
September 20, 2014
Scott had come home for a quick visit to see his wife and his daughter and revel in the power he had found in himself through his transformation with his family.
"Honey, I'm at 167 lbs on the scale. Remember, my target weight was 165? I'm so close!"
"That's great! Just keep going!" She said with a proud smile.
"I'm going to go for a bike ride and see if I can shed these final two pounds."
"Have fun! Take Angela with you!"
Scott and her daughter pushed their bikes out from the garage and started along their path talking about the day, what Scott had missed being separated from the family, school, and other happenings in her life. By all accounts, the day was perfect. Riding along their route Angela decided to turn back after they had reached 6 miles. Scott, more determined than ever, decided to keep forging ahead. Those last 2 lbs tormented him on the scale and he wanted to make sure he reached his final goal.
As he began his loop back to the house he saw from his peripheral vision a pickup truck approaching him dangerously close. Screaming to the driver he let out a desperate cry, "You're too f*cking close!" But before either he or the driver could properly react he was struck by the heavy vehicle. The impact was sudden and loud. The sound of twisted metal and broken bones boomed above the humming of traffic. Scott was thrown from his bike, sliding to a skin-tearing stop on the pavement. His mind went blank, lost in the darkness of unconsciousness. His body was broken- skin was torn, bones were broken, and his brain was leaking fluid causing a severe traumatic injury.
The letter had come straight from the commission office. As Scott read it, a look of dismay settled over his face. His boss, the head of the commission had written he was unhappy with Scott's performance at work and that they needed to set up a meeting to discuss this in person as soon as possible.
With a sigh, he dropped the paper to the table and drifted off into thought. After being released from the hospital he was able to move slowly with the use of a walker. His neck was stabilized by a brace and his right arm was of little use. The accident had taken it's toll on his body. And more importantly on his brain.
Before the trauma Scott was known for his high ability to deal with conflict. He was able to stand up for himself and what he believed to be the right action to take in any situation. He was quick to make judgments and even quicker to execute them. He was also a master at organization. The track in which he was Presiding Judge at was efficient and Scott took great pride in that fact. But after the accident it had all changed.
"I'm fine Maria," he pleaded.
"I don't need any extra help. What I need to do is continue with work. I just need the distraction and to keep going."
He was lying to everyone, especially himself. In daily interactions he could see his brain failing. He had trouble picking out correct words, his memory was almost non-existent, he couldn't stand bright lights, loud noises, and driving was one of the biggest issues he had to deal with. His inability to do simple tasks frustrated him beyond belief. He was getting depressed and with this new spring of sadness came the counterweight of anger. He would often find himself breaking down into tears for absolutely no reason. Everything had changed.
"I would like to be transferred to Harrah's Race Track in Chester, Pennsylvania," he said with a lump of grief filling his throat.
"Are you sure Scott? We know what kind of work you are capable of doing, maybe if we just wait a little longer you can return to being who you were before the accident."
"No, this is what's best for me. I know it is. If you allow me to transfer I'll be close enough to live at home with my family. And with the demotion to Associate Judge I'll be able to handle the tasks better with less responsibility. I'm just not the same person I was, and I need to find out who this new version of me is."
Whoever this new version was, he thought, he would make sure it didn't resemble anything like the man he had been before the accident.
Instead of wallowing in the shadows of his sub-optimal condition and returning to the undisciplined, overweight man he once was, Scott instead decided to speed up his physical recovery, be gentle with himself in regards to his mental recovery, and most importantly, begin to exercise as soon as possible.
The first thing he had to do was learn to walk again without any help. While his legs escaped much of the damage, it was the fact that his brain was slower to process movement which made it difficult for him to progress in a smooth manner. But like most challenges we face in our lives, all it took was a little discipline and persistence. Slowly, meticulously, Scott could feel his body come back to life. The processes of his mind eventually sped up and he found himself jogging again. He fell back into his routine- running daily, restricting his calories, and keeping his weight down.
The smack of his sneakers on the pavement became an electric sound to his ears and his labored breathing a sign that he had survived. His body was broken, but that body lay in the past, and in May of 2015, on a warm blooming summer's day, he passed through the finish line of the Delaware Marathon with a time of 5 hours and 3 minutes. The exhaustion of his physical body made him feel a deeper sense of calm and peace. A vibration ran through his legs up to his heart and he knew it was just the beginning of another journey.
Louisville, Kentucky October 2018
The rain stung his eyes and he could feel his hands losing grip on his bicycle. The soaked pavement was slick and he could see other racers quitting, pushing their training aside and giving up on their goals. It was a surreal experience to witness. These athletes had trained months in advance to compete here and with one, albeit difficult condition, they had chosen to quit. Maybe it was because their bodies were in peak physical condition, but their minds lacked in the ruggedness to compete the Iron Man race. They had neglected the most important physical attribute an endurance athlete has to master, and they were paying the price for it on the bicycle portion of the marathon.
But not Scott.
A year prior to signing up, his wife had surprised him with a triathlon camp in Florida to prepare him for his goal of completing an Iron Man race. The same goal he had set the day he had awoken in that sterile hospital room years ago, wondering if he would ever be able to walk again, let alone run, swim, or ride a bike.
Through that camp and other races in the year, Scott had found a type of holistic therapy. One that didn't just contain his body, but also his mind as well. This practice of pushing his body physically melded well with his weekly meetings with a licensed therapist as he began to sort out the reoccurring problems he had experienced with his brain. He had swallowed his pride, let go of any expectations others had for him, and no longer worried what others might say if they found out he was in therapy. And it was helping.
He started to implement 2 workouts a day culminating in 12 to 20 hours of physical work in a week. He pushed himself harder than even before the accident. Every week he found himself running, biking and even swimming. The latter of which he found himself to be the weakest. But nonetheless he persisted. Consistency became the key to unlocking his potential, one in which we all possess but rarely grasp. And in Louisville, Kentucky, the place where he had grown up, he returned to complete his ultimate goal- becoming an Iron Man.
Struggling with his own demons, he pressed on through the bicycling portion of the race and found himself on mile 22 of the run when his right knee ceased and his left hamstring contorted into a horrible cramp, shooting waves of pain up and down his legs. He could barely walk. But he had prepared for this. Maybe not through his physical training but through his mental toughness acquired from the accident and before.
Downing a cramp relief drink the tension in his left hamstring released, but his right knee continued to pulse pain at it's center. Screaming in the streets, with tears in his eyes, he took a deep breath, steadied himself, and forced his legs to move despite the grinding throb to complete the final 3 miles of the race. Starting out with an idea of running the marathon under 4 hours and an overall time under 13 hours, with tears still flowing from his eyes he checked his time:
Marathon portion: 3 hrs 57 mins and 19 seconds
Overall: 11 hours and 22 minutes
The goal he had set out to complete without even knowing what an Iron Man race entailed those few years back had been completed. Through hard work, discipline, consistency and struggle, Scott had changed his body, his mind, and as a result his life. And while he still struggles to this day with inconsistent mood swings and memory loss, what was taken from him as a result of the accident, he has also gained from it too. As he himself put it, "I was able to overcome a terrible, unhealthy lifestyle and a serious, life-threatening accident, to finish one of the most difficult endurance events in the world."
And the lesson each and every one of us should take from Scott's incredible journey is that we too can accomplish this tremendous change as well. All we must do, is start.