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There’s a joke in the cycling community — there are two types of cyclists in the world, those who have crashed and those who are going to crash.  Yesterday at Challenge Atlantic City, I fell into the former category.  The race week started off really well.  We had a big group of athletes racing, a gorgeous house on the beach and the weather kept getting cooler and less humid each day making for ideal racing conditions.  Plus, I was incredibly excited to race a Challenge Family event.  I think its really important to have diversity in the market and I want to see Challenge be successful in the United States — competition is always a good thing.  Plus I would be wearing bib number 179 in honor of Jon Blais.

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Race morning was mild with low humidity.  We headed out to the Bader Filed transition area and swim start at about 4:30 a.m.  When we got to transition an announcement was made that the water temperature was 80 degrees so it would be a “wetsuit optional” swim.  The adjacent inter coastal water way is shallow and tidal and the tides themselves can cause large temperature shifts.  While the water was in the low seventies just the day before, the tides on race day drove the temperature up to 80 degrees on race morning.  I actually like non-wetsuit swims and despite my complete lack of swim training over the past three months due to shoulder problems, I was excited for the swim.  Once in the water I noticed a very swift current.  The first 1000 yards of the swim was incredibly fast but once you reach the turn around buoy you had about 2000 yards into a fast moving current.  This part of the swim was proper hard.  It was like swimming in an endless pool.  While the current made the swim feel super long, I was excited that my shoulder wasn’t giving me problems — no pain whatsoever (perhaps it was the miracle of swimming in super salty water).  Once out of the swim, I sped through T1 and was off on the bike.

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As I started pedaling I notice two things.  First, I had legs.  I mean I really had legs, they felt good, they were turning over well and all the sluggishness and heaviness of the past week was gone.  Second my Garmin 500 was not working.  At 22 mph it was showing a heart rate of 58 bpm with 72 watts.  Yeah, that was not right.  I tried to ignore the strange numbers and settle into the bike.  Unfortunately that didn’t last.   At about mile 4 of the bike I hit some very deep rumble strips and was thrown head first over the guard rail and down an embankment on the Atlantic City Expressway (let’s note this was all user error, I wasn’t paying attention to the pavement when I should have been — it happens to all of us, sometimes the consequences are worse than others).  My beautiful Argon E-118 stayed on the pavement while I vaulted down the hill (Shaun still hasn’t let me look at the bike but tells me there’s some serious damage to the fork).  Going over the guardrail my right knee struck it very had resulting in a deep four inch gash on my lower quad just above the knee.  I then flipped over head first and landed on my right shoulder, hip and back.   Once I landed I made the mistake of looking at my knee — first thought can I still ride? — and was shocked.  Not a good sight.  Almost immediately I heard people screaming to call 911 and another athlete hopped over the guardrail to sit with me.  Athlete number 301, Monika Hill, stayed with me and comforted me until emergency response arrived.  I was in pain and in shock and was terrified and I don’t know what I would have done without her.  I cannot thank her enough, she is exactly what makes the triathlon community so fantastic.  Once the EMTs and the New Jersey State troopers arrived they covered up my leg (at this point I couldn’t see the gash itself, just the blood everywhere), a very cute state trooper called Shaun for me, who was working in transition, and they worked out how to get me out off of the hill and into the ambulance.  One of the EMTs just wanted to fireman carry me and I was not a fan of that.  Finally they decided to roll me onto a soft stretch and carry me up the hill.  I was doing pretty well up to that point but once I was in the ambulance, the adrenaline started to wear off and the pain got pretty bad.  I spent the ambulance ride shaking and trying not to cry.

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At the hospital they started an IV for fluids and morphine. Shaun arrived soon after and the look on his face when he saw me made me so very sad.  I knew he could see how bad my knee and leg were and he looked absolutely devastated.  He wanted to take a before picture of the leg, but I wouldn’t let him.  Both the doctor and the nurse who attended to me were awesome.  They numbed me up, cleaned out the gash and then worked some stitching magic to close up what had been a very deep and very jagged cut.  The doctor used mattress stitches to close it up, which were kind of cool to watch.  In addition because the cut was so deep, the doctor could see that I had missed slicing the tendons in my knee — it was even better than a MRI.  While the knee was swollen and there was some damage to the quads and the quad tendon, nothing was torn or cut.   Once I was stitched up, they wanted me to get hip, knee and ankle X-rays (in addition to the knee fun I have a nasty ankle sprain and a lovely hip bruise) but I couldn’t go for X-rays until I took a pregnancy test.  So, for the first time in my life, I used a bed pan.  I think that if I wasn’t in so much pain it would have been a traumatic experience, but in light of everything that had happened, it didn’t seem like a big deal.  The X-rays came back negative and after about 5 hours in the hospital, I was finally discharged.  At that point I was most proud that I had convinced the hospital to let me keep my Coeur Sports kit on rather than cutting it off.

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Once released from the hospital, Shaun brought me back to our beach house, helped me clean up and pack and waited for my parents.  While Shaun’s Subaru WRX is a lovely rally car, it does not make for a good transport vehicle for someone who can’t bend her leg.  My parents have a SUV so they drove down, picked me up and brought me home to Connecticut last night.  After a painful and fitful night of sleep, I’m left to contemplate what’s next.  While my shoulder felt great swimming, I know there are still underlying issues.  On top of that I know have knee issues and a sprained ankle.  I’m going in to see the orthopedic doctor tomorrow.  Hopefully my recent arthrogram will shed some light on the shoulder and let me know what’s possible for the remainder of this year.  I really want to be able to race in Florida in November just to prove to myself what I can do on a day when I have really good legs.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

16 Comments

Jillian · June 30, 2014 at 9:35 am

I only saw this post through FB. I had TONS of teammates out on that course. It could have been them.. It could have been me on any given day. This is not what anyone ever wants to see. I am so sorry it happened but so glad you are ok. Monika is EXACTLY what the community is about- kudos to her!

From one local athlete to another…I wish you a speedy recovery!

Kathy · June 30, 2014 at 9:35 am

Glad your tendons/ligaments are ok but how scary! Not to mention incredibly frustrating to have it happen when you were feeling good and strong………no concussion or other head injury issues? Time to take some enforced rest and figure the rest out, hope you heal up fast…..and hope the bike is ok too! Glad you were able to save the kit at least 🙂

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · June 30, 2014 at 10:03 am

    No concussion, no head injury. Other than the leg I’m just very sore today. The bike is a different story. Looks like I’ll at least need a new fork.

Leana · June 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

Yesterday I was busy cleaning up our old house before turning the keys over and I was thinking about you and where you probably were on the race course. I am so incredibly sorry to hear about your accident! Obviously it was nowhere near the kind of day you hoped to have, but I’m really happy to hear you didn’t hit your head or suffer more serious damage. Thank goodness for the fellow racer who stayed with you…what a selfless and amazing lady! I hope you are able to heal up quickly. All the best Kelly…lots of hugs your way!

Jennifer · June 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm

So sorry. I know you must be do disappointed. I’m glad your injuries are relatively minor or at least (hopefully) not permanent. I can’t imagine being in that situation, so scary. I’m so glad someone was there to lend you a hand. Do you know if she was still able to finish?

Stephanie · June 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Oh Kelly…..I’m so sorry to hear about your accident….I was just talking to your mom and dad about how much training you have been doing. I was thinking about you on Sunday since we were just in ocean city nj the day before. We were there for the week and had to leave Saturday, but I had wished I could of stayed to cheer you on! I am glad to hear you are ok and #179 kips still proud of your accomplishments! You will kick butt in November….you are strong and I always look up to you! Take care!

Mer @ ScootaDoot · June 30, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Oh hell. I’m so sorry that this happened and SO glad that you weren’t more seriously injured. I saw the pictures over the weekend on Instagram and was seriously considering driving down to AC. Kudos to Monika for staying there with you after the crash – I’m sure it was so comforting to have her there with you. Relax and heal. Sending hugs your way! xo

Amanda · June 30, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Oh Kelly I am so very sorry. You define heart and courage. Feel better soon. I’ll be thinking of you.

April at RunTheGreatWideSomewhere · June 30, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Wow, how terrifying! Sounds like you handled it like a trooper though. Hope everything heals up well and you get back on the bike soon.

Lauren @ Lauren Runs · June 30, 2014 at 9:07 pm

I’m glad you’re OK and it’s not worse! I can only imagine how disappointing it is to cut short what was sounding like it would be an awesome race day, and I hope to hear more about how you’re doing! Glad you had some great people out there to help get you to safety & taken care of!

Leah @ Running with the Hayneses · June 30, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Just stumbled across your blog–I’m sorry about your accident! I had a NASTY crash last fall and broke my arm, so I can definitely feel your pain!!! I hope you feel better soon!

Paulette · July 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Wow, so scary – I can’t even imagine. I’m glad there isn’t any tendon damage and I hope you aren’t continuing to be in a lot of pain. I was thinking of your race, especially when I was waiting for my friend to finish Western States around 3 am PST and I saw your morning instagram from the Eastern time zone. I hope you feel better soon and that it heals fast/well.

Steph @ 321delish · July 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Hey Kelly- I’m the volunteer that checked you in at the expo on Friday (does that make me a creepy stalker?)- and I’m so bummed to hear this is how your race turned out. Yup, you are certainly made of heart and courage. I’m so glad you didn’t have any worse injuries, and that you had another athlete to wait with you. Rest up, and keep your smile on. You’re one tough cookie.

Kristin Miller · July 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Oh my goodness, I am so sorry to hear this! Please rest up!!! Sending you get well wishes. I also had to use a bed pan for the first time, while 9.5 months pregnant and waiting for my emergency c section…let’s just say it took some help and more balance than I thought I had with that big ol belly!

Rachel @ Undercover Diva: A Sitcom · July 1, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Get well soon!! Sending good thoughts your way <3

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