Disappointing Virginia Challenge Triathlon Experience
This year’s Virginia Challenge was disappointing in more ways than one. The disappointment came not from the event itself or the New River Trail who host this event, but from narcissitic bikers who seemed clueless there was anyone participating in the event but themselves.
On September 20th I headed for Foster Falls with all my equipment in tow thanking God for such a perfect day! I was excited to be participating in the Challenge Triathlon as an individual this year. I had not done so since 2001 and 2004. The last several years I had participated as a team member doing whatever leg was needed to make up a team.
I had invested a great deal of time and discipline for this event. I was relishing the fact that I had a nicer bike, and I would be using a kayak as opposed to a canoe which was required the previous years I had been an individual participant. I was thankful to have gotten through the grueling training with no injuries, so I was ready.
The bikers took off for the first leg, and it was intense. I was burning the trail up consistently averaging two mph faster than previous training sessions. It seemed I trained in a state of exhaustion for months. Obviously being a personal trainer is physically demanding in itself. Add on the rigid schedule of a triathlon and it is tough! I had done no training the week before only working with clients. That gave my body the rest it had needed. I was finally seeing the fruit of my labor the day of the event.
Several groups of bikers passed drafting. All were single file and very professional. Several miles down the trail I had a group come up on me doing double drafting which gave me an uneasy feeling knowing this was an out and back course. I remember thinking they would change formation at the turn around.
I want to note I have nothing against drafting if done correctly. I rode with a biking club of mostly men for several years who rode hard and fast while drafting. I thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and the team effort. These guys did it right and taught me to as well. I had never encountered such thoughtless, reckless drafting until encountering this group.
As I approached the turnaround I was trying to hold 17-18 mph. To my astonishment here came the same group of bikers continuing to double draft after they had made the turn around! There was a long straight stretch. They could see me so I assumed they would fall into single file. When I saw no effort being made I yelled for them to get over, and I got as far right as possible to allow them to pass. They were about five deep, and as I was about to clear this group two bikers in the back decided to try to go around all of them! I am now faced with four oncoming bikers on the New River Trail probably going over 20mph! I jerked my handlebars which stopped the inevitable head on collision. My handle bars caught the oncoming biker’s which I am assuming spun me around to the ground. He was much larger than me and didn’t suffer the impact I did. Miraculously enough, he seemed to only have a skinned knee.
The next thing I remembered was lying on the ground on my back unable to breathe and feeling enormous pain wondering if my back was broken, as I could not move. I eventually heard someone ask the other biker if he was ok to which he replied he was, but didn’t know if I was. That biker yelled asking if I was ok. I couldn’t answer because I had the breath knocked out of me. To my amazement, he didn’t bother to come over to where I was. He rode off saying he would get some help. I am assuming the other biker was messing with his bike until I attempted to sit up being able to resume breathing. He seemed surprised, came over and apologized. I have no reason to believe he would have bothered to come see if I was ok had I not sat up. Guess these guys had never had CPR… Putting his bike between his feet he bent his handlebars back in place facing forward once again and was about to ride off when I asked if he would do the same for my bike. He did so and rode off. I climbed weakly back on my bike willing to give a last ditch effort to at least finish one leg of the triathlon I had worked so hard for.
I got to the turn around, probably riding another mile or two, and stopped to let the Lead Mine Rescue Squad know I was ok, and I was going to finish the biking. In my effort to converse with them my ribs began to scream with every breath, and I realized the triathlon was over for me.
I had several cracked or broken ribs in the rear and a couple of lower ones in the front on my left side. I was hauled from Fries on the back of a trailer being pulled by a golf cart for several painful miles all the way to Austinville, where I was loaded in an ambulance and finally got back to Foster Falls. The Lead Mine rescue squad and ambulance service was extremely kind and did all they could for me.
I refused to go to the hospital knowing they could do little for broken or cracked ribs. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I had my ribs cracked while skiing black diamond slopes by an out of control skier when nursing my third child. Nursing a 3 month old with cracked ribs proved to be interesting! When pregnant with my fourth child during the sixth month, I had a rather serious bike wreck while drafting due to a girl in front of me braking for a dog. This girl was just learning to draft. It could have been avoided simply by going around the dog rather than braking with drafters behind you. With her inexperience she didn’t know. The front tire of the guy behind me plowed into my ribs as we all went down. I was unconscious for some time, and had a severe concussion. The right side of my body was covered in road rash, including my face. The guy behind me broke his collar bone and had his share of road rash as well.
As the rescue squad and I were making our uncomfortable journey down the trail headed for the ambulance, I helped a fellow participant who had a flat tire and only had a hand pump. He was asking the rescue squad for help, and I was able to let him use a CO2 cartridge I had on my bike. It only hindered my escorted ride a few minutes to get his tire inflated where it needed to be. I knew those few minutes were going to make a huge difference in the last 18 miles of his journey.
Upon arriving at Foster Falls I was experiencing a lot of different emotions. I was sorely disappointed I was not able to do what I came for without a justifiable reason, knowing what happened was preventable. I was outraged and indignant over the behavior of the group of bikers. I was devastated to learn I knew one of the guys in that group who referred to me as “the woman,” while giving an eye witness account to folks there who knew me. I strongly felt the guys should have been disqualified as did many others. But there was no way for that to happen, and I certainly was in no condition to plead my case.
A dear friend drove me home, and then returned to retrieve all of my equipment, with the help of another good friend. This included my bike, kayak, paddle, helmets for both, life jacket, water bottles, and gloves which was no small feat. I spent the rest of the weekend in enormous pain dealing with the trauma of it all. The next week I missed work with no income since I am self employed, and living with pain and limited movement.
As I contemplated the contributing factors I decided to do what I could to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else. I petitioned the New River Trail to prohibit drafting during the Challenge. The other alternative would be to incur strict rules, and have staff there to enforce them. The race would have to be patrolled closely to stop and pull race numbers off any riders not cooperating. As a race director of the New River Duathlon drafting will be prohibited in 2015. I do not have the staff to patrol the trail during the event. Even though we have never encountered any problems I will not take that chance. I would never have thought it necessary to tell bikers not to double draft on the New River Trail with an out and back course. Putting other riders in jeopardy is not worth a trophy or a faster time, and should go without saying. However, as these bikers proved you can’t assume people are going to do the right thing, and use common sense.
Another issue is the unfairness to other riders in an event such as the triathlon. This is not an isolated event for bikers. I suppose I am what is often defined as a “purist.” If I sign up as an individual, or as a team member doing an individual event, I want to compete that way. It is not all about winning for me. It is how I play the game. If I had to draft to win, it would not mean as much to me in this type of event. More importantly, I would have a hard time enjoying a trophy had I been one of the bikers who didn’t even stop to check how critically injured someone was in a wreck that certainly would warrant critical injuries. I cannot respect anyone who took a trophy after exhibiting that kind of behavior.
I am sharing this event in enough detail to allow all to see that there are consequences for being irresponsible, and not keeping safety for yourself and others first and foremost.- Unfortunately, innocent people most often end up being the victims of those who make bad choices. Lets commit as individuals to do our part in making the changes necessary to continue to do what we all love doing, safely. We would do well to remember the Words of Someone much wiser than ourselves:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition and empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look after your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others.”
Off to a good start!
(Photos taken at the start of triathlon)