I just read an article in Runner’s World magazine that really grabbed my attention for a while. It was about Matthew Long, a New York City firefighter who was struck by a charter bus while riding his bicycle in Manhattan in December of 2005.
He was pulled under the bus, which ran over him as he became entangled in the frame of his bike. His injuries were so severe that he was initially given about a 5-10% chance of survival. His handlebars speared him, opening a fissure from his bellybutton to his rectum.
Against the odds, Long survived. The difficult part for him was living though. He endured lots of physical challenges, pain, coming to terms with being "disabled". One leg is now two inches shorter than the other. He really struggled emotionally for a long time as well.
Prior to the accident, he’d been a very good athlete. He’d completed an Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid in just over 11 hours (including a 3:44 marathon). About a month before the accident, he’d qualified for the Boston Marathon by running a 3:13 in New York. Preparing for his Boston qualifying run, he’d taken to doing 12 mile runs, largely at a 6:15/mile clip with 18 milers consisting of 8 miles at a 6:00/mile clip. Intense. And very driven.
Matty struggled to come to terms with his physical limitations, and to become emotionally settled with himself. It wasn’t until he started training again that this seemed to happen for him. Before that he was searching for the reasons behind his survival, and for his own identity too.
I remember reading a New York Times article about Matty Long last October, when I was going through my own emotional roller coaster about my accident. He was training to run the New York City Marathon a week later. Being distraught myself, I read the words describing his ordeal, but didn’t internalize hope from the fact that Matty was again doing what he loved to do. Instead I remember reading about how much pain he was still in, how slowly he was going, and how angry he still was about the factors contributing to the accident (a transit strike, and the negligence of the driver of the charter bus).
I identified with his emotional pain and frustration. At the time I wasn’t back to work, couldn’t drive, and couldn’t run. Despite feeling better physically, I did not feel independent. I definitely wasn’t happy. And the way I read the article, Matty Long wasn’t very happy either.
Just over three months later, things feel very different for me. Being able to do ‘normal’ things (working, driving) was the first big step back for me. And about six weeks ago, I was able to begin running again, something I love.
I’m still angry about the accident. What happened to me wasn’t ‘fair’. I feel frustrated about not seeing out of my left eye, and about not being able to move or feel parts of my face. As a family, we’re still living with some of the emotional effects the accident had on all of us.
But things are feeling much better now than before. Being able to do things I love, be an active parent, and live life more independently are important steps in my recovery. And the tone of the Runner’s World piece leads me to believe that the same is true for Matty Long too.
We still have a ways to go, and still feel the emotional pain from our accidents. But we also feel hope from doing the things we care about, and that we love.
Incidentally, Matty Long completed the New York City Marathon last November in 7:21. In a New York Times article written afterwards he tells us :
“It’s a great feeling. I did it to show the power of the human spirit, … I’m an athlete again".
It’d be interesting to meet and talk to Matty someday. And I can honestly tell him that he’s taught me some important things too.