My Biggest Challenge

On April 28, 2015, I checked off my top bucket list item by cycling across America. I started in San Diego, CA and finished in St. Augustine, FL. While the 52-day and 3000-mile journey was a challenge, it was nothing compared to what was to follow about a week later.

On my first bicycle ride, after returning home, I was struck from behind by a car just two miles from my house. While the driver of the car was issued a traffic violation for the incident, I was not as lucky. When I regained consciousness, I found myself staring at the bottom of the engine with my legs just inches from the tire. Initially I had no idea where I was or what had happened . Gasping for air, I suddenly realized that I had been hit by a car and I felt like I was suffocating as the car crushed me. It was terrifying!

Although there was a hospital only a few miles away, I was rushed to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital Trauma Unit about 20 miles away. My injuries included a collapsed lung, 9 fractured ribs on the left side, a lacerated spleen, dislocated and broken elbow, dislocated left ring finger and internal bruising. After a week in the hospital, two operations and months of physical therapy, I was recovering nicely from my injuries.

As my body mended, I realized that my biggest challenge was recovering from my emotional injuries. I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and my fear of seriously injuring myself again was much more difficult for me to overcome. I was afraid to walk on the sidewalk with my back to traffic. The sound of a siren would bring on intense feelings of sadness and have me reliving the incident in my mind. And sometimes, out of the blue, I would feel the crushing pressure on my chest again and I couldn’t breathe.

Nevertheless, I was quick to return to riding my bicycle, but I found that I didn’t enjoy it anymore. Even though I loved riding a bike, every close call, like a car turning or pulling out in front of me, would have me asking myself if riding was worth the risk. Then, on a short ride near home, two cars collided while I was riding along side of them. I had a meltdown and stopped riding my bike completely.

It’s been a long hard recovery, but with the help of my family and friends I am riding again. Now, as the pain fades and I am able to focus, I can finally appreciate how fortunate I am just to be alive and able to enjoy life again. In fact, I am planning my next trip to cycle across America. I am hoping it will be in 2019.

Please join me in the discussion. What is your biggest challenge?

Ken Whittaker