There’s Been an Accident

Thursday, January 12, 2012 by admin

One of the worst phone calls anybody can receive involves the words, “there’s been an accident.”

On September 11, 2011, I got such a call and and it’s taken me several months before I could focus on writing about the events and emotions of that day.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 and it’s never been more true for me. I’m not going to fully recap the events of that day, but I want to pass along a few lessons I learned so if you’re ever in my situation maybe the article will come to mind when you’re tempted to panic.

There’s Been An Accident

It’s about 10 minutes until 8:00 A.M. and I’m getting ready for a Sunday ride with my tri club, Triple Threat Tough. I receive a phone call from a number I don’t recognize and debate answering it. But my daughter hadn’t been feeling well lately and I thought the call could be about her.

Me: Hello.

Voice: Michael, it’s Kenny.

I pause to think for a moment. Kenny? OH, Kenny.

Kenny is Kenny Gilstrap, one of my wife’s riding buddies. The two of them and Kara’s training partner, Nikki Thirasant-Meyer, were on a 35-mile ride that day as part of their Ironman Longhorn 70.3 training.

It was a pretty nice morning. The heat hadn’t taken over the day yet. I figured Kenny was calling for some sag wagon assistance. Something happened to one or more of the bikes and they needed somebody to come and get them.

Me: Hey, Kenny.

Kenny: There’s been an accident.

Me: Is she okay?

Kenny: She was hit by a car. She’s okay but she’s hurt. 9-1-1 is on the way.

Me: Where are you?

Panic and confusion descended like a theater curtain. Rational thought almost disappeared along with my ability to breathe normally. I only had one thought and that was to get to Kara. But I had to get there safely. These are the lessons I learned that day that will hopefully help you get to your destination safely and what to do after you arrive.

Lesson 1: Don’t Panic

Did I not just write that panic enveloped me? My wife was hit by a car and I’m not supposed to panic? Look, you’re going to panic, but panicking can make you careless, which can result in all kinds of trouble. Fortunately for me, Kara’s injuries were not life threatening and Kenny, fortunately, was not hit and was taking care of her. In fact, Kenny had taken charge of the situation and I let him tell me what was going on. Panicking would not get me to Kara any faster so the best thing I could do was let Kenny take charge and tell me the facts about Kara, answer my questions, and give me their location.

Bonus lesson: If you’re the person making the call, take charge. Tell the person all the information you can and give them instructions. In my case, the less I had to think, the better off I was.

Lesson 2: Seek Help

What did I just say about thinking? Since I was in panic mode, I couldn’t think clearly. Kenny couldn’t tell me for sure their location. He only knew they were on Plano Parkway by Shepton High School.

Shepton. Okay. That name sounded familiar. As I put up my gear I assumed I could figure out how to get there on the way. Wrong.

When you’re in a bit of a panic, you could lose the ability to remember even the most familiar of locations. In my case, I couldn’t remember the school’s location even though several of my running loops took me by there. I then completed one rational action: I asked the other riders for help. They gave me enough information that the location finally registered in my brain and I was off.

I cannot stress this enough: Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help (or too stupid not to ask for it). You have friends, family, and teammates for reasons other than borrowing money, trips to the airport, or group training. And never forget that you’re a member of the brotherhood and sisterhood of endurance athletes. And as a member, teammates and complete strangers can and will become your best friend for as long as you need them. Use them.

Lesson 3: Let Someone Drive You if Possible

The level of distraction you encounter while driving will directly be determined by the severity of the other person’s injury. In my case, Kara was hurt pretty bad but in general, she was okay. Regardless, I was emotionally all over the place and my focus on safe driving was, shall we say, greatly reduced and the speed limit became optional. I managed to regain some focus by chanting a mantra: “Slow down. Kenny says she’s okay. Slow down. Kenny says she’s okay.”

Having a driver would have given me one less thing to focus on and allow me to have a proper freak-out or two.

Bonus lesson: If you’re with somebody who gets a call like this, do what you can to help them get to the hospital safely by driving them or riding in the car with them. At the very least, take care of any equipment or tasks so that’s one less thing to worry about when driving.

Lesson 4: Accept Help

This is for when you arrive safely by the side of your loved one. As word gets out about what happened, you’ll be swamped with offers to help. Expect it. Welcome it. Every person who offers help knows it’s up to you to accept or not and they won’t be insulted if you refuse or don’t respond (and if you are insulted, you suck big time).

But do accept help. Kara and I discussed the type of help that we needed and did accept the generosity of friends and fellow athletes. It’s one of the things that got us through the whole ordeal.

Bonus lesson: When offering assistance to the victims and family members after the accident, be respectful. Don’t be pushy. Believe me when I tell you that the simple act of offering support and encouragement can carry a person through a long and emotional night. Plus, I always knew who I could call.

Lesson 5: Always Be Grateful in the End

There are plenty of people worthy of my gratitude after the accident and during Kara’s (full) recovery. But there is one man I’ll never be able to thank enough: Ken Gilstrap. I’m pretty sure he had no idea how or why he was able to do what he did, but I could care less.

I’m just grateful that he did. Thank you, Kenny.

And thank you Triple Threat for your kind thoughts, support, and all the good vibrations you sent our way. Both Kara and I will see you back on the roads soon.

It’s Your Turn

Have you ever been in my situation or helped somebody who was? If so, what lessons can you share?


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