It only takes a moment. And Carl Linde’s was in 2014, while he was on a bike ride training for Ironman Arizona. When a car in front of him stopped, Linde didn’t, and went headfirst into the car.
“I was conscious at the time, but immediately lost feeling from the neck down. I couldn’t move anything, and I said to God, “Keep me alive—even if I’m not going to be able to walk—so I can see my wife and kids again. Well, he stuck by the deal,” says Linde, now 56.
His spinal cord had been damaged in the upper trunk (at vertebrae C5 and C6), and his doctors weren’t sure he would walk again. He could breathe on his own, and he was grateful for that. But he really wanted to walk. “I spent about a month in the hospital really focusing hard on trying to move my toes. I tried every day, and after a few days, my toes started wiggling. It was a huge event—I started crying,” he says.
Over about eight months in a rehab facility, he learned to stand again, and move his legs. Today, he doesn’t have feeling on the bottoms of his feet, and has little feeling in his hands. “I was left spastic down my left side,” he says. “My left leg doesn’t really turn over in a running style—it’s almost like I’m dragging it slightly,” he says. He has constant neuropathic pain, so his arms, hands, and parts of his torso feel like they’re burning all the time. But along the path of rebuilding, one day, “I really just wanted to try and do some exercise,” he says. So he tried jogging. He entered some short-distance races, and worked his way up to the Boston Marathon in 2016.
Getting back on the bike—and back into triathlon
But a triathlon—a swim, bike, and run—is no marathon. You have to get back on a bike. Outdoors. When Linde earned a spot in the The Verizon New York City Triathlon, owned and produced by Life Time, he knew this was his re-entry triathlon race. He’d put his bike on an indoor trainer for the past five years or so, but the idea of competing in the Olympic-distance race that’s locally known as the “New York City Tri” got him back out on the road. (It will be held on Sunday, July 11.) “I’d always wanted to do that race. When I entered the lottery, I thought, ‘I’m never going to get in.’ But I tried. And I got in. And I said, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Rehab wasn’t easy. Training’s not easy. “Each day, even though there are days when you just feel like you’ve had enough and can’t push yourself any further, I’d go to bed and say, ‘you’ve got the ability to walk. You’re being given gifts back, so if you don’t use those gifts, it’s an insult to God’,” he says.
Is there one tip he’d give to people who are injured about coming back? “I’m not sure there is a tip,” he says, pointing out with some regret that not everyone who lies in bed trying to wiggle their toes after an injury like this will have the same response, and you have to respect everyone’s individual circumstance, body, and experience. But for him, “I did desperately want to get back on my feet and was determined to try something. If you have the desire to try something, first overcome the fear that it might not be the same or feel the same. And then try it. It may not work, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.”
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