|L to RDave Hatfield, Wayne Smith, Dave Funk,|
Dave Collins, Alan Hamberlin
This article appeared in the Deseret News the day before my friends competed in the 2010 LOTOJA event, smashing all kinds of PRs and finishing under 9:30.
As he prepares to ride in tomorrow's annual LOTOJA bike race, the longest one-day road race in America that starts in Logan and ends 206 miles away in Jackson, Wyo., 49-year-old Dave Collins wants to make clear that he is not trying to prove anything, he's not a tough guy and he's sure no hero.
But he knows a lot of people who are.
It's been barely 13 months since Collins, of Mesa, Ariz., slammed into the back of a stopped SUV in American Fork Canyon during a bike race called the Thousand Warriors. He was the lead rider in a pack of cyclists racing downhill at high speed when they turned a sharp bend and there, stopped dead still to avoid an uphill vehicle that had crossed the road to avoid, ironically, a bike rider, was the Ford Explorer. It might as well have been a brick wall.
Those immediately behind him were able to swerve and crash in less dramatic ways. Collins hit the rear of the SUV head-on, shattering the back window face-first. In an instant, he was a rag doll on the ground, his jaw asunder, every bone in his face broken, his jugular vein severed, his life quickly disappearing in a red ooze on the pavement.
Thus began a chain of events so expertly choreographed, so dizzyingly on cue, so absolutely essential, that to this day Dave Collins subconsciously lowers his voice when he speaks of it.
If, as they say, coincidence is God's way of staying anonymous, this was Exhibit A.
First to Collins' side was Brandon Judd, a physical therapist with experience with the U.S. Ski Team and no stranger to traumatic sports injuries. One minute Judd was competing in the Thousand Warriors race, drafting behind Dave Collins, a man he'd never met. The next he was holding Collins' head at the proper angle to save his life.
Next on the scene was Dina Hannah, the aforementioned uphill bike rider who quickly dialed 9-1-1 and then rushed to aid Judd. Hannah, a chemical laboratory scientist by profession, is a certified Red Cross first responder who served during the 2002 Olympics as a volunteer in that capacity. She, too, knew just what to do to stabilize Collins and steady the scene.
After that, in quick succession, came two more bicyclists who were riding up the canyon. Mark Dodson and Steve Bleyl had meant to participate in a group ride with friends that morning in Salt Lake City, but they were late and the group left without them. On a whim, they decided to go south and ride American Fork Canyon.
Dodson is an orthopedic surgeon, and Bleyl is a pediatrician.
The two doctors leaped off their bikes and sprang into action. Dodson scraped blood, vomit and glass — lots of glass — out of Collins' mouth, but his face was turning blue. The airway was obstructed. They carefully turned him over to get access to the larynx and trachea, unavoidably opening the neck wound completely. Looking around and seeing nothing but Lycra and nylon bike clothing, completely unsuitable for stanching blood, Dodson reached down for one of Collins' bike gloves, which he shoved in the wound.
Meanwhile, Bleyl used his experience working with children's small airways to adjust Collins' jaw and position his throat so air could pass through and he could breathe again.
In the midst of all this, Collins' close friend and fellow bike racer, Steve Schild, gave him an LDS priesthood blessing and offered a prayer that his friend's vital organs would hang on until help arrived.
Still awaiting an ambulance, a car coming up the canyon pulled over and U.S. Army Medic Brady Johnson jumped out. Johnson had driven up the canyon the night before to camp, but the campgrounds were full on a Friday night so he went back to the valley and now was returning Saturday morning.
In his trunk was an Army-issue field bag he'd never opened. He opened it now. Inside was just the kind of heavy gauze needed to effectively stop the flow of blood, which was getting critical. In an instant, Johnson removed the bike glove and replaced it with the gauze.
And so they stayed, this disparate team of strangers turned life-savers, until the siren of an ambulance called them off.
Collins was rushed down the canyon to a waiting helicopter that whisked him to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, where a team of doctors, surgeons and nurses stitched him back together. He had surgery on his leg, two surgeries on his jaw and reconstructive surgery on his face that lasted 14 hours. He was in a coma for nearly two weeks. A week later, he stood up and walked out on his own.
By February, five months later, he was back on his bike. He considers it a blessing that he has no memory of the day he crashed. No nightmares, no flashbacks. For Dave, it's all hearsay. Only his stitched-up body tells him that what he's been told happened actually happened. He really did survive the unsurvivable.
"Many have told me, 'It's good you were in such great shape and could survive this,' " says Collins. "But I know that my survival had nothing to do with me but everything to do with help from the people who responded, and I believe divine intervention."
He stresses that he didn't start riding again to "get back on the horse" or to prove anything to anybody. He started riding again because it's something he loves to do with his friends — and because more than ever he appreciates being alive and able to be part of the human race.
Perhaps Collins' close friend and personal physician, Glen Bowen, a man who over the past year has closely observed the uncommon recovery, summed it up best in a recent e-mail:
"It's made me realize," he wrote, "that as imperfect as humans are, they tend to rally to the cause when one of their own has fallen, and everybody pitches in and offers their best goodwill and effort, and as a result, Dave Jr. gets to come home to workout with his dad three times a week instead of returning to an empty home. It just kind of makes you like people."
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to email@example.com.