Lukas Verzbicas included the hashtag #thereturn in his latest Twitter entry, when he announced he would run Thursday morning in the Orland Park Turkey Trot.
The race will be his first since a serious bicycle accident on July 31st in Colorado Springs left doctors initially questioning whether the Olympic triathlete would ever walk again, let alone compete at an elite level.
Verzbicas was on a downhill section of a training exercise with USA Triathlon, when he came upon a sharp turn and braked over a patch of wet sand, according to a Philip Hersh report in the Chicago Tribune. The record-setting Carl Sandburg High School cross country runner, who decided about two months into his freshmen year at the University of Oregon to focus on triathlons for the 2016 Olympics instead of college running, started sliding toward a guardrail along the road. His head and shoulders struck the rail, after he flew over his bike’s handlebars, according to Hersh’s report.
An image Verzbicas posted on Oct. 1 shows distinct fractures in his spine.
But within a week, Verzbicas started exceeding the expectations for his recovery. He endured grueling rehabilitation to get back on his feet. Within three weeks of the accident, Verzbicas was able to switch to minimal back support and neck braces, as opposed to 10 pounds of gear when he began his rehab regiment.
In September, he was running on an anti-gravity treadmill, designed to limit the amount of weight a person puts on their feet, and he started swimming again. By the end of the month, he hiked 14,200 feet up Pike’s Peak.
Had my share of enough crashes to have learned to ride with less risk now #smarterchoices –Lukas Verzbicas, Sept. 30, 2012
In early October, Verzbicas wrote on Twitter that his orthopedic surgeon “said I’m a medical miracle,” and attributed being in top physical shape before the crash as a big factor in his recovery.
Later in the month, he was able to return to outdoor running and cycling, as well as swim longer distances in the pool.
In an interview with blogger Danny Duncan, Verzbicas said his first triathlon is scheduled for spring 2013.
Duncan asked Verzbicas what he learned from the accident. Here is his response.
“I learned too much to list in a few sentences but primarily I learned to appreciate life more knowing how quickly and unexpectedly it could be taken away from you. I also learned and would pass this along to someone who is also going through an injury is to believe in themselves and have faith no matter what the circumstances or others say. My doctors said I wouldn’t walk after seeing my first x-rays and now I’m back to training full time. I didn’t let all that get to me and believed the entire time I will be back.”
Verzbicas is a two-time state champion as a student athlete with Sandburg, and holds the U.S. high school record for the two mile run at 8:29:46.
He has won International Triathlon Union competitions in Dallas, Texas, Barcelona, Spain and Beijing, China, and at other locations.
Looking for more Verzbicas stories?
- Verzbicas Recovering After Bike Accident and Surgery
- College and the Olympics: Best of Both Worlds for Verzbicas
- Sandburg Alum Lukas Verzbicas Mines Triathlon Gold in Beijing