Princess: You can’t keep a good dad down
So Dad is back on the horse.
It’s more like a steed; this brand-new road bike fresh off the boat from Belgium, a bike that cost more than most people’s cars (that’s normal people, not Aspen people), a bike that was likely made by elves dressed in little velvet outfits with shearling-lined boots who danced and sang the whole time and probably had to stay up all night for 30 straight nights to complete it. It’s a bike that’s sleek and top-of-the-line and has electronic shifters and weighs like 4 pounds.
I decided to go up to Steamboat for the big bike reveal and to accompany Dad to his bike fitting. I thought it was a pretty big deal, considering. On July 27, just eight weeks earlier, he’d been hit by a truck in a head-on collision on Highway 131. He was trying to bike from Steamboat to my house, 143 miles. He suffered nine broken bones, including six broken ribs, a broken heel, a shattered elbow and fractured shoulder. When my mom called to tell me he’d been airlifted to Denver, was bleeding internally and would undergo surgery the same day, I thought there was a very strong possibility he might die.
Who gets hit by a truck and lives?
When I saw him on that third day in the ICU, when it took three people and a strap around his waist to move him from a recliner chair into his bed, I thought his recovery would take months. I wondered if he’d ever be the same.
I’ve only broken one bone in my life. I separated my shoulder skateboarding in front of Steve Hawk’s house in Half Moon Bay. Yes, Steve Hawk is the brother of the legendary pro skateboarder Tony Hawk and that had a lot to do with what I was doing on a skateboard in the first place. That happened 13 years ago, and sometimes my shoulder still hurts. So I’m thinking, multiply that times nine and then factor in my dad’s age.
We thought he was going to be in a wheelchair for three months since he had injuries on both sides of his body. We thought he’d have to live at the nursing home in Steamboat while he was recovering since he might need special equipment and round the clock care. I remember because my mom kept saying, “Well, he’ll have to go to Doak,” which is the name of the nursing home in Steamboat. It sounded like some kind of punishment, like “He’ll have to go in the hole” or “He’ll have to go with the man in the cloak.”
The next thing I know, Dad is home and walking around with a boot on his foot and using a cane, but only when he goes out of the house. It wasn’t long before he had his compu-trainer set up in the bedroom with a road bike he’d borrowed from the boys at Orange Peel and was riding 15 miles a day on the stationary setup. He pushed himself to the point of utter exhaustion. One day he fainted after getting off the bike, but luckily he’d been sitting on the bed when it happened.
This should have probably caused us alarm but the thing is, the doctors were mystified by how quickly his bones were healing. So we figured the biking was good for him.
“Just be happy he’s biking in the house,” I told my mom.
I shouldn’t have spoken so soon. Eight weeks after the accident, he got the call. His new bike had arrived.
So off to Orange Peel we went, where Dad was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Brock and the boys stared at him with a misty admiration in their eyes. It was like they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. I kept waiting for them to rub their eyes and blink a few times or maybe throw themselves down on their knees and start bowing. He had defied the odds. And he’d proven to them that cycling is something you can do for the rest of your life. And then for the rest of your second life you get after the first time you almost died biking in the Canadian Rockies. And then the rest of your third life after that when you almost died from a brain injury biking in Costa Rica. And then this next life that he got after that one.
Once the bike was fitted and ready to go, Mom came down to meet us for Dad’s first ride. It was late afternoon, cool and crisp and not a lick of wind. As we pedaled out on River Road, Dad started to pick up his momentum and then just like that, he was off. Mom chased him down, her calves all ripped and strong and way sexier than a 70-year-old’s legs should be. She got on his rear tire and drafted off him for the 20-mile ride. It felt to me like a full-on sprint, and after trying to draft off Mom for about five miles, I let them go.
She was like a puppy chasing him through a meadow, her ears flapping in the wind, tongue dangling from the side of her jowls. They rode as fast and strong as someone half their age, the joy palpable from where I was sitting, panting, at least a quarter mile behind them. It was victorious.
The whole experience has left me inspired, awed and befuddled. Part of me thinks it’s sheer will. Part of me thinks he’s the strongest man in the universe, even if he does weigh less than I do. Part of me thinks it’s a miracle and maybe it’s not so wrong to believe in that.
I guess if Dad proved one thing, it’s that being broken really is a state of mind.
The Princess dedicates this week’s column to Mayor Helen Klanderud, a true Aspen Princess. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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