Sunday, September 9th I woke up at 4am. It's the same time my alarm would have sounded if it was my race day, the race I'd been preparing for since June. Rather than gathering my gear, I'm sitting on the sofa, creating a command station to track the 30+ Fueled by Doughnuts swimmers, bikers and runners competing in Lake Placid today.
It's hard to find an athlete who hasn't had a side-lining injury. Even though my current injury is a little extreme, I've experienced the FOMO of race day before. I know the text messages about when and where to meet for the long runs are still happening. I was taken off the conversation because they are afraid it will upset me. I can feel the chatter around me shifting from running to awkward topics no one really wants to discuss. Strava alerts pile up. I don't want to open the app to see all the miles I'm missing. Brad comes home from every run giving me a mile by mile recount. I waver between excitement for his progress and desire to throw the nearest heavy object at him. I've learned that saying 'that's not where my mind is right now," ends the discussion.
While I am sitting still, life is speeding past me. Brad is up and down the stairs 800 times a day. I'm lucky if I get to go out twice. It's hard to watch the flurry of forward motion around me. On the other hand, I don't want to wake up from a coma to discover a completely new reality. I want to know. Hearing about what everyone else is doing is the only means I have to live beyond these 4 walls. Celebrating everyone’s PR's and athletic achievements reminds me to keep fighting through the pain. I DO want to know about Brad's mile splits and I DO want to know about the Saturday long runs. I may not be as excited as I would if I was running by your side but I still love this sport and I want to feel like I'm still in the game, even if it will be months before anyone texts me about mileage again.
The Iron Man Lake Placid tracker was visible from my computer screen all day. In addition, I was texting the relay runners, who had eyes on the athletes, until they were tagged in to start the last leg of the race. I forgot about not being there. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. All I felt was unconditional love and excitement for my friends. I knew who was nervous about the swim and who had reservations about the bike. I audibly cheered when they made it through each discipline and onto the next. I was tracking 11 relay teams and 4 individuals from our Fueled by Doughnuts Running Club.
It was almost a year ago when I put the call out to see who would be interested in a trip to Lake Placid. Swimmers, cyclists and runners filled out google forms listing their anticipated race times and intentions for this event. With help from Hillary & Lizzy, I created teams who were just out to have a good time and I put together teams of people with similar athletic ability. Introductions were made and a year went by before the big day. As race day was closing in, I realized one of our teams had the potential to win...not age group win, overall win.
I don't know all of Mike Kerr's aquatic accomplishments but I do know that he is a swim instructor and he coaches local swim teams. I spent months going to his swim clinics. His reassurance helped me gain comfort in the pool. I swam my first mile with him! He's also 'that guy' who shows up to a local triathlon, gets in the water last and gets out of the water first. I think he may have gills.
Tony K. races the Boston Marathon every year. Without any formal coaching, he pulled off a 2:44 marathon. For the last 6 months, he's been working with one of the best running coaches in the business...look out! Tony is also an accomplished cyclist. He talked his bike buddy, Jim, into riding on his LP relay team.
When Mike was one of the first 10 people out of Mirror Lake, swimming 1.2 miles in 27 minutes, I knew this team was headed for the podium. Their cyclist stayed 2 minutes ahead of the next fastest team for 56 miles. Tony tagged in and ran the first 5K in under 20 minutes, THEN he dropped down to 6:14 miles. My kids and I were glued to the computer screen, waiting for him to cross the next timing mat. Team 'Tri These Donuts' finished in first place out of 71 teams, 6 minutes ahead of the next team to finish.
Victory comes in all sizes. I continued to watch my friends finish the race. I wondered if they were passing each other on the course. I wondered if Stacy knew Geno was just a tenth of a mile behind her. Hillary was the runner for Team 'FbyD Tri-Hard.' When she signed up, she didn't know she would be 5 months pregnant on race day. Her team assured her, times didn't matter and she persevered through 13.1 miles of hills. Her husband, Kevin, was racing his first 70.3, impressively cycling on a vintage road bike from the 70's. Everyone told him it wouldn't make it through the course. When both of their trackers showed the same mileage progress and same pace, I hoped they found each other. My IMLP insiders told me not only did they find each other, they were side by side, completing the end of the journey together.
Monday, September 10th I slept for 7 hours last night. It's the longest I've slept since the accident. Sleeping through the night is bittersweet. I feel rested but the pain is the most intense I've had to overcome since surgery. It's not a stabbing, sharp pain. It's a horrible muscle cramp combined with a deep, deep ache in my bones. I've had no drugs in my system for almost 8 hours. On a positive note, the swelling in my foot has gone down to the point that I can almost see my bunion again.
Josie, Keegan and Mac came to stay with me for the week. I called a family meeting. The last time I called a family meeting, it was to tell them their dad and I were getting a divorce.
I told them life would be different. I won't be able to pack their lunches. They have to eat 'hot lunch' at school. Mac asked if he could pack his own. Keegan & Josie reminded him, he can't survive off buttered rolls and that is a terrible idea. I can't pick their clothes out for them in the morning. I can't tuck them in, read them bedtime stories and lay with them until they fall asleep at night. I can't put their freshly washed sheets on their beds. I can't make dinner. Our friends are making us dinner every night. They have to fix a plate for me. Not only do they have to make sure their plates and dishes are in the sink and their garbage is in the trashcan, they have to take mine too. Nothing can be on the floor - NOTHING! I'm not always stable on my crutches. One lego could take me down for the count.
After our meeting, I discovered I'm not such a terrible mother. I watched my boys clean up after themselves and each other. Together with Josie, they put a pot on the stove, ignited the burner and stirred the chili my friend Katie delivered, until it was hot. They filled mugs for each of us and they even sprinkled cheese on top. All the dishes were returned to the sink after our lunch together. They littered the floor with toys and games which they reassembled and put away when they were done. They paused their video games to help me reach my pills or my water or whatever else was further than an arm's length. The learned how to put my socks on my feet and help me get dressed and undressed. They helped me get in and out of the shower and they worked together to change the toilet paper roll. There was no moaning, no whining, no fighting just three fiercely independent, capable kids. I could not believe my tear-filled eyes.
Tuesday, September 11th I set my alarm for 5AM in order to be up for the Fueled by Doughnuts group run. I'm not sure why I thought for a second, I would sleep past 5AM. I was up at 3:15.
As the days drone on, my impact on everyone around me becomes greater. Brad has to do the work of two people around the house. Now that my kids are with us, that's no small feat. Jessica and Carolyn are doing their jobs and mine at the bakery, with no end in sight. I asked my Dad if he could come stay with me for a few days to help with the kids and the house. He said no.
In so many ways, my Dad has been my role model. He opened a business when he was 21. Suds 'n Soda, a convenience store with booze, ran successfully for 25 years. When I was 6, I could sit on a stool and operate the lottery machine for customers. Give me a number pad and I'll show you how fast I still am!!! By the time I was 10, I could ring up customers on the register, count bottle inventory and use the price gun to mark merchandise as it arrived. Dad worked every day. He worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas and every other holiday imaginable. He worked no less than 12 hours every day. When he was at home, he would call the store every 5 minutes to check in. He wasn't home much.
When I was a young adult, I knew I would never have kids. I wanted a career and I didn't want to put kids through the same life I had growing up...a Dad who was never there. Once I was married and settled into my dream job as a production manager at Amy’s Bread in NYC, I changed my mind. I could right the wrongs. I could give my children a different life.
During the first year I owned my bakery, I was still working a full time job in recipe development, on a plane to a different city twice a week AND putting in another 40+ hours a week at the Montclair Bread Co. I was never home. I called Dad and asked him if he had any regrets about his choices. He said he doesn't remember the hours he worked. He remembers the weeks we spent in Ocean City every summer, seeing the Orioles play at Memorial Park and Camden Yards, riding the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and traveling to Gainesville to visit his parents. He remembers teaching me to fish and hunt with him, going to my dance recitals, taking me horseback riding and watching every single tennis match I played (I was terrible). He said without the store, without working so hard and putting in so many hours, none of the fun stuff would have been possible. Then I realized, he was always there.
One afternoon, Dad was robbed with a gun pointed in his face. He put the store on the market the next day and within a year it was under new ownership. I was in college when Dad left his home (and mine) of 30 years and moved to Virginia where he is currently a Business Manager for Westmoreland State Park. He always said he was going to retire and move to the mountains. His new job is a good stepping stone.
My Dad puts 120% into any job he does. It was no surprise he couldn't leave his post during the peak fall season to make a 6 hour drive to New Jersey to stay with me. Although my feelings were hurt, I knew I would make the same decision if it were me. After all, I decided to stay in Montclair to ensure the Baker's Dozen Half Marathon went off without a hitch, rather than drive to Maryland to be with my grandmother as she took her final breath. The last of the runners were crossing the finish line when I got the call.
There are two very important things to note here: 1. My family isn't close enough (in proximity or emotionally) or wealthy enough (they have day jobs they can't leave) to help out for any length of time. 2. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My inability, physically and emotionally, to leave my bakery, inadvertantly spawned a community stronger than family.
The Running Club, the Sunday Dinners, the Friday Music Nights, the Holiday Cookie Classes, the Pizza Parties....these events were launched out of a necessity to bring my friends and neighbors to me. If I have to be at the bakery, I might as well create circumstances that allow for everyone to join me. People thought they were all brilliant money-making schemes! Ha! Nothing is ever about the money. In fact, most of these events lost money several times over before they started to break even. I truly believe businesses focusing on making money over making people happy, will never succeed.
Wednesday, September 12th The pain is real. I spend most of my day thinking I should be doing more. I should be more active. The swelling in my leg continues to recede, making it easier to mobilize. Every inch of bone from my knee to the middle of by back, aches. If you've never broken a bone, imagine what it feels like to be in one position for so long, your back or leg or arm starts to get stiff - then multiply it by 10 and know that if you change positions, the stiffness won't go away.
The steri-strips (they look like reinforced white tape) placed on my incision after my stitches were removed, have started to fall off. I may have assisted in this by feathering my hands over them in the shower. I'm not supposed to touch them. They have to fall off on their own. It's a sign of healing. They've been stuck there for over a week. They itch. They're starting to look like the worn out temporary tattoos my kids wear with pride, refusing to bath so they will stay on just a little longer. Insert vomit emoji here.
Having a huge running community means the likelihood someone you know is also going to physical therapy to nurse an injury is high. Lucky for me, my friend Anne's appointment lined up with mine today. Maybe the ease at which I was able to find a friend who's PT appointment was the same time as mine in order to bum a ride, should be a sign that we're all nuts for doing these things we do...or not.
PT is getting harder. I am pushed to my limits. It is funny at times. Dr. C. bent my left knee at a 90 degree angle, twisted my foot to the right and pushed it toward my chest until I said stop. He asked what hurt. It was my hamstring. He remarked that it wasn't a very good range of motion and then he tried to do the same with my 'good' side which turned out to be exactly the same as the 'bad' side. Runner problems.
I told him about my aching femur. He said it’s very likely I have a deep bone contusion from the accident. It’s not broken. It won’t show on an x-ray. It hurts like hell. All I can do is wait it out. The more I learn about the extent of my injury, the less I want to know. The part of my pelvis I broke is called the acetabulum. When I first started googling ‘how long before I can run after a pelvic fracture,’ several articles popped up about stress fractures and easy entries back to the sport. Then I moved on to ‘pelvic surgery,’ and I got a lot of geriatric hip replacement results. Finally I typed ‘acetabular fracture recovery timeline,’ and I immediately wished I didn’t. It took me this long in my recovery process to search for more information. Until now, I was too broken to care.
Thanks to Dr. Google, and a lot of research studies, I know that my particular fracture is rare. It typically only happens in high impact accidents. Car crashes and competitive cycling were mentioned. Until this moment, I thought I wasn’t capable of cycling more than 20mph on a flat surface. My memory told me, Yana and I had just stopped at a traffic light and we were not riding downhill, therefore I could not have been peddling more than 14-15mph when I fell. That’s what I told the doctors and surgeons in the ER. Thanks to Strava and Garmin, I know I was going exactly 21.9mph. We did not stop at the light. We sped through it before it turned red. We just wanted to get home.
Dr. Google told me my injury is frequently life-threatening. The chances of a patient with an acetabular fracture dying from internal bleeding are high. Immediate surgery is recommended but delayed in cases where a patient has to be stabilized (won’t die on the table) prior to operating. Yana and Brad consulted Dr. Google from the ER. They knew I would not be boarding a plane to San Francisco the day after the accident to spite my continued urgings.
Thursday, September 13th Even though I can’t drive, I’ve been riding along with Brad when he takes the kids to school in the morning. It requires me to get cleaned up and dressed and it gives me a reason to get out of the house. After we dropped them off and returned home, I decided I had a little more energy left. Brad helped me navigate the streets on my crutches. We walked a block away to Ray’s Luncheonette on Walnut Street. I was able to sit on a cushy stool at the counter and order breakfast. It was the first meal I’ve eaten outside of the hospital or home, since the accident. We walked back home after our breakfast and I took a nap.
An hour of activity seems to be my limit. Too much longer and I have to change positions. My hip starts to ache. Fatigue washes over me. I’m incredibly sensitive to sound. I’m not sure if it’s the drugs, the pain or a combination thereof. In real life, I can handle several streams of information coming at the same time. In the last few weeks, I can barely handle one. It’s as if my brain can’t process fast enough. I feel stupid.
Places with lots of activity, like my bakery, are complete hell. I can focus for a small amount of time and then the frenzy of sounds become unbearable. When the kids come home from school and the three of them start talking at one time, I want to scream or cry or both. I have a very short fuse and it makes me sad. I used to love being on the patio at the bakery and seeing it filled with activity - moms & babies, high school students, people working on their laptops. Now, when it starts to get busy, I retreat.
I tried to drop a dose of my nerve medication, thinking if I could stop taking it, my brain would be normal again. I didn’t take it at lunchtime when I normally would. I traded the Oxycodone for Tylenol a couple weeks ago, with great success. I’ve gotten used to a certain level of constant ache and pain. It’s always there but it’s tolerable. How bad could this be?
By 5pm the kids were home from school, fighting with each other about everything. The noise level in my apartment could rival a college football game. I started to feel a pain like I’ve never felt before. The area around my incision was on fire. I quickly discovered the pills I’d been taking were not only dulling the bone pain but they were keeping me from feeling the area where I’d been hinged open like a Pez dispenser. I won’t try to wean myself off the drugs again anytime soon.
Friday, September 14th This morning I decided to hobble to the bakery to see everyone. I felt pretty strong. For the first time, I decided to brave the giant staircase leading up to my office. Jessie helped me with my crutches. Going up is a lot harder than coming down. I knew if I had the energy to go up, I could easily make it back down. Winded, I made it to the top. I was able to sit at my desk and strategize about baking classes with my team. I almost felt normal. I had to cancel the entire fall schedule when I realized I wouldn’t be able to teach. Together, we brainstormed creative solutions to add classes back on the calendar without requiring my presence or my full capacity. We picked dates and times. One of the new classes sold out before the end of the day.
Having three kids ups my ability to not give a fuck about most things. My house is a mess. Buttered rolls can be a substitute for dinner. The television can be on 24/7 blaring the worst cartoons known to humanity. I once had a sitter for an entire summer and I never knew her last name.
Having three kids and not being able to fend for myself, conjures a whole new level of inability to care. I take that back, I do care but I realize there is absolutely nothing I can do to have more control over this situation. Open peanut butter jars sit on the counter over night. The bathroom, oh the bathroom….I can’t even describe what’s become of my bathroom. All three kids are sleeping without fitted sheets on their mattresses. The room they share reminds me of a summer camp bunk house, if all the counselors quit.
Mac’s socks haven’t matched all week. I almost started to care when I saw one of his socks had ‘Balega’ across the top. I can assure you, my 6 year old does not own Balegas! The laundry hasn’t been done all week. My laundry room is down two flights of stairs. It might as well be Antartica. When I couldn’t convince them to go sockless, I let Josie and Keegan pick socks from my drawer of $15 running socks that I covet. Josie selected a nice pair of pink no-show Balegas. Keegan grabbed a pair of my pink bike socks, covered in doughnuts and pulled them up to his knees.
Mac lost a tooth yesterday. I panicked. The Tooth Fairy is dead. Fuck! This morning, Josie woke up at 5am and sat down next to me on the sofa. “Mama, do you want me to put money under Mac’s pillow for you?” My first thought was to tell her the Tooth Fairy would take care of it….she is real!!! Then, on second thought, I realized I have a pretty smart 5th grader and I handed her a dollar. When she returned, tooth in hand, she asked “Does this mean we’re not getting presents under the Christmas tree this year?” UGH!
I am 8 & 12 years older than my little brothers. I got to be an only child AND have siblings, the best of both worlds. Christmas Eve was one of my favorite days of the year. Once I was old enough to have a say, I always asked to spend the night with my Dad and Stepmom. After the boys were tucked into bed, we got to assemble all their gifts and put them under the tree. I remember chasing my Mom around the house playing laser tag at 11pm, racing remote control cars up and down the living room and playing Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots for hours. Every year it was something new and every year we got to test drive the hottest boy toys on the market. Hanging onto these memories helped realize the death of the Tooth Fairy wasn’t so terrible after all.
When Mac came home from school, he had a second tooth in hand. I think this is his newest money-making scheme. I told him he doesn’t have that many teeth and he couldn’t make more than $20 so he should call it quits. He and Keegan went outside to play and Josie stayed with me. “Should I swap out his tooth now?” she asked. Why not? When he returned and discovered his tooth was already gone, he questioned the Fairy. I told him Fridays are the biggest missing tooth day of the week and she’s got a lot of ground to cover. She must have started early. He shrugged and stuffed his money in his pocket.
Saturday, September 15th In early 2012, I was nursing an infant, tending to my 2 and 3 year old toddlers, working 60+ hours a week to create bread recipes for clients all over the country and completing my final semester in my MBA program. I was passed over for promotions numerous times. My boss actually said I wasn't management material "with my 3 kids and all," to spite my previous management experience. I thought an MBA might finally be my ticket to get to the next level. I was the sole breadwinner for my family in more ways than one. My meager salary wasn’t enough. I filled the gaps by leaning on good ol' Uncle Sam’s assistance programs to put food on the table, provide health insurance and child care support.
When I worked on a new recipe for a client, the process created hundreds of loaves of bread, technically, unfit for consumption. Practically, these were perfectly good by any normal standards. I started freezing the samples throughout the week. Every Thursday I brought the breads home and I hosted a pick-up in my apartment from 6-8pm, free for anyone who wanted to take one loaf or 10. The only people I knew in Montclair were the moms whom I'd met in my prenatal yoga class, just before my youngest was born. These were the people who attended my Thursday evening carb fest. The pick-ups went on for several months before this simple act would change my life forever.
In April, 2012, one of the moms, Stephanie, came to pick up her bread for the week. She informed me of a little bakery on Walnut St. looking to find a new owner. The current owners were retiring and leaving the country. Even though I was feeding my family from a government assistance program, my bank account was negative and the home I'd once owned before moving to Montclair was in foreclosure, I STILL thought I had a chance.
I cashed in all my vacation time. I spent a week at the Montclair Public Library working on a business plan. It was my final assignment for my MBA program but it now had real meaning. I researched how many commuters leave from the Walnut St. train station each day. I sat in the Starbucks on Church St. and counted the number of customers they processed each hour. I wanted this plan to be ironclad. I was risking everything and not just my everything.
Once the plan was complete, I reached out to anyone who ever said 'you should open a bakery.' I gathered four people who wanted to invest in my proposal. Three of my investors were moms who had been picking up bread from my apartment. The fourth was a co-worker and mentor from my day job. To spite all my hardships, they still believed in me.
On May 2nd, 2012 I used my key to unlock the door of my bakery for the first time. In the first few months, it was slow. It was so slow that I reached out to my mom friends and asked if they could fill the tables and chairs in front of the bakery in exchange for coffee and croissants - you know, to make it look like the place to be. Before too long, it was the place to be.
As the bakery grew and became more demanding, my time for fostering friendships diminished. The only adults I have time to talk to regularly, are the ones who meet me at 5am for runs. When word of my accident spread, the first people to show up next to my hospital bed were from the group of moms I'd met 7 years ago, before the bakery, before the running, before life got in the way. I hadn't seen some of these ladies in YEARS! Eslin brought me clothes & magazines, Gina picked my kids up so they could visit, Kelly & Lara sent daily notes to check in, Chandra & Marika brought food, Melissa brought flowers and crafts to keep my kids busy and countless others reached out to see how they could help. The whole group came back together again as if no time had passed.
None of my progress in life would be possible without an incredible community standing behind me, believing in me when what lies ahead seems like an impossible journey. Montclair Bread Company wouldn't exist nor would it continue to prosper. Fueled by Doughnuts wouldn't exist. Seriously, there wouldn't even BE doughnuts, those were imagined by my mom-friend, Kyra, or a 5K Doughnut Run, thanks to Jessica & Gina. And now, yet again, I fall back on my community to provide me the strength I need to take one more step forward.