Aftermath of ÖTILLÖ 2017
By Jasmina Glad-Schreven
Make sure to read this very serious piece written with humour and love. Jasmina brings up many points on why the ”mandatory equipment” is so important and also why swimrun is – and should be – a sport of two. If it would have been a solo race, things might have turned out much worse. We wish Thomas a speedy recovery and we wish to see Jasmina and Thomas winning races soon again.
Thank you, Michael & Mats
You all know that moment, that split second when you realise that something has happened, something that will change your day and maybe even your life.
It’s that moment when your usually very slow brain, fast-forwards your life and in a flash you see what is going to happen and you scream. You scream out of pain, physical pain, emotional pain, and you know it’s finished. You see it. You feel it, and your brain registers the fact that ÖTILLÖ is over for you before it really got going. Once again.
Our bodies remember this pain as this is the third time we’ve felt it. Three very painful times. Some would argue that it’s too much for one team, while others believe that nobody is given more than they can bear. We are strong, admittedly, but seriously … there must be a limit. At least this time it was a bit more balanced as it was Thomas’ turn to be stitched up. Up to now, it has been me.
Thomas is the smart one. He knows what we are doing. I’m the idiot who studies the racecourse the night before, swearing like a Russian taxi driver. Thomas always jokes that I’m like a Formula One car with parts flying off as we go, and he is the mechanic trying to fix it up at 200km/h. Now my mechanic has been hospitalised for 12 days with a deep cut to the knee bone and an aggressive bacteria infection that has been eating him slowly. An apparently harmless fall on an easy trail resulted in a potentially life threatening infection, operations and possibly a skin transplant. A fall that has happened hundreds of times before and simply wiped the dirt off and continued running.
One of my colleagues asked me last week: “Why can’t you guys just catch a simple cold like normal people do? Why do you need to break your foot into thousand pieces, hit your knee in the only rock out there, get borrelia and a bacteria that basically eats your leg for breakfast?” A week ago my answer would have been “because we have an unfair amount of bad luck”. Today, my answer is “because there is a deeper meaning to all this and we have to figure out what that is”.
We’re still trying to figure it out. Thomas has been in so much pain that the deeper meanings have not exactly been pushed through the pain (painkillers) but I think we both have had this “inner peace” since the accident. We have not been angry, bitter or frustrated. On the contrary, we have been very calm, positive, optimistic and at peace. It is empowering that something so negative, painful, and frustrating can make you stronger and better in so many ways as an individual and as a couple/team. But only if you let it happen.
The hand-knitted ÖTILLÖ hats we received gave some purpose to Thomas’ suffering. I remember saying to Thomas before the start that if nothing else comes out of this day so at least us suffering for one day has taken several Romanian women and children off the streets for a period. It gave us additional motivation to go out there in that crazy weather. We at least have warm clothes, food and shelter at the end of the race day. We think this was a perfect example of how we can all (directly and indirectly) help people in need and it doesn’t need to be big. Hats off to the ÖTILLÖ staff for this great initiative!
I have to admit that I was possibly a bit too positive right after the fall as I kept saying to Thomas, “Come on honey, you can do it! We just get First Aid and continue! You can do it honey! We only have… 8hours left.”
No wonder he kept yelling “Shut up!”. I would have done the same. Only an idiot like me goes into a “you can do it honey” mantra when the other has a knee cut open and is screaming like a pig being butchered. I understood that my emergency handling skills are not the best.
You know that stupid bandage that you must carry with you at every race? That small thing that could save somebody’s life but also takes up space from one more disgusting tasting gel (which, in theory could also save a life, but that’s a different story). I’m sure that you have also thought about just ditching it? Don’t! Stick it inside your wetsuit and train yourself to survive with one less gel. I have to say that I did have a moment of pride when, in my own head, I took over the situation out there, pulled the bandage out of my wetsuit and wrapped it around my patient’s knee. I took it even one step further and took my bib off and put that on top of the bandage. In reality, I must have been a complete nut case just mumbling, “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine … shit, shit, shit.”
We all know that it takes something serious for people to stop, to breathe, to evaluate their lives, to prioritise and to start doing yoga and meditation.
It has reminded us not to take anything for granted and to enjoy the small things in life. Twelve days in the same hospital bed puts you out of your comfort zone and you need to dig deep. Just the way you need to dig deep on the race day. Same but different.
When you share a hospital room with an ex-drug addict who sits in the wheelchair after crashing a car into the rock and with an ex-alcoholic who sits in the wheelchair after jumping into the water head first on a Midsummer eve, you get perspective (now you understand why they always emphasise not jumping into the water at race briefings!). Your hectic and messy everyday life with a house that always needs fixing, kids who always make a mess, clothes that have been drying outside for 3 weeks (in pouring rain), your wetsuit that is full of “bullet holes” after not-so-successful trainings session does not matter (no, we didn’t get shot by angry summer house owners but we tend to go off the course and end up in deep bush). Stupid things simply don’t matter. Very liberating actually.
Borrowing Forrest Gump, I could say: “We are like peas and carrots.” That’s Thomas and me. There is rarely one without the other. We are often asked two questions: “How is it to race as a married couple?” and “What makes you such a strong couple on a race day?” Our answers to these two questions are often not so exhaustive, deep or surprising as people would like. “We don’t know anything else,” is our standard answer. I think the first question answers the second question and vice versa. Think about swans. The swan pair is a team forever. It’s a strong team because they stick together and they learn from the failures and successes when raising the babies (or whatever baby swans are called). Being sensitive, respecting each other and continuously learning makes the team strong whether it’s swans or humans in neoprene. Swan couples are also very effective fighting teams and this healthy fighting spirit is needed on the race day.
The last 12 days have been extremely tough and painful for Thomas, for many reasons. He is an athlete who is used to a very active lifestyle with full action from morning to evening. He is a father and a husband who runs this household here. He is an all-round handyman who fixes everything and anything. Our everyday life relies on Thomas being in one piece.
I have tried my best but the compost bin is still waiting for somebody to empty it, the wood is still waiting for somebody to grab the axe and start chopping, the summerhouse roof is still leaking and the swimrun gear is still in the hallway. Kids have been eating popcorn for dinner and nobody has been sleeping in their own beds. I have remembered to change diapers though. I think. Supernanny would not be impressed but we hope to get papa home soon so we get some order in this house.
We are hoping that Thomas can come home next week Monday, after two weeks in the hospital. That harmless looking fall and the cut on the knee turned out to be much more serious and complicated than anybody initially thought. It took everybody by surprise. After 10 days of simply fighting the bacteria and infection, they have now finally been able to start treating the wound itself and the knee. During the first operation, they opened up part of the upper leg and removed dead tissue and cleaned the infected area.
The last 4 days Thomas has been attached to a low-pressure vacuum that has been preparing the wound for closing. The second operation, to attach the patella tendon back on the knee as 90% of it is ruptured should take place anytime now and then they will try to close the wound, hopefully without a skin transplant. If everything goes well, he can slowly start the rehab part in about a week. It will be a long, painful and frustrating journey back but we have done it many times before so I’m confident that we can do it again. Since my accident, I have 6 working toes and Thomas will have one working knee, but as my mom always said“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” As a kid it was hard to understand but now I could not agree more.
And last but not least we would like to thank the person who ran with me from the First Aid station to where Thomas was waiting. Unfortunately, I did not get his name and I have to apologise to him as I did not clearly mention that the injured person was about 2km down the trail and not 100m. This lovely gentleman mentioned later that he had not run for 10 years but I was impressed with his performance on those trails. Thank you!
Also, a very warm thanks to the team on the rescue boat that picked us up. Tommy and his team did an excellent job stapling Thomas’ knee together in that storm. The boat was all over place but the team was super-professional and nice.
Our deepest thanks go to everyone who has been supporting us since the accident. So many teams stopped and asked if we are OK and if we needed help. That’s what I call sportsmanship! All our friends, family and the swimrun community who have supported Thomas during these weeks. Also, thank you all dear friends who have offered support here at home. We can feel the LOVE (from the island of Love).
An applause to all the teams that started the race in that storm and our sincere congratulations to the phenomenal teams on the podium. Amazing race, amazing people!
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #4 (October 2017)