Since abandoning my running shoes in 2013, I’ve been blessed with the resolution of most of the debilitating overuse running injuries that plagued me as a shod runner (think torn tendons and fractured feet). However, life has a way of keeping the scorecard even, throwing a host of almost comically improbable accidents and injuries my way. It’s just three months into the year, and I’ve already battled a spontaneous low back strain and a sprained (possibly broken?) fourth toe (neither related to running). My patience and devotion to smart recovery have yet again paid off, as I’ve recently returned to a mostly-normal running routine. But consistent with its “Let Emilie never remain uninjured” rule, life has once more reminded me who’s boss and kicked me back down, literally … with a car door.
While dodging through the crowds of tourists on yesterday’s run through San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Warf, I felt as though I was racing through a virtual world, navigating the hazards of a video game. Feeling strong and anticipating a powerful finish to the day’s 11-miler, my gut suddenly exploded in stabbing pain and my vision momentarily when dark. Runner. Down. A child in a car stopped on the road beside the sidewalk on which I was running, had carelessly swung open his door at the very moment I passed. The door collided into my lower abdomen with epic force. My brain went blank. I could do nothing besides grip my belly, utter some profanities and wonder how much time remained before I died of internal bleeding. The sound of the crowds faded, but their stares and horrified dropped jaws further seared my aching body. As the boy’s and my eyes connected, his wide in shock and fear, a voice from the car cried out “It’s not the kid’s fault!” Without apology or concern, the car drove off. Relieved to discover I was still alive, I moved my hand from my abdomen to discover blood seeping through my shorts. I stumbled behind some dumpsters, the only remotely private corner I could find amidst the crowds of tourists, to further inspect. The collision had left a deep, two-inch long gash along my pubic bone (I’ll spare you the graphic image) and some very bruised abs. Borderline delirious but fueled with adrenaline, I somehow finished – in fact, nearly sprinted, as I fought back tears – the final three miles of the run. As I reflected on the incident on the run home, more painful than the gash in my belly was the disturbing realization that not a single person had offered help or asked if I was okay.
Over my decades of running I’ve been repeatedly impressed by the uniquely compassionate and supportive spirit of the running community. Perhaps the unifying thread is that mutual understanding of the common mental and physical obstacles we face each time we set out for a run. The struggles of another are no different from our own. Even in the fiercest competitions, this spirit shines through, with runners often sacrificing their own comfort and chance for victory to help another through fatigue, discouragement or pain. It was on the backdrop of this exceptionally caring community that made the crowd’s response – or lack thereof – to my situation so strikingly ugly. To the rubberneckers who witnessed the accident, I was not a fellow human who needed help, but instead the barefoot stranger who got doored in a running hit-and-run. I was simply someone’s amusing anecdote from their crazy San Francisco vacation.
I’m committed to tackle this hurdle with the same determination as I’ve done with each past injury. The physical and emotional trauma of yesterday’s accident took this runner down, body and soul. But my love for running is too strong to let a bump in the road keep me off that road. The incident admittedly shook me and undermined my faith in humanity. Yet, it’s also been an invaluable reminder of what sets runners apart from the masses. Now more than ever, I’m deeply grateful to be part of such an extraordinary breed whose compassion for their fellow humans runs true and deep.