Fitness level key to recovery after accident

September 6 started out like another ordinary day in the lives of Durango residents Jeff and Ramona May. They dropped off their three daughters at school, and because both had the day off, they decided to do their weekly long training run together.

Jeff was training for the Moab Cross Country Marathon and Ramona for the “Golden Leaf” Half in Aspen and the Moab “Other Half.”

“We were in the best shape of our lives since having kids,” Jeff said.

“I was shooting for a PR (personal record) in Aspen since I hadn’t run that race since before the kids,” said Ramona. “We had been training about 10 hours per week, 30 miles of running with cycling mixed in.”

At 2:30 that afternoon, they headed down Florida Road to pick up their girls. Less than a mile down the road, they rounded a curve, and Jeff said, ”Oh my God, there’s a car in our lane and it’s going to hit us.”

Both knew immediately that they were severely injured. Ramona could feel that she had broken her back or pelvis, and Jeff knew his neck and clavicle were broken.

What followed was the beginning of many months of healing and recovery. Ramona’s back fracture required her to be in a custom brace for 10 weeks. Jeff, who had a torn rotator cuff in addition to the neck and clavicle injuries, also was put in a brace for 10 weeks.

The fact that they were ambulatory right after the accident was a good sign.

“Our muscles were strong enough to splint our spine and neck to keep us from paralysis and needing surgery,” Ramona said.

Their doctor said that being athletic helped with their injuries and recovery. Because of their high level of fitness before the accident and the walking they did during recovery, their prognosis for a full recovery was good.

As soon as the braces were removed, they began a regimen of intense physical-therapy sessions twice a week.

“We did a lot of rotational thoracic exercises since we had been unable to rotate for 10 weeks,” said Ramona. “The therapists knew we were athletes, so they worked us extra hard, saying you might as well get a good workout while you’re here.”

Since then, both have begun running, cross country skiing and cycling again.

“Running has been slow in coming. I feel the strength in my muscles, but the lung capacity is not there yet,” Ramona said. “The doctor said it would be eight months to a year to get back to where we were.”

They are determined to work hard to regain their fitness and have set a goal of competing in the Vermont “Covered Bridges” Half Marathon in June.

In addition to making them stronger athletes, the accident also made them more appreciative of their lives and good health.

“It has made me a more generous person, especially when I think about all the kindness that was given to us by the community.” Ramona said. “It makes me cry just thinking about it. I’m more willing to drop things and go help someone when they are in need.”

Although accidents are not something we can specifically prepare for, being physically fit provides the strength and musculoskeletal support that can help with recovery.

“Little did we know that our fitness was not in preparation for a race, but for life,” said Ramona. “It saved us.”

Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55@gmail.com.