On July 11th, 2001 Michael O'Brien was in New Mexico on a business trip. Michael considers this day his "last bad day." As an avid cyclist, Michael brought his travel bike with him to exercise in lieu of using the hotel gym. Michael remembers the hotel being in the middle of nowhere, but he scoped out a riding loop on a nearby service road that he could do some laps on before meetings began for the day. After completing a few laps, Michael was struck head-on by a white Ford Explorer. The individual who hit him worked at the hotel and had a revoked driver's license for a DUI. Michael's injuries included a broken right shoulder, broken right femur and right tibia, a shattered left femur, which left bones popping out of his skin and lacerated the femoral artery. The latter on the list of injuries made the situation life and death for Michael. Pictures from the accident scene are below.
Michael was wearing a helmet on that ride and he still has the helmet to this day. Now the helmet serves as a reminder for why it is important to wear a helmet, because Michael believes it saved his life. During this part of our conversation we got on a riding safety tangent where Michael talked about how it is important for Moms and Dads to set the example for their kids by also wearing helmets when they ride. In general, most people are distracted in life these days, so do all you can to be visible. This could mean wearing bright clothing, attaching lights to your bike and riding smart and defensively. Michael urges bicyclists to model the way on the streets because sometimes they are part of the problem. Although Micheal felt that he did everything right that day in terms of riding safely, he stressed the importance of riders having Road ID's, which he didn't have on the day of his accident. Road ID's are engraved bracelets where you list your identity information along with emergency contact information. Because Michael didn't have a Road ID, he was known as "Trauma Patient Mango" after being airlifted from the scene of the accident.
When Michael arrived at the hospital, doctors were unsure if he was going to survive, and if he did, they could't guarantee he'd be able to keep his leg. The lacerated femoral artery caused his left leg to lack sufficient blood flow, but was told later that being in shape saved his life.
Back at home, Michael had a 3.5-year-old daughter and a 7-month-old daughter. When Michael's wife got word on the extent of his injuries she flew out to Albuquerque and actually beat him out of his first surgery, which took 12 hours. The prognosis after his surgery was that he was going to have a life of compromise and dependency. Doctors doubted that Michael could play sports again or ever get back on a bike. Like any athlete who received this type of news, Michael remembers ending up in a dark place with is thoughts and attitudes, because he only focused on his limitations up to that point.
Michael talks about a mantra he ultimately adopted throughout his recovery process, which is "we go where our eyes go." When the doctors planted the seed of what they thought his future would look like, Michael could only see his limitations and was blind to his opportunities. Check out his TEDx talk on this topic below:
"I forgave them not because they deserved forgiveness, but because I did"
While in the dark place, Michael felt revengeful towards the man in the white SUV, who injured him. Although it took time, Michael was eventually able to give the situation perspective after he learned that the driver was hurting in his own way as well. Forgiveness took awhile, but came after going on a trip with his family to Europe. Michael and his family visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. While on a guided tour led by a woman who was a holocaust survivor, someone from the tour group asked her if she still hated the Nazi's. The guide replied no, "I forgave them not because they deserved forgiveness, but because I did." If she continued to hold on to all of that hate, she wouldn't be able to live the life she wanted to live. Michael then used the analogy of the negative feelings or emotions as the added weight you carry around in your backpack. This made me think of episode 54 with Bill Anthes.
The next topic of discussion during our conversation was about Michael's rehab process. Michael's injury occurred in July and in August he took an air ambulance back home to NJ to do his in-patient occupational and physical therapy at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. At one point during his time at Kessler, Michael remembers panning the room, and taking note of his fellow patients and how they carried themselves. Michael realized that their attitudes made a big difference in their recovery outcome. In that moment, he made the decision to start showing up better and putting in more effort. Like we preach constantly on this podcast, Michael realized that he can be defined as a victim or by how he responded to the setback.
Fortunately, he also had a great physical therapist named Laura Fucci to help put his ass in gear. While working with Laura, one of Michael's goals was to get back on his bicycle. After his last PT session going into one particular weekend, Laura told Michael that if he didn't ride his bike, he wasn't allowed to come back in to see her, because he was getting too cool with the comfort zone he was in. I personally know Laura and I agree with Michael's description of her in that she has the perfect balance of cheerleader, button pusher and challenger. Every athlete deserves to have an individual like this in their recovery's. If you currently don't have that support, find it! That weekend Michael did get back on his bike by starting with a few laps in an industrial park. The first time he got out on the road, the first car that passed him was a big white SUV. Although scary at the time, Michael thinks this was a pretty cool message from the universe.
Michael hasn't had a bad day since his accident because the injury and recovery gave him perspective. He now has an attitude of abundance where he places focus on all the positive things he has going for him, rather than the things he lacks. One of the many positives that came from Michael's accident was the idea for his company called Peloton Coaching & Consulting. In order to move as fast as possible, a peloton needs leadership, trust, communication and teamwork. Some of the same qualities that today's business leaders and teams need to drive better results tomorrow.
We finished the episode with a discussion about the recent Toms Skujins crash in the Tour of California. The crash occurred a day before we recorded. Michael describes the crash and talks about some of the safety challenges that exist in the sport. The biggest obstacle being that the playing field stretches for miles. Check out the video below to form your own opinion on the management of the concussion. I find the video pretty disturbing to watch. Michael and I talked about the possibility of having the neutral support trained to pull riders for potential brain injuries. Please comment with your thoughts on the crash. Michael also goes into the culture of toughness in the sport and the finish at all costs mentality that exists.
Lastly, we have another supporter for toughness being the long-game mentality. It doesn't matter how "tough" you are if you can't play tomorrow.
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