During the initial miles of the stage, Ian clipped a tall cone with his handlebars and took a high-speed fall that gave him a lot of road rash, but he was otherwise able to continue racing. However, as a result of that crash he was off the back of the race and had to work his way through the automobile caravan behind the racers. The caravan came to a sudden stop and he slammed face-first through the rear window of the Cannondale team car.
Ian suffered a traumatic brain injury (Ian can’t remember anything from the neutral start of the race until 2-3 days after the crash when he woke up from the coma), facial and neck trauma, a broken scapula, broken occipital condyle, tore several neck tendons, and chipped four front teeth. Fortunately, a Medivac helicopter was stationed about 800 feet from the crash, and he was quickly transported to a Denver hospital where he spent two weeks in serious condition.
Ian was transported back to Seattle in the private jet of one of his team’s sponsors, Steve Berman. After returning to Seattle, Ian spent 8 days at the UW Rehab facility. Now, eight weeks since the accident, Ian is focused on his recovery process.
Before we talk about the crash and your injuries, let’s start with some background about you cycling in the Seattle area as a kid.
Both of my parents were cycling enthusiasts when I was very young. I started off on the back of a tandem with my dad and it continued from there! It first was just rides with my dad and sister, then my mom signed me up for an introduction to racing class at the Marymoor Velodrome when I was 11 years old. That opened the floodgates for me. I was never a very quick or serious Junior category racer, so my highlights were more centered on trying new types of cycling, traveling to races, and the great community I was discovering. I played baseball quite seriously into my early teens, but dropped that in order to focus more on cycling, the sport that was quickly becoming my passion.
What Seattle-area influences played the biggest roles in leading you to a pro cycling career?
At the beginning professional cycling was never part of the vision, but as I got older and started to progress through the categories, it became a dream. I had, and continue to have, great support from my coach David Richter as we outlined the work that I would have to put in to continue to improve every season and eventually race at the highest level. When I became a category 1 racer, I was incredibly fortunate to join the Hagens Berman Cycling Elite program, run by Alan Schmitz and based out of Seattle. This got my feet wet in the bigger, professional level races. I of course need to credit my family and girlfriend for their support as I started to get more and more serious about the sport.
I consider the process to become a pro something that has been in the works my whole career. At first, racing as a Junior and in the lower categories, I found my joy for the sport. With a true love for riding and racing as a backbone, I moved from Cat 3 to a Cat 1 fairly rapidly. Next, was two seasons racing for Hagens Berman Cycling at the professional level races where I went from getting dropped to being a more active participant in the races. I was able to get a spot on the Jamis Hagens Berman pro team after my best season ever in 2013.
Tell us about your vision for a career as a pro bike racer. At this point do you think about what you will do after racing bikes?
I am so lucky to have a job doing what makes me incredibly happy. The 2014 season was one that I could’ve never anticipated. I never would’ve guessed that in my first year as a professional I would’ve finished 3rd overall in the NRC point ranking system for US based professionals. This leap changed how I saw my racing career going as well as how I was developing as a racer. My focus now has shifted to recovering the best that I can from my accident. One thing definitely stays true and that is my passion for the sport. I do not want my story in cycling to just be “the guy who crashed really hard.” I still have goals in racing. Cycling is an amazing way to see the country and world, and I plan on working as hard as I can to return to and get to the highest level of the sport.
Professional bike racing has always been the “Plan A” for several years now. To make money doing something that I love to do is a great situation. When I’m done racing bikes the goal will be to get myself involved in something that I have very real passion for. I’m fortunate to still be a bike racer now though, so I’ll get to my next step when I get there!
What are your passions outside of bike racing? Are you racing bikes year round or are you involved in other activities during whatever off-season you have?
I have lots of passions, but becoming a professional cyclist was a huge focus and in order to get to this level there were, and continue to be, lots of sacrifices. Riding bikes for me is a yearlong thing. I raced a full season of cyclocross last year as well as my biggest winter of training yet. The road racing season goes from early March to mid-September. I’d say that my passion now in my time outside of cycling is spending as much time with my girlfriend Marissa as possible. Last fall we went on a great camping trip. My “off season” this year has been spent in hospitals, but I plan on doing other activities that I normally wouldn’t have time for due to a high quantity of riding. Some of these things I’ve been planning are hiking, snowshoeing, and kayaking.
About 8 weeks have passed since the crash. How are you feeling? What kinds rehab are you doing? Talk us through a day in your life these days.
It has been a very wild ride. I am happy to be doing quite well, and I have been recovering at a much faster rate than any doctor had expected or hoped. All the easy-to-see things have healed or are close to healed, and now it’s a matter of allowing my brain to recover. I’m grateful to have activities that I can do to help with the brain healing, and that becomes a large part of my day now. I try and spend several hours a day doing brain-stimulating exercises. The range of these brain exercises is pretty big. It could be Sudoku, reading, worksheets, or any number of things. My current area of focus is stretching my memory. I’ve decided to try and learn interesting things while I work on that, so most recently I studied what different groups of animals are called. A group of sharks is called a shiver! Now you know!
I also have physical therapy that challenges my balance as well as helping me regain some strength. The exciting news is now I’m able to ride my bike on the trainer so I’ve been doing that every day! As I’m sure all readers know, riding a bike is healing in its own way. That has been great for me to have some time to pedal – getting exercise, letting my mind wander, and generally just making me really happy anytime I get on the bike.
This recovery will be a very long process, so my family and friends have played, and continue to play, an incredible role. My mom (Marie), dad (Dennis), and sister (Tela) have been great, both from an emotional sense but also even in the “making and getting to appointments” category. As you may imagine, I do indeed have an incredible number of outpatient therapies as well as doctor’s appointments. My girlfriend Marissa and other friends have been huge to me for keeping my attitude positive and happy, bringing moments of normalcy, and being there if I need someone to talk to.
You’ve renewed your contract with Jamis Hagens Berman for 2015. Any ideas how next season will play out for you at this point?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have a job for next year. I had a great season, but it ended quite dramatically. I will be forever grateful to Sebastian Alexandre, the head of the Jamis Hagens Berman team, for having faith in me despite my uncertain future. I actually committed to Jamis Hagens Berman from the hospital bed.
At this point, I have no way of knowing what the 2015 season will look like. In the best-case scenario I will be able to race a full year. I’ll be spending a lot of time on the trainer with this goal in mind! For now, what my 2015 season will look like rests in the hands of the doctors and how fast my brain heals. I have no intention of putting racing above health, so I will make sure that my decision is made with that in mind. I will go through this winter motivated and driven both with my training as well as my brain exercises. I want to be a bike racer, so I’ll do what I can to ensure that happens.
Anything else you’d like to communicate to Velocity readers?
I want to take every chance to thank people who have been sending me positive thoughts, praying for me, sending messages to the hospital, and generally having my back through all this. I have had so much go right that I give credit to all this support. Thank you to everyone!