By Amy Ta
This podcast is about doing good. But bad thoughts have been hampering me since March 22, 2015. That was the day I smashed face-first onto pavement during a criterium bike race in Ontario, California.
It was actually my third criterium of the day, and for those who don’t know, this involves several high-speed laps around a sometimes technical course. The first race left me disappointed and irritated because women kept slowing and surging, and I placed fourth in the final sprint. So I decided to do something I always considered crazy: race against men. We averaged 27 mph – pretty fast for two wheels. I felt stronger and happier than ever. I wanted to go again.
I returned to the starting line with more than 50 men, hammered away, then blacked out. The last thing I remembered was having just three laps to go. My teammate told me later that two men got tangled in front of me, I ran over them and flipped off my bike.
The official medical diagnosis: “A 26-year-old female on a bicycle accident estimated at 35 mph and sustained displaced bilateral maxillary sinus fractures, bilateral nasal fractures, a hard palate fracture, and multiple facial lacerations status post suture repair.” Translation: broken nose, broken roof of the mouth, deep cuts to my lips and mouth. I was also informed of a bruised lung. The surgeon said it took 4.5 hours to repair my face, I had very little tissue left, and scarring would be permanent.
My mouth couldn’t open much. Talking became difficult. Eating was worse. I focused less on food and more on minimizing the pain of slipping soft vegetable bits into my mouth. Frustration, anger and misery kept me up at night.
I cried a lot: in the Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit, car ride home, my living room. I don’t consider myself an emotional person, but the same thing inflamed me each time: being told that, for several months, I was forbidden from riding outside. That message came from my surgeon, his colleague and my family. I understood their concerns and the stakes of falling again. But I can’t stand being locked down. And cycling isn’t just a hobby. It’s my passion. A life without passion is no life at all. So taking that away means bringing on the worst pain.
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I hit rock bottom, but what prevented me from staying there was the love from friends, colleagues and strangers. They reminded me that this too shall pass, I’ll be cycling 200-300 miles a week again, and I’ll remain beautiful even with scars. They gave me prayers, food, flowers, cards, even a plush broccoli and Bob Marley poster. One my best friends, Billy Cordero, drove more than an hour several times a week to see me. Monte Monaco – who lives 2600 miles away — messaged me every morning, afternoon and night. My TRU Cycling teammates helped me deal with insurance and even donated funds to partly cover hospital bills. I never saw such generosity before — never knew it was possible.
The whole experience reminded me that there’s a lot of good even in the most trying circumstances. So now when I look in the mirror, I don’t see ugliness anymore. I see resilience. I’m damaged, but not defeated.
As Charon Smith, one of the strongest cyclists I know, told me: “You are built for this. Spark on, Tiny Spark.”
Here’s footage of my first men’s race. If you listen closely to the beginning, you can hear me saying, “Just one of the guys.” This video was filmed by Huy Nguyen and produced by David Dang.
Top image: Most cyclists have a signature style. For me, it’s the matching yellow helmet and socks. Photographer: Billy Cordero.