Short Track for Rookies: Dedicated to the Speedy Recovery of Colby Brooks

Short track. PIR.  My first mountain biking race.  Seventh mountain biking ride.

I arrive late after a long debate as to whether or not I should even go.  No pre-ride. 10 minute "warm up".


Gun.  Pedal pedal pedal.

Since I don’t know the course, I want to be in front so I can see what’s coming at me.

Heartrate 186.  Woah!  Make note: new record for the year.  Killer.

Third wheel making the first left hand turn.  Two off the front.  More in back. Pedal pedal pedal.

Adrenaline is carrying me.  The mountain bike still feels like a dirt bike underneath me.  Buckin’ bronco!  Woah, little pony!  Ruts, rocks, dirt.  Ride ‘em, ride ‘em!

Steep, sandy hill – punch it.  Up and over that thing like yesterday’s news.  Off into the grass. 

Every turn is a surprise.  Oh! This one goes left!  Aye!  This one goes right!  Oh shit!  This one is a hairpin!

Cursing like my father – the G rated versions:  "Blankety blank stupid too late to pre-ride stupid… son of a bit my finger off!"

Cue the Camel Bumps of Death. (right turn: "Oh crap – what are these?  How the hell am I supposed to ride this? Oh god, too slow!")  BAM!  Down to the left.  Right foot stuck in pedal.  Struggle like giving birth to get upright again. 

Was that a flash?!  Kill the photographer!  For chrissakes… not while I’m down like this!

Three women pass me as I recover from the first shit-eating expedition. 

Ok, relax. 

Relaxing commences.  More pass me.  I have the feeling of taking on water.  The ship feels heavy. To the decks to the decks!! Bail like you’ve never bailed before!

Lap two: Through the finishing gate.  Rider down way off to the right.  Two people standing near him.  Oxygen-deprived, I imagine him moving, perceive him making sounds of pain.  The two people are screaming: "DOCTOR!!! WE NEED A DOCTOR HERE RIGHT NOW!  DOCTOR!!!"

Jesus.  He must have really mashed something, I am thinking.  It looks like a crash.  But what can I see?

I keep riding.  Camel Bumps of Death deliver a healthy second round of shit-eating as a kind Single Speed gentleman behind me manages not to swear at me for crashing right in front of him and destroying his chase.  Sorry.

Muddy left-hand turn.  I love the mud.  Pump track.  Up down up down up down. 

Back through the start finish for another round.  Rider still down.  Fully surrounded by people.  I cannot see through the ring of them.  So many people, I’m thinking.  What is going on!?  What could he possibly have broken?

If I think about his crash too much, I will crash too.  Focus – go back to focus.  Trees, turns, grass, fatigue.  Eyes crossing.

Camel Bumps of Death approach. 


Cyclocross dismount. Run run run run!! 

I am a runner, Camel Bumps of Death!  You cannot defeat the runner!!!

Take that.

Energy calculations begin in earnest.  Max heart rate, divided by the square root of throbbing knee, multiplied by Lung en Fuego equals… what?  My normal cycling mathematical genius disappears.

Pedal that bike!

Start-finish again.  Man waving.  "You’re done you’re done!"

I’m done?

Goddamit, did I not even manage to finish on the lead lap?  How lame?

What’s going on over there?

Rolling slowly.  Man still down to right.  I can see through the crowd around him now.  Chest compressions ten inches deep.  So fast, so hard, so fast.  The woman delivering the compressions teeth are gritted.  Her hair falls against her forehead with every burst of effort.  The eyes of those around the circle are frozen and still.  The body on the ground is as still as… death.

The muscles of her arms flex frantically and suddenly its so quiet.

I keep rolling, but my body forgets how to balance the bike so we both fall together.  I recognize the cold sensation of fear and I can’t stop myself from saying, "Oh my god oh my god oh my god" over and over and over again.  I stifle the intense urge to vomit.

Someone is dying there in the dirt just a few feet from my bike.

How fast were my laps?  How long has he been down?  Two laps ago!  Where are the medical vehicles?!  Why is he still not revived?  Why does he not wake up!?  We need him to wake up.

I pick myself up from the crash, find a teammate, stagger out of the way.  Watch from afar.

Medical vehicles arrive.  Defib.  Shock. 

Dead back to living.  A thirty-year-old cardiac arrest victim back among us.

I don’t know how to write a race report in which I unknowingly pedaled past a soul in the throes of a battle to stay in a body.  I don’t know how to react to the people who have since chided us for continuing. 

We didn’t know. 

I love him as any other single human being on the planet.  The way that we should all love each other.  So much that, when the dust rose with each horrific chest compression, every part of me begged for that relentless pounding to be the one that did it.

The race yesterday was not about results, or firsts, or conquering fears.  It was not about the kind of trivial miracles that win sporting events.

It was about skill and training and determination and clear-headedness… and the kind of miracles that save lives in the otherwise innocent warmth of an early summer day.

Get well soon, Colby.




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  1. For what it’s worth, if I ever go down like that, I want the racers to just bunnyhop me until I get off the course. Wouldn’t you?

    Of course, any good person would have stopped racing had they known someone was dying on the race course. That would include you.

    No harm done. We both know it. Unless the race organizers halted racing, there was no way to know. Any chiding is ultimately directed their way, not yours.

    Get well Colby!

  2. Wow – so tragic – I am glad he is doing better.

    I have also been noticing the parallel events in life – things are not as connected as they seem – different things happen to different people at the same time. It’s not making sense to me right now, but I keep going around the track as well.

  3. An amazing write-up Heidi. On all counts.

    I love your machine gun recount of the race itself. It’s such a fast pace compared to the typical mountain bike race. Maybe next year I’ll be able to do the short track too.

    And there’s no way you or any of the other racers could have known his condition. At a bike race, you naturally assume that if someone’s down it’s a race-related injury. There are a lot of comments on the article you linked thoughtfully supporting the actions taken.

    I’m just so relieved and happy that Colby’s stable. It’s fantastic that he was able to hang on with CPR for 10 minutes before the ambulance arrived. And I hope he recovers quickly.

  4. I gotta come up and try those camel bumps of death.

    Don’t worry about not stopping… it’s a natural reaction. Those in our bike community care deeply about each other- and your response exemplifies our concern.

    I wished I was up there to help, but there’s not much I could have done even if I had been there. Everyone involved did their job well.

  5. Great job on your first mtb race! I will be joining you next week. :)

  6. Holy Shit. That’s scary. And I would assume this man trained and did lots of healthy type things being in a bike race. Wow! I’m glad that woman was there to keep the oxygen and blood pumping while his own body gave out.

  7. In reading through the report and the following comments at BikePortland, I think they did the right thing by continuing the race. This sounds like one of those deals where the electrical signals in the heart got disrupted for some reason – nothing to do with fitness. Hopefully it can be corrected so it doesn’t happen again. That’s what I’m praying and hoping for.

  8. Great writing. I was able to follow you through the race so well… Good to hear Colby is doing well.

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