By Christopher Lewis
“Screw that it’s my rest day,” she says to herself.
It’s unseasonably warm for a Sunday afternoon in February. Hilary Meade and her friend, Candice, lounge at Candice’s pool in Henderson, NV. It’s been a nice, lazy afternoon for the two of them. Too lazy, Hilary thinks.
She eventually convinces Candice to go for a three-mile run. The day couldn’t be more beautiful in a city that has its fair share of days either too hot or too cold. Couples are out for a stroll. Dogs with gigantic grins on their faces are being walked. Fathers and mothers are pushing their children along on bikes and tricycles. There was no way Hilary was going to let a gorgeous day like this get away from her.
A little over a mile into the run Candice has had enough and turns back home. It’s no bother for Hilary. Alone or with friends, she’s content as she runs.
About a half mile later, Hilary comes to a four-way stop. There are cars directly in front and to the right of her. She’s waved on by someone in one of the cars. As she jogs across, something black and moving rapidly enters her peripheral vision. In a blink, she realizes it’s a car and coming right at her across the intersection.
Her senses are jolted awake. Everything slows down as her consciousness becomes hyper-aware. The thought of, I’m going to get hit by a car, flashes through her head. Hilary tries to pick up her stride and speed up. Just one more step. But she’s a step short. A black Toyota Prius slams into her right side. It flips her onto the hood and her elbow absorbs the blow before she’s launched into the air in the opposite direction. As she floats through the air toward the street, a conversation occurs with herself that takes no longer than a millisecond, Damn! This is it? This is how you’re going out?
It’s ironic, even absurd, to Hilary she would die this way. She’s lived most of her life refusing to be a victim of circumstance. She’s lived her life believing a person’s situation is a result of the choices they made.
Growing up in Washingtonville in Orange County, NY, which is about 60 miles north of New York City, she grew up in an environment that could have led to a much different life than she has now. Her father was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and even at a young age, she knew there was something very wrong about this situation. When Hilary was 11, her mom had saved enough money for the two of them and Hilary’s two younger brothers to leave and try to make it on their own (Her older sister stayed with her father because she was his daughter of a previous relationship). It wasn’t easy. Her mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, which meant Hilary would often have to make sacrifices of her own to help raise her brothers. There were many days where she would miss soccer or track practice, or just time with her friends, because it was her responsibility to pick them up from the bus stop, watch them, make sure they had dinner, etc. But Hilary doesn’t look back at this time with regret. Early on, she always had the outlook that, ‘This is the way of life – you just have to deal with it.’ There wasn’t time to complain about it, plus there was no point. As far as she was concerned, the alternative of living with her father was much worse.
One of Hilary’s greatest takeaways growing up was knowing a person’s choice was theirs to make. She was aware addiction can be hereditary, but she refused to believe a life like her father’s was her fate. She would choose self-determination over fatalism. That is her belief system – her ethos. She would define events. Events wouldn’t define her.
She would live the healthiest life possible and be as active as possible. She would even choose a career that’s health orientated. That’s how she would rebel against her father’s legacy.
After receiving a bachelor’s in exercise science, she was once again faced with a choice: Get a job in New York City and slog along commuting by train and working ungodly hours, or follow a friend out to Las Vegas while pursuing her Master’s and see what the West has to offer. She’s never regretted choosing the latter.
As she arrives to work at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino, Hilary frequently laughs and smiles to herself as she makes her way through the casino to the elevator banks. Every morning she’s greeted by a cacophony of electronic dings and drones from the gaming machines. Every morning she notices the hundreds of smoke trails that drift toward the ceiling from the cigarettes that dangle from the hands of the casino patrons. Hilary is the casino’s health coach. She laughs because in the back of her mind she knows it’s a bit of an oxymoron to put health within a word or two of casino, but she really loves what does. The gaming industry has the unfortunate (but accurate) reputation as being one of the unhealthiest for its employees. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and whether you’re a blackjack dealer, a housemaid, or a cook, the stress level is stratospheric. Everyone in the gaming industry needs to be at the top of their game all the time. And when you compound these conditions with working in smoke-filled rooms and eating fatty food, a person’s health can suffer greatly. It’s Hilary’s job to counsel the staff and administer programs to help reverse the decline in the health of the casino’s employees.
Many of Hilary’s clients have serious health problems. They suffer from high blood pressure, type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and a variety of orthopedic issues. During the four years she’s worked there, she’s seen clients make significant progress; lose weight, make exercise a part of their life – in other words, make changes that prolong and improve their lives. But then there are the others. Those who continue to make poor choices in spite of its negative result.
“The cafeteria doesn’t serve anything healthy,” a client says.
“Why don’t you bring your own food? Pack your lunch – I pack my lunch everyday,” Hilary replies.
“I don’t have time.”
She’s lost count of the number of times she’s had this conversation, and the response continues to dumbfound Hilary. How could you not have time? How could not make time for something so important? It’s the only life you have, and your family depends on you. How could you not take care of it?
Hilary knows she can be a bit harsh and acknowledges she lacks sympathy at times. But what’s more important than taking care of yourself, and in turn, those who are most dear to you? And people call me crazy – crazy for doing triathlons or CrossFit. Want to know what I think is crazy? Smoking multiple packs cigarettes and sitting on the couch all day. Now that’s crazy.
As Hilary flies through the air after bouncing off the Prius’s hood, her determination returns. No! I’m not dying on an easy run on a beautiful day. Her survival instincts fire back up, and she wills her body to take the fall. Don’t hit your head. Don’t hit your head. She puts her left arm out to brace her landing. A loud smack is heard as she slams into the asphalt. Hilary sits right up in a daze, and says to herself, I just got hit by a freakin’ car. Her head is the only part of her body not to make contact with something. She hears the muffled gasps of a crowd, which is now forming around her.
“Are you ok?” Someone asks. “I saw your legs fly up in the air.”
A young girl no older than 16 hops out of the prius. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” She screams. The young girl is completely hysterical. Hilary actually feels bad for her.
Hilary looks in the girl’s direction and says, “It’s okay, I’m fine.
“Don’t talk to her,” advises someone from the crowd.
Hilary tries to to stand but the crowd convinces her to remain sitting. She hands someone her phone and asks them to phone Candice. The paramedics and a fire truck arrive about 15 minutes later. Candice arrives as well. The paramedics ask Hilary a number of questions such as “What’s your name?” What’s the last four of your social security number?” All of which Hilary knows. The fire truck and paramedics are off just as quickly as they arrived. A number of people tell her they saw everything and trade information so they can serve as witnesses. Later, some will call to check up on her. She finds their concern quite sweet. To play it safe, Candice drives Hilary to the ER to get further tests. As Hilary climbs into the car, she looks over her shoulder at the black Prius and notices the huge dent she’s placed on the hood. She jokes to herself that if it wasn’t for CrossFit, she wouldn’t have able to take that Prius. And that dent? Well, she’s quite proud of it even to this day.
After a number of X-rays, all of which come back negative, they arrive back at Candice’s house where Hilary will spend the night. Even though Candice has to help Hilary undress to shower, she doesn’t feel all that bad considering she was hit by a car and and her left side has a fair amount of road rash. As she showers, and as she washes asphalt off her skin (some of which is still embedded in her elbow), it hits her. The totality of it all crashes upon her all at once and it’s obvious her emotions have taken a toll as much as her body has. Her body now begins to tremble as she tries to wash it all away.
Hilary takes Monday off from work and that day she’s surprised she’s not in more pain. She’s beginning to believe she’s dodged a bullet. But as night comes so does the stiffness. It’s getting harder to move her right arm and all she can do is lay in bed. She awakes Tuesday morning to the most intense pain she’s ever felt. She can barely move her right arm at all. In spite of how uncomfortable she feels, she goes to work anyway but has to leave midway through the day because the pain is unbearable.
She’s home after visiting the doctor with Hydrocodone, a slew of muscle relaxers, and steroids to relieve inflammation. She stares at the 12 medications that lay in front of her on the counter.
There’s no way, she thinks to herself.
Because her X Rays come back negative – nothing is broken and there are no apparent tears – all her doctor can do is prescribe her medication and physical therapy. The first option doesn’t sit well with Hilary. There has to be a better way.
Subsequent trips to the chiropractor give her immediate relief, but within hours the pain rears its ugly head and returns.
The pain subsides a week later but she still can’t move her arm above her head. Physical therapy is the next step. Progress is slow – if at all. Doubt begins to creep into her usually positive mindset. She worries if she’ll ever be able to do CrossFit or swim again. Her shoulder just hurts so damn much. She’s not sure how she’ll ever lift a barbell above her head or swim the backstroke.
Hilary being Hilary, she searches for a lesson behind every obstacle. Her accident allows her to be a little more empathetic towards her clients. Without working out like she is accustomed to, her spirits have dampened. She wouldn’t say she’s depressed, but her energy is low and she’s not as happy as she normally would be. It’s clear to her how someone can fall so easily into a rut – how easy it is one day just to come home, plop down on the couch after grabbing a pint of ice cream from the freezer, and watch TV for the remainder of the evening after a long day at work. It’s clear to her how this vicious decent begins and how hard it can be to climb out of it. After a while – after days and weeks of no longer feeling those hormones you get from exercise – your body no longer craves what it’s been denied for so long. You’re just too tired to do anything.
Hilary has seen that future play out for so many over the years as a health coach. Yes, she acknowledges, that could be my path, but it’s not going to be she assures herself. She can always find something to do that doesn’t involve the use of her right shoulder. Well, I guess I’ll just do the stairmaster for four hours again today, she jokes to herself on many days in the months following the accident.
She makes great strides in her recovery in just a couple of months of physical therapy. The shoulder is not what is was before the accident, but she can at least lift it above her head…sort of. She sees the physical therapist three days a week.
“Can I go to CrossFit?”
“No, you can’t even lift your arm yet,” her PT replies.
This conversation occurs almost every time she’s in there.
Along with swimming, CrossFit ends up being one of the things she misses most during her forced sabbatical. Not necessarily the workouts (although she does love being pushed to do things she would never do – like Turkish get-ups for example. What sadist came up with those?), but what she misses are the people. She misses the camaraderie. Hilary loves to be pushed. She loves to be challenged. It’s the people she works out next to that allows both of those things to happen. The energy she’s able to bring to every WOD is attributed in large part to those people. Hence, those people have become her friends. Friends she would have never met if she would have just stayed in her box of endurance training.
After three months of physical therapy, she’s back at CrossFit. Not at one hundred percent, but she’s getting there. One hurdle down – one very big one to go.
Hilary sits in her car in the parking lot of the Henderson Multigenerational Center, or the Multigen as it’s known, which has a large jogging track that transverses through and around the park. It’s been six months since the accident, but she’s yet to run one step outdoors. She committed to run the Summerlin Half Marathon last year, but that was before she performed a suplex on the hood of a Prius. One of the pledges she made to herself afterward was to run the same race a year later. But there’s only so much training you can do on a treadmill. At some point, she’ll have to venture back onto the streets. A coach at Summerlin CrossFit recommends she use a CrossFit Endurance program, which suits her fine because it will mean less runs on the road than a traditional running program. She continues to sit in her car frozen and unable to make the next step. Her breathing is short and quick, and her stomach is tied up in all sorts of knots. I will not allow myself to be beaten, she tells herself, you can do this…you’re just going to run around the park. Before her sudden courage can escape, she’s out of the car and off on her run. There are no headphones plugged into her ears. Every noise, every bit of movement receives her full attention – it will continue to receive her full attention for the many runs to come.
Weeks later, she finally takes it onto the street. As she comes to a crosswalk, she stops. A car pulls up and waves Hilary on.
“No, you go,” Hilary says aloud as she gestures with one hand for the car to move on. The intersection if completely void of cars before she crosses it. This is her new reality, but she will do whatever it takes to move forward. Just one step at a time.
It’s been almost 13 months since the accident. She crosses the finish line of the Summerlin Half in 2:02. She’s shocked. Up till race day, she worried she hadn’t put enough miles in. But she feels good. Knees, shoulder, hips – it all feels great considering what her body’s been through. Even at CrossFit she feels she’s back to her normal self. Her shoulder no longer screams obscenities to her as she snatches a barbell overhead. It may bark a little, but it no longer screams.
Later that evening while out to dinner with friends, she sits back with a drink in hand. Around the table laughter ensues, stories are shared, everyone is enjoying themselves. So much in one year, she thinks to herself and allows herself to take a moment to reflect on what she’s accomplished. And as she sits and appreciates the company that currently sits around her, she knows she wouldn’t change a thing if given the opportunity to do so. Because all of it has led up to this one moment – that without what she’s endured over the past year – this moment among friends, the person she is today wouldn’t exist. And why in the world would she ever want that? Because right now…well, what else is there?