Riding My Road To Recovery

RIDING MY ROAD TO RECOVERY

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COMMUNITY STORIES | 6.22.2017 | BY RYAN LEVINS

Me just before the start of the race on the day of my crash July 2, 2015

Me just before the start of the race on the day of my crash July 2, 2015

On July 2, 2015 I hit the biggest speed bump of my life. It was my test of strength. I am now almost two years post injury and I’m still making incredible gains. I was critically hurt during a road bicycle race as part of the 2015 World and Police Fire games at Prince William Forest park in Northern Virginia. One officer from Brazil, Inspector Carlos Silva was killed in the crash. A police Officer from Winnipeg, Canada, was also seriously hurt. Luckily I was wearing a helmet at the time – I still have that helmet. It was cracked in one place and I don’t think I would have lived without it on. I crashed at over 40 miles per hour and rolled over 160 feet as determined by police investigators. I don’t remember the crash and it’s better that I don’t. I do not remember anything for another month and a half after the accident. I had two skull surgeries or craniotomies performed by a skilled neurosurgeon, Doctor Nilesh Vyas, the first night of my crash. I later met Dr. Vyas and said it was nice to meet him conscious. What he did that night saved my life.

How our bikes ended up after the crash in 2015 with investigators documenting the scene.

How our bikes ended up after the crash in 2015 with investigators documenting the scene.

During the crash I also collapsed one of my lungs. I broke seven ribs, my left collarbone broke, and I sustained nerve damage to my left radial nerve which required surgery to fix. My parents were told to fly, not drive, to INOVA hospital in Fairfax, Virginia because it was unknown if I would make it through the night.

In a medically induced coma after my crash at the INOVA Fairfax hospital with a service dog – notice how the right side of my head has depressed.

In a medically induced coma after my crash at the INOVA Fairfax hospital with a service dog – notice how the right side of my head has depressed.

For me, I’ve learned that healing does not happen overnight. Don't push too hard and hurt your progress. Be resilient, positive, and tough. Therapy is only so good as the attitude you bring into it. Get strength from your family, friends, and co-workers. Learn where your deficiencies are and do your best to work around them. Use neuropsychologists if they are close by; they are very useful and can help you understand and clear up the fog of what is going on your mind. Exercise if you can, focus on those “love your brain” thoughts, and read as much as you can on TBI for better understanding. Take advantage of local support groups and talk with other TBI survivors and their caregivers, you'll find commonalities and new ideas on how to cope with the effects of your injury. Most importantly, get help if you need it! Don't be afraid to admit weakness. Be strong, be resilient, and overcome. You may not ever be the same or recover from your injury, but you can understand more and make the most of that.

With other rangers ay Big Cypress national preserve in 2007 having to move an alligator out of a visitor area.

With other rangers ay Big Cypress national preserve in 2007 having to move an alligator out of a visitor area.

I would say acceptance, positive thinking, community, goal setting, and resilience are all important aspects of moving forward to me. Acceptance is the tough one. Whether I can continue in my job has not been decided yet so those unknowns continue to nag at me. I've been struggling with the acceptance of  things I can't change, but I know I will get there soon. I try to think about the positives of what got me into my job in the first place. My career has been so rewarding and I can continue to love to do it. Setting goals is important. If you set a tough goal and then reach it - you can take satisfaction you got there. Then you push ahead to the next one. Having that resiliency also makes you want to try harder, push yourself more, and take every curve ball thrown at you and hit it out of the park. Find community and embrace it, learn from it, and heal from it - so important!

Me as Chief ranger of Gettysburg National Military Park in 2014.

Me as Chief ranger of Gettysburg National Military Park in 2014.

Personally, I’ve had an incredible amount of luck, the support of family and friends, and yoga. The day of my accident, things just fell into place from the actions of the EMT's on site, a quick airlift to the hospital, and a skilled neurosurgeon to make my recovery the best it could be. I was given yoga instruction at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. I didn't know much about it so I probably didn't get the most out of it to lower my anxiety. After watching videos of Kevin speak about yoga- I said to myself, give it another try. A training center close by offers one hour yoga sessions for a small charge twice a week. Our instructor Maddie, puts us through a mix of hatha and vinyasa yoga. Yoga has been so good for me. I've taken it seriously, worked on my breathing, focus, and relaxation. Getting myself into a place of focus has slowed me down, lessened my anxiety, and opened up a whole new door for me.

A year after the crash with Daryl Hees, who was also injured in the crash.

A year after the crash with Daryl Hees, who was also injured in the crash.

My piece of wisdom is that positive thinking helps so much. I've had my down days, but take everyday you get as a gift. Work out your negative feelings and think positively. Find something you like and give it a try even though you think you might not like it. Be open to new things. Yoga has done so much for me so if you can, give it a try! A peaceful focused mind can do wonders for you! I wish you the same luck in your journey as mine has brought me closer to family, to enjoying life, and resiliency!    

Me riding in April of this year on a soggy day in western PA.

Me riding in April of this year on a soggy day in western PA.