Colleen Kelly Alexander is a triathlete and motivational speaker.
After undergoing brain surgery in 2007 for a chiari malformation, Colleen overcame a lupus and cryoglobulinemia diagnosis in 2009, pushing forward to become a successful, competitive triathlete.
In 2011, while on a routine bike ride, Colleen was run over by a freight truck, and after five weeks in a coma and twenty-nine surgeries later, Colleen survived. Rather than let the trauma and PTSD control her life, she became determined to find a way to make something positive from her pain. This is her story.
There are some things you learn when you get run over by a freight truck.
It was a beautiful autumn day and I had just opened up a great new chapter in my life: I was a 36-year-old newlywed with a fulfilling job where I knew I was making a difference in kids’ lives, and my husband and I were doing triathlons together and talking about starting a family. Things were finally going according to plan—and then the plan got set on fire, courtesy of an impatient driver who blew a stop sign.
But you learn.
Mostly, you learn how to be grateful for every tiny thing you probably took for granted before. You spend a lot of time lying down in hospital beds with nothing but your thoughts, and that can go one of two ways: You can drown in your own sorrow (which I did for some time), or you can realise that even with the pain, the permanent disfigurement, the nightmares, and the limitations, life is still not only worthwhile but beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong: I would rather have learned that lesson without getting flattened on the street, but that’s how it went.
All my life, I’d defined myself as an athlete—a cyclist, mostly, considering that my dad owned a bike shop and I’d practically grown up there learning about bike mechanics. I wasn’t even four when I got on my first bike. In my twenties, I’d already had to deal with significant health challenges that affected my competitive abilities.
But I could not have pictured the absolute derailment of my life that was to come, and I could not have imagined getting through it and smiling at the end of it all. In the thick of it, there were many days and nights when I wished I had just died on the road rather than endure the constant daily pain and humiliation of a body that could no longer function without machinery and tubes and bags.