Keep pedaling

It was 3 years ago this month. The driver who hit me head on immediately fled the carnage, never to be found again.

My bicycle was in pieces. My memories of flying through the air and flopping bloody onto the hard pavement with two colossally ineffective suddenly-broken arms was already hazy. The excruciating pain in my even-more-mangled shoulder, as it smashed past the edge of the windshield, left me fading in and out of lucidity.

An ambulance ride, an intensive four-hour surgery, and 16 screws and titanium plates were all committed to pulling my shattered body back together into one salvaged piece.

16 screws through a titanium plate

But my biggest surprise? All of that was the easy part.

Just twelve months earlier, I thought I was on top of the world. I was living in Tennessee, with my happy wife and kids, in the most beautiful and palatial home I could ever have imagined owning. I was in the best physical condition of my life, training daily and regularly chasing my own new personal bests in cycling rides with my then business partner, famous Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond.

Greg LeMond and me at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where we Licensed Technology in 2016

But sometimes life doesn’t work out as expected.

As of the morning of my fateful bike ride, my life already felt like it had hit the skids. Greg and I had suffered a contentious falling out and parted ways from a challenging business venture. I sold my house and moved my disappointed family back to a temporary rental home in Minnesota. I was busy scraping together plans for a new scrappy startup with a business partner I only barely knew. I felt a bit like the failed prodigal son, depressed, practically homeless, and effectively jobless; only nobody was throwing me a party on my return.

But prior to that lunchtime bike ride, at least I had my health.

So here I was tasting a mouthful of icing on my misery cake. In tandem with an absolutely destroyed body, my overwhelming sense was that the life I knew, my success and independence, my physical strength, my ability to provide for my wife and kids, and my cocky confidence that each day was going to find me crushing it, had literally come crashing to a bloody and tortured end on the pavement.

I lay in a bed with emotional pain that significantly exceeded my rather considerable physical pain. My sense of self and my vision of the future felt even fuzzier than my memory of the accident.

But, as the story goes, the day we hit a rock bottom that is so impossibly hard that we can’t imagine ever rising again, is sometimes the day we finally figure out who we are and what we have.

I got my first genuine glimpse of the future just a few hours into my hospital stay as Roy Collins came strolling through the door. Roy was my new business partner, and happened to be the very first visitor to see me in my shattered state (my wife was still getting our kids’ care sorted). Even as Roy saw a battered, bruised, scratched, devastated lump who barely wanted to lift his head off the pillow, and who wouldn’t be able to use either of his arms for months, he didn’t flee like the driver who hit me. He doubled down.

Roy Collins left, Nicolas Wegener (me) right

When I doubted our future, Roy didn’t. When those two typing (and coding) hands that were the source of my livelihood and of our business partnership were attached to two very broken arms, Roy spent the next few months literally lifting them from my sides and onto the keyboard. So long as my brain still worked, Roy made it clear that he and I could still pursue what was a genuinely innovative new software startup in the hospitality space.

When life chews you up and spits you out, sometimes you really can come back even better than you started. You take that misery icing, spit it out, and start fresh.

While the next 12 months would prove harder than any road ride or any physical challenge I had ever endured, they became a reminder of the things I had taken for granted. They became a testament to the tenacious ways in which drive, desire, and ambition can find a way out of the rubble and into a story and a life of hope and success. They proved that great business ideas can find a pathway to greatness when carried by passionate, persistent, and loyal partners.

I have a loving family who stood by and supported me. I have an unusually strong business partner who proved more heroic than I thought possible and, even without fame and title, became the best business partner I ever had and could have ever imagined. We’re working on a startup that has found its footing and is moving from crawling to sprinting toward its extraordinary potential.

And remember that part about how life doesn’t always work out as you expect?

Well, it was on my ascent back into a life I love that I heard from an unexpected fellow traveler; one who has cycled down the road of unbelievable success, to abject failure and misery, and back up the hill beyond what he could have imagined before. We’ve all heard his story.

Lance Armstrong knows what it’s like to feel on top of the world. He also knows what it’s like when that life comes crashing down around you and how, when all hope seems lost, you still have a choice.

Lance Armstrong didn’t know me, but he knew of me through my connection with his once rival. And no, we aren’t suddenly best pals. The story of my crash was not the stuff of headlines. But Mr. Armstrong heard about it and kindly offered his support and a pep talk about how that which looks like lost success might just have been artifice all along.

Like me, he knows that it’s always possible to find better opportunities, to forge truer connections, and to discover what and who are really important and valuable. With a decision to live a life with hope, humility, effort and optimism, you can climb your way from rock bottom back to a life that is so much more satisfying and honestly successful than the one you had before.

That Cat 1 hill (a big mountain climb for my non cycling friends) you never expected and don’t want to face isn’t easy. But the road of life has plenty of hills. When you get the right block of support around you, you may just find the best, most beautiful and satisfying rides are ahead of you. Just keep pedaling.