Our sport attracts a wealth of impressive age-group athletes with stories that remind us to keep moving when things get tough. Whether it’s bouncing back from a crash or helping others through triathlon, we’ll share some of our favorite stories here. Have your own story to tell? Email us at Shareyourstory@competitorgroup.com.
In the summer of 2009, everything was going according to plan for attorney and triathlete Jessica Purcell. Just three months after their wedding, she and husband Steven Zebrak were doing one last ride on their usual route from their New York City apartment to Nyack, New York, before moving to Washington, D.C. Suddenly, everything changed. Jess was thrown off her bike and hit the back of car stopped at a traffic light. She was left with a severe traumatic brain injury, comatose for weeks, partially paralyzed and with no memory of the accident.
The recovery was slow. Jess underwent brain surgery, multiple facial surgeries to reconstruct her shattered face, and had a feeding tube inserted. She spent weeks in rehab facilities where she began to relearn the most basic of activities, like walking, swallowing, talking and eating. Returning home, Jess was under 24-hour supervision and care as she continued her therapy, and impressed her doctors and therapists when she resumed running just over four months after the crash. Then came the swimming, which required full supervision and a lifeguard every time she entered the pool. Next, her first outdoor ride was in the summer of 2010. Finally, one year to the day from her crash, Jess made her return to multisport, placing sixth in the New York Road Runners Sprint Triathlon.
Jess had more in mind for 2011. She PRed at the Boston Marathon, posting a 3:17:25, and followed that less than two weeks later with 3:21:17 at the Big Sur Marathon, good enough for fourth in the Boston to Big Sur Challenge. But to Jess, the comeback wasn’t complete until last November. With Steve, whom she describes him as her No. 1 main man for everything cheering, Jess completed the 2011 Ironman Arizona in an impressive 11:46:31.
This week she and Steve will be racing the inaugural Ironman New York. One of their many long training rides took them up Route 9W to Bear Mountain, past the Helen Hayes Hospital where Jess spent weeks after her crash. She spoke of how surreal it was to pass there. “I remember looking out the window of my room there in rehab and being so sad that I had never gotten to the top of Bear Mountain,” she says. “Because at the time I thought I would never be allowed to ride a bike again, let alone get to the top of Bear Mountain. It was a great ride, a beautiful ride.”