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Susan Lacke learns the true story behind her partner’s heroic response to a bike crash—and redefines her definition of romance.
“…so I was sitting there in the emergency room, doped up on pain meds while the nurse was picking gravel out of my ass. Suddenly, Neil came running in, breathless and sweaty from crossing the finish line. My knight in shining armor!”
My girlfriends swooned with a collective “Aww!” and the guys at the table gave my partner Neil a thumbs-up as I recounted the story of how he rushed to my side after I crashed my bike in a triathlon in 2011. The crash snapped the top tube of my bike, and fractured my pelvis, and embedded gravel in places where gravel should never be embedded. As the paramedics loaded me up into the ambulance, I coughed out Neil’s name between heaving sobs and pleas for strong pain medicines.
“He’s on the half-Iron course! Find him! FIND HIM!”
And find him, they did. Upon hearing the love of his life was in the hospital, Neil abandoned the run leg of his half-Iron race and rushed to the hospital. My hero.
Since the crash two years ago, I’ve told that story dozens of times. After all, who doesn’t love a story about a hot boy with a heroic streak? The girls always swoon, and the guys make a mental note: Chicks dig heroes.
“Ahem. Uh, babe? That’s not quite what happened.” Neil whispered, averting his eyes.
“Sure it is!” I laughed dubiously to our dining companions. “Can you believe this guy? He’s so humble!”
“No, I think your recollection is a little off,” he patted my hand condescendingly, “but it’s understandable. You were high as a kite.”
As it turned out, part about him DNFing the race was true, but it had nothing to do with my crash. Since he had an Ironman coming up in just a few weeks, his coach had told him to treat the race as a catered swim/bike training day. A healing calf injury plus incredibly hot weather meant Neil was to play it safe instead of risking his health so close to race day.
“Well, that’s not so bad! It was all meant to be, then! You were able to get to the hospital sooner!”
“Uh, yeah. About that…”
“Well, I didn’t come right to the hospital.”
“I stopped at Taco Bell first.”
My face turned a deep shade of red. “WHAT?”
“Well, I was hungry.”
“I was in the emergency room,” I stammered, “and you…you went to get a chalupa?”
“The race director told me you were being taken care of by the doctor. I figured I’d just be waiting anyway. And I was hungry.”
“But you were sweaty when you got to the hospital!”
“Well, yeah. I got the extra-spicy hot sauce.”
I stared at him blankly. “I was in the emergency room. They cut my tri shorts off. I could have been dead. Pantsless and dead.”
“What do your pants have to do with it?”
“Don’t try to change the subject!”
In the days following this bombshell, I fumed as I thought about the deception that had taken place for the past two years. All this time, I had been bragging about my hero, the man who rushed to my side at the hospital, drove me home and supported me as I stumbled to bed, bought ginger ale when the pain medicines made me nauseous, and found ways to entertain me while I was confined to the couch.
I softened as I recalled how he slowed down for every single bump in the road as he drove us places, knowing the jostling of the car would be painful for my still-healing hip. I smiled as I remembered his reaction to my leopard-print cane when I finally became more mobile— shocked laughter, followed by “Let’s take this out for a celebration! Dinner’s on me!”
When I finally healed up, Neil helped me purchase a replacement bike and rode alongside for the first few short rides, protecting me from traffic and helping me face my fears of being on the road again.
At that memory, I swooned. My hero.
In relationships, we tend to get caught up in the grand gestures and storybook moments. Placing too much emphasis on the big acts can sometimes mean disappointment if we learn the story behind the grand gesture was not what we assumed.
Even worse, choosing to focus on those big moments desensitize us to the things that really matter—the small, day-to-day gestures that make a relationship run smoothly. Maybe your partner always tunes up your bike before races, or perhaps she makes sure your favorite ice cream is always in the freezer after your long runs. The little moments often go by unacknowledged. When was the last time you thanked your partner for picking up more gels?
Though my memory of the bike crash has been reframed, I still tell the story to friends. This time, we all share a laugh about Neil’s detour to Taco Bell. When I talk about great he was during my recovery, the girls swoon and the guys give him a thumbs-up. I squeeze his hand under the table and smile.
Chicks dig heroes, indeed.