Welcome to week six of my 2,500 mile bike ride I’m calling Cycling for Good. This week I’m riding in honor of Andrew Powell and his fight to recover from devastating injuries and to return to running and triathlon. Learn about AP and the Challenged Athlete Foundation. And you’ll have a chance to make a difference, too.
A Seed leads to a Full Blown Love for Running
AP grew up in Atlanta, and like many guys, played football in high school. As he reached his twenties, he saw a few pounds creep on once the days of high school activities and football were past. He decided to jog a bit to improve his fitness. It served its purpose – he got in better shape. His aunt Sandra loved running the Peachtree Road Race, and a year after he started jogging, she talked him into running Atlanta’s premier road race.
AP’s first Peachtree Road Race was all it took – he was hooked. His initial stab at jogging turned into a love of running. Within a few years, he was setting personal bests at all distances – a 17 minute 5k, a 36 minute 10k, a 1:21 half marathon and a sub-three hour marathon. He loved it, and he was really good at it.
After a personal best marathon, he was enticed into giving an ultramarathon trail race a try. (An ultramarathon is a race longer than 26.2 miles, usually at least 31 miles). And not just any ultramarathon – a really hard race. One involving strick time cut-offs, technical trail running and mountains to climb – the Mountain Mist 50k. His first try was a learning experience, but he came back ten more times to challenge himself to do better. And he did.
Since starting to run in the late 1990s, AP has finished more than 60 marathons and ultramarathons (more than 30 each).
And he didn’t stop there. He completed two ironman races in Florida and Coeur d’Alene Idaho. (An ironman race is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run.) It was not all easy. Along the way, he found that he needed to have a pacemaker to properly regulate his heart beat.
He was fast, he loved it all and that love took him into a perfect job – general manager of Atlanta’s most well known running store chain – Big Peach Running Company.
He had a wife, Sandra, he loved and a job he loved.
He also loved seeing other people grow and develop their passion for running and triathlon, including his brother in law, Frank Guinn. AP trained with Frank for the New Orleans Half Ironman (NOLA 70.3) scheduled April 12, 2014. (A race consisting of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run.)
Tragedy Strikes in An Instant
On the day before the 2014 NOLA 70.3, AP and Frank decided to go for a short, easy spin on their bikes to check out part of the course. While riding, they were hit by a 34 year driver traveling 71 mph. Frank was killed in the crash, and AP was left with major spinal cord injuries. Frank’s death left his wife Kim and triplet daughters without a husband and father.
AP had to endure three major surgeries at a hospital in New Orleans, before being transferred to the Shepard Spinal Center in Atlanta to begin the long road to recovery. AP spent the next two months living at the Atlanta rehabilitation facility.
This speedy ultramarathon runner and ironman, was faced with the possibility that he might never walk unaided again. After the wreck, it took him months to learn to walk. And a further blow – due to his injuries, he quit his job as a general manager at Big Peach.
On July 4th, 2014, during the Peachtree Road Race, AP sat in front of Shepherd receiving hugs from his runner friends, never knowing if he would be with them again. “I’ll run this or I’ll be in a wheelchair rolling it,” AP told a local reporter.
Hours of rehab and suffering, and two and a half months later, AP returned to the Big Peach Kennesaw store for the unthinkable – a run. Surrounded by scores of friends and family, he ran. It wasn’t as easy as it once was. He wasn’t as fast. But AP ran. “If I had my choice between the worst run ever and no run at all, I’d take the worst run ever,” he says.
In the fall of 2014, AP decided to train with Frank’s wife, Kim, to do what Frank had set out to do – complete NOLA Ironman 70.3.
So AP and Kim began the long training road to the 2015 NOLA 70.3. Training was hard. AP developed post-traumatic stress disorder, triggered now by the same things he used to love. Running was now something very hard. It hurts in ways it never did before. He has a titanium rod in his back. His hip is held together with what, under an X-ray, looks like a bike chain. Each step is a reminder that he isn’t what he once was.
Biking is its own challenge. While easier on his body, it can trigger PTSD. A panic attack forced him to pull over during one of the few street rides he has tried since the crash, he said.
Despite these challenges, with the support of his wife Sandra, Kim and AP toed the line at NOLA 70.3 in late April 2015. It may have been his slowest race of that distance ever, but both he and Kim crossed the finish line and completed Frank’s mission. And they did it surrounded by love and support of friends and family.
Living with His Injuries
AP recently wrote: “Things will never be the same for any of our family. I hurt almost every day in my back and hip. I can’t feel my left calf and foot, it feels like it is numb or asleep. I have other scars that I can’t or won’t share [publicly]. I am dealing with PTSD from the accident. . . . my wife Sandra . . . has had to carry that weight. She is the strongest person that I know but even for a Superhero this weight can be overwhelming.”
AP has a tattoo that reminds him: “no matter how much it hurts or how dark it gets, you are never out of the fight.”
And there is no doubt that AP is not out of fight. Not only did he complete the 2015 NOLA 70.3, he is eager to start training for another event. And he has started a new chapter in his work life, allowing him to continue to work in the sport he loves and help others strive for and reach their goals. AP joined Orion Racing, a company dedicated to running. AP will help manage and organize running events like his beloved Peachtree Road Race.
AP has been inspired in his journey by the Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF), that helps people with physical challenges, like AP, to challenge themselves athletically. By doing so, they gain benefits well beyond physical fitness – confidence, love of challenge and love of life.
Donate to Help Challenged Athletes Realize Their Potential
I am dedicating my ride this week to AP. He inspires me and those around him to accept with bravery the cards that life deals us, yet to never give up on our dreams. Please support me and AP in this effort by donating to the Challenged Athletes Foundation®.
I’ve built a fund to match contributions made by you and your network during my ride up to $7,000 – so don’t miss this chance to help!
The Challenged Athletes Foundation®
It is the mission of CAF to provide opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. CAF believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life. Learn more about CAF.