A month after she was paralyzed in a fall, Austin triathlete Laurie Allen is already plotting how she can return to racing.
Allen, 44, was soaking in a hot tub with friends on Feb. 27 when she got out to cool off. The side was icy, and with no railing behind her she fell 10 feet, fracturing a vertebrae and tearing ligaments in her neck.
“You would think it would be a bike crash, but no,” she said this week from her room at St. David’s Rehabilitation Center.
Allen underwent neck surgery the morning after the fall and stayed in intensive care until March 4, when she moved to the rehab center.
Initially she couldn’t move anything below her shoulders, but now she has good function in her arms. She’s also gaining sensation in her right leg and her trunk. Her fingers and triceps don’t work well, but she’s still making improvements. Doctors say they will discharge her in about two weeks.
Allen, who works for a software company, says triathlon is her life. She entered her first, the Danskin Triathlon, 14 years ago. “I don’t know what happened during that race, but it was the most empowering thing I had ever done,” she said. “I just love the sport and am just passionate about it.”
Since then she’s finished nine Ironmans, nine half Ironmans and about 75 total
triathlons, plus a slew of ultra distance runs, cyclocross bike races and adventure races. As an age group competitor, she has made it to the podium occasionally.
Allen said this week she hopes to return to work as soon as possible – and race again someday. She’s already looking at options for hand cycles and racing wheelchairs.
“I absolutely intend to come back to triathlon,” she said. “My goal this year is to figure out where I can still volunteer, in my current condition, for High Five Events so I can stay involved in the triathlon community.”
Laurie’s husband Matt is journaling about Laurie’s progress. He’s written about how getting fitted for a wheelchair isn’t that different from getting fitted for a bike. Despite his wife’s remarkably positive outlook, he admits they’ve gone through periods of despair. One morning last week, the reality of what she faces sunk in a little – she can’t sit up, dress herself, bathe or go to the gym and work out on her own.
“We don’t spend a lot of time in the bad place,” he wrote in his blog, “but sometimes you just need to acknowledge the bad thing before you put it away for a while.”
This week he created an online account where people can log all their runs, swims and rides for Laurie during the month of April.
A fund to help the couple defray the cost of remodeling their home to accommodate a wheelchair and to pay for experimental stem cell surgery also has been created. To donate, go here. To follow Laurie’s progress through her husband’s blog, go here.
“It’s a huge life change, but I have a huge support system,” Laurie Allen said Tuesday. “My husband is an absolute rock star and has been with me almost 24-7 since it happened. I have a roomful of people up here every night and it’s predominantly my triathlon family.”