Monday, December 21, 2009

7 Safety Moment : Crashing & Breaking Your C1 Vertebra

When I hear of amazing tales of bicycling injuries and recoveries, I always think 'wow, do some folks have a disproportionate amount of lucky stars stashed somewhere in their basement?' Maybe that's why I don't have so much luck. Could others may have more than me?'

Lucky stars it is as today's mind blowing story comes all the way from Florida.

Sandy Scott is a champion Master racer from Florida and well known in cycling circles. He's an aeronautical engineer by schooling and worked as an airline pilot for many years. He also had a stand as a motorcycle cop for a period of time. Today in retired life, his interests are varied from tattoo modeling, to fishing, or from photography to writing for the Florida Racing Magazine. Somewhere along in there, he also manages devote a serious amount of time to training in order to win local bike races.

In Oct 2005, Sandy was racing toward his goal of winning the Florida Senior Games time trials when he was involved in a horrible accident. Keep in mind that time trial bikes are not designed to be very maneuverable. To avoid a person who stepped in front of his bike during the 10K time trial, he swerved suddenly, sending him flying over the handlebars and landing headfirst on the pavement.

Post crash, one witness told him that his rear disk wheel had gone completely airborne after he swerved. Another remarked that his front wheel had been turned 90 degrees to the path of the bike before he went flying over the bars. Whatever it was that caused the crash, Sandy recalls that the one thing that probably saved his life was his Louis Garneau helmet, that split right from the top.

After the incident, he temporarily lost his memory and didn't even remember racing his bike. Two days after he was admitted to hospital, an orthopedic spine surgeon took a look at his CT scans and MRIs and admitted with difficulty that he had one of the rarest and most fatal of all neck fractures - a C1 breakage. This is a type of injury where many residual deaths occur even after treatment because the breathing pipe work is usually situated around the fracture area and victims are often found unable to breathe a little too late.

Anyway, the surgeon told him that their options would be to try and fuse the C1 to the base of the skull or fuse it to the C2 vertebra. Sandy mulled it over. The outcome of the operation would be that he would lose 50% of his neck mobility. He wasn't ready to compromise something like that for bike racing. He chose not to have surgery!! But the resilience of the human body was somehow with him after that ballsy decision. 9 months later, a CAT scan revealed that the 2mm gap in his C1 fracture had somehow miraculously healed!

Now, 18 months later, the 66-year-old has made a tremendous comeback. In December of 2009, he came back and won the Florida State 20K Road Race Championship. He now rides his bike 20 hours a week, trains in the gym and still kicks butt at the local circuit.

Here's a snippet of Sandy's mail to me. He describes a little of his treatment process for those who are interested in the medical tidbits of such cases :

"They immediately fitted me with a hard brace which I wore for the next 5 months. I started immediately training 70 minutes a day on my trainer. I wanted to win a state championship and I was not about to lose my conditioning over even a broken neck. Ultimately, it was thought that the fracture was going to be a non union and the physician released me with the admonition that if I fell, I could die. I still rode with the fastest group in town with a fractured neck and one day an accident happened in front of me where a bike came flying through the air towards me, and I thought, "Oh, no, this is it." It hit me hard on the leg and opened a deep cut. I managed to stay upright.

It ultimately healed in 9 months, and I commenced regular physical therapy to regain my mobility. 14 hours total. In the piece that I sent you I relate meeting of a local chiropractor on the road who knew my story and told me he could help me. At that point, I could not ride my time trial bicycle in that I could not lift my head high enough to see where I was going. Two day a week treatments for a couple of months allowed me to finally be able to ride that TT bike, and months later, I was riding it almost comfortably.

My case was so unique that Dr. Weinstein, the spinal surgeon I found when I refused to have my neck fused as recommended by my first physician, presented my case to a large group of Orthopedic & Neuro Surgeons and Radiologists. My physical therapist thought the case was so amazing, she presented my case at a big convention of physical therapists in Las Vegas. Many of these people have never even seen a C1 fracture in their practices."

Wanting to tell about his injury and how he recovered, trained and won 13 races after his comeback, he co-authored a book titled "From Broken Neck To Broken Records". For those of you in his age category and anyone looking for motivation, the book will be an inspiring read.

Additionally, there is a radio interview at Growing Bolder. The hosts discuss with him about his long road to recovery, including his controversial decision to forgo surgery.

Its an honest and revealing talk from someone who probably wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for some serious luck, some great doctors, and a no-questions-asked winning mindset. And according to his own admission, he probably wouldn't have that mindset if it weren't for the helmet he wore. Little things add up and make a huge difference.

* * *


  1. I'm a engineer myself and I'm not sure what it is about engineers but our lot just love to learn life long. Its just something about us, the way our brains are wired I don't know. Anyway this is an awesome article on Scott.

  2. Sandy just emailed me to let me know that you'd published an article about his crash and recovery. As always, you've done a fantastic job! Congratulations!

    I am glad that you took the time to do this as he's an incredible individual and his efforts surely deserve recognition. I haven't met Sandy in person yet, just through emails and Facebook, and he is indeed an amazing guy. I received my copy of his book late last week and am almost half-way through it. Written in an entertaining fashion and with enough gold nuggets and training tips that makes you wish no one else would read it, although of course you want him to have great success selling it. I hope, one of these days, to shake Sandy's hand and have him sign my copy.

  3. Alan R.11:06 PM

    What a story!!! I loved the interview on the radio. Hard to belive the guy's in his 60's. He sounds like a young guy. I hope I'm half as active when I'm that age. I will get a copy of the book. I need all the help I can get to get faster on the bike -- LOL.

  4. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story. It might be a little late but I have placed the book on my wish list.

    I also want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and I'm looking forward to following your interesting stories and posts in 2010.

  5. Groover : Likewise, season's greetings to you and family. I'm sure you will enjoy the book! Merry Christmas and happy 2010!

  6. Wow - amazing, and a bit scary, story.

    Very cool this guy is still riding and racing.

  7. Anonymous8:27 PM

    I had c1 and c2 fuszed together with bone from the back part of my hip in october 1999. I was passanger on a 4wheeler that pulled out infront of a car, I was 16 at the time and when i got hit i flew 74ft through the air after my head hit the windsheild. I was in acoma for about 5 1/2 weeks nobody knew if i could move or anything. I dont remember anything til about 2 months after oct. I could not eat (was fed through a tube in my stomach) I could not walk and i have no idea what went on for over 2months. I had a bad head injury, I will always have a bad head injury, but by some sorta miracle I am the way i am. Its amazing and i know it is to have had c1 and c2 fuszed together with bone from the back of your hip. Is that really rare? And after flyin 74 for feet trough the air after your head hit the windsheild. But belive it or not I am fine. The average person. I do here some weird noises in my neckk sometimes but other that im good. please write back i have never talked to someone who broke c1 c2. After reading this its really amzing what i lived through thnak god for my mother who was my nurse the hole time i was in acoma. she is an RN/BSN tell me what you think


Thank you. I read every single comment.