News

Duathlon champ makes a world comeback after near-fatal crash

Palo Alto bicyclist and runner George Pierce will compete again in Duathlon World Championships

Palo Alto bicyclist and runner George Pierce doesn't remember anything about the collision with a truck that almost killed him, but he is very clear about what saved him: faith, forgiveness and an unrelenting refusal to succumb to fear.

Pierce was riding his bicycle on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park near Interstate 280 when a teenager in a large pickup truck struck him from behind. The accident broke Pierce's neck and back and left him with difficulty walking.

Pierce, 54, had been a world champion in the first World Biathlon (now called the World Duathlon, which is a long distance run-bike-run competition) in 1989 and was a silver medalist in the second year. But after the accident, it seemed as though his 26-year career as a professional duathlete was through.

But he never gave up trying to get back into the race.

"After the accident, I said, 'Geez, what am I going to do with my life? I'm going to make a comeback. I'm going to show people how to do it,'" he said.

Pierce has made good on his promise. He will compete again in the Duathlon World Championships in Adelaide, Australia, on Oct. 18. The race brings together 1,200 competitors from 30 countries.

It's the fifth year in a row that he has competed at the national level within his age group since the 2010 accident. Faith and capacity to forgive are why he's back, he said.

When Pierce wound up in the emergency room, doctors at Stanford Hospital did not want him to leave. But after 36 hours he insisted on going home.

Doctors warned him that his neck injury, high up in the C2 vertebra near the skull, could result in a stroke or paralysis. But Pierce, a Christian Scientist, wanted to heal quietly through prayer and physical therapy on his own, he said. He promised the doctors that he would "take responsibility for myself," regardless of the outcome.

It wasn't until later, after experiencing much pain while sitting, that he learned he also had multiple fractures in his lower spine. For the next two months, Pierce could only walk by holding onto his wife's shoulder for support when they strolled the neighborhood, he said.

To heal, he slept in a recliner, worked with a chiropractor and always prayed, he said.

"A big part of it was forgiveness and not being victimized," he said. "Forgiving, that brought the healing faster -- not holding a grudge. It was spiritual healing.

"I had a desire to show people that it is possible. Don't give up in life; don't feel victimized. You can do it," he said.

Pierce has been involved with sports and health his entire adult life, he said. A serial entrepreneur, he participated in five startups and was CEO of most of them. One company, Active Health Solutions, helped employees get in shape through a financial compensation program, reducing health care premium costs for companies, he said.

After the accident, he again turned to helping people with health issues. He helped a startup that aided people recovering from stroke. But he also set a one-year goal to race again.

Pierce took a year off from work to train for the 2011 Duathlon nationals with the financial support of his family and church, he said. Training for races gave him skills to help his recovery.

"You train to be out of body, to break all the fears and limitations, to overcome self-imposed limitations. Sports becomes a way to purge yourself," he said.

But he wasn't sure he could get back to the same place mentally to compete, he said.

"I thought, 'I'm going to face my fears. I'm going to face that down and I'm going to win,'" he explained.

Pierce ranked eighth in nationals, then seventh in the world in his age category, and this will be his fifth year racing annually in the world championships.

The duathlon is "exhilarating," he said.

"I can't go a day without doing some form of training. You get unplugged, you and your bike and your shoes and your spiritual essence. You can be quiet and pray. I'm not listening to music -- I'm not listening to anything. I just am."

In Australia, Pierce and his wife, who is accompanying him, "will give it our best shot," he said.

And when they return, he plans to pursue a new project: He's working to invent a new kind of footwear that will be easier to get in and out of.

The shoes will be especially useful to Special Olympics athletes, stroke survivors and persons with limited mobility, he said.

"It's helping people stay active. I've spent my whole life doing that," he said. "It's a continuation of my mission."

Comments

19 people like this
Posted by Feel for You!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2015 at 8:32 am

I have been hit while bike-riding three times, all three in Palo Alto, all three drivers were residents. Two were inexperienced foreign drivers, driving on international ( but not CA ) drivers licenses; one an SV exec on his cell phone, driving a Mercedes with illegally dark tinted windows. All three claimed not to have seen me.

The last one turned left illegally and hit me broadside, dislocating my knee, which was so badly destroyed the tendons and ligaments could not heal after a year, requiring a knee replacement. The replacement became infected shortly after leaving Stanford Hospital-- the beginning of a five-year recovery. During this time, I was forced to end my career as a professional equestrian ( show jumping, dressage) and professional trainer of horses and A-level riders.

The frustration and rage, alternating with sadness, depression, AND a sense of deep loss, were overwhelming. Even today, nine years later, I have weekly nightmares followed by anger and depression.

I have lost the things I loved doing the most: owning, training, and caring for horses, riding top-notch horses professionally, traveling, teaching dedicated students, competing, bike-riding, hiking, yoga.......I have even list the ability to do some mundane things, such as climbing stairs, ladders, walking my dogs, running ( if I ever have to escape an armed pusher, I'm toast!), cardio workouts.......

I know how Pierce must have felt; yet, an artificial joint replacement simply cannot do the things a natural one can, and is much more affected by daily wear and tear: the procedure will have to be repeated in 10-12 more years, and then a third time some 20 years after that, should I live that long. I started out with loads of enthusiasm for my "comeback", until reality set in.

And yet, the pain, inconvenience, losses, and medical bills go on long after the settlement has run out, with no end in sight.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 5, 2015 at 8:51 am

Best wishes to the victim of this crash.
Was the truck driver ever charged for running into him from behind?


Like this comment
Posted by Susan Spears
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2015 at 11:41 am

Thank you for sharing this story of local Palo Alto athlete George Pierce! I first read his story on Community Digital News written by Eric Nelson. I think the most important part of this story is how George Pierce relied on God for healing - and that his healing was complete and he was able to compete again at championship levels. Here's the link to Eric Nelson's article: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Mmmm, well...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 5, 2015 at 2:01 pm

I truely believe in the power of positive thinking and outlook when battling illnesses. It was his faith in his god that helped him. It was not "God".

The same story can be told in the Muslim world with people and their faith in Allah. Even the agnostics will tell stories of healing and help through faith in the goodness of others as well as good old fashioned positive thinking.

It was not one of the imaginary magical men in the sky, but one's faith in the goodness of that. In other words, we have the power to help heal ourselves.
Just remember it is the faith in positiveness, not the magic spells.


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