Indiana Daily Student

Back on the bike

A reckless driver left Cutters rider Eric Brodell broken and bloodied on the shoulder of State Road 446 last October. Confined to his hospital bed, the freshman made a decision: By Jan. 1, he would ride again.

Eric Brodell
Eric Brodell

Eric Brodell remembers when the car hit him. He remembers his body smashing the left headlight and the front windshield. He remembers being pitched into the open air. The freshman Cutters rider remembers it all.

It was Oct. 13, and Brodell and three of his Cutters teammates were on a normal training ride on State Road 446. Brodell led the pack in a two-by-two formation as the team traveled southeast on the highway. Thirty minutes into the planned two- to three-hour ride, a Honda Accord barreled toward the Cutters.

Before Brodell had time to react, the driver lost control, swerving across the rain-slicked pavement and into the opposite lane. The car smashed into Brodell and hit teammates Eric Young and Michael Schroeder.

“Everything seemed so surreal when the car hit me,” Brodell says.

His mind went blank, but Brodell’s teammates remember his body flying into the air and landing 20 feet away. Looking at their friend crumpled on the shoulder of the road and bleeding from the leg, they couldn’t believe he was still alive.

“I could tell it was full-on screwed up,” Young says.

In the ambulance, every bump sent pain surging through Brodell’s body. The ride to the IU Health Bloomington Hospital seemed to take forever, and the whole time he feared for his leg. A serious injury could compromise his chance to ride in the Little 500 race.

Brodell met the Cutters by pure chance one day in June when he was in town for freshman orientation. He saw a Cutters jersey hanging up on the wall of Scholars Inn Bakehouse and asked the manager if she knew anything about the team.
 
Young happened to be sitting in the restaurant with teammates, and the manager introduced the soon-to-be freshman to the group. They exchanged contact information, and he started to ride with them in the fall.
 
When he arrived on campus, Brodell was new to cycling. An Indiana native, he picked up the sport when he came to college. Whenever he had time before or after class, he would jump on his white Giant road bike and trek for as many hours and miles as he could.

Riding in the Little 500, he says, was not his initial goal.

In the fall, Brodell began to bike with the Cutters on easy-paced rides. He started to find his stride with the team.

It was these teammates — and Brodell’s other friends — that made his six-day stay in the hospital bearable. Their visits were the best part of his day. They motivated him to think positively and try to forget the accident.

“It was excruciating watching him on the hospital bed,” Brodell’s roommate Joey Lamb says. “I knew he was in pain, but he refused to show it.”
 
Confined to a hospital bed, the only thing Brodell wanted to do was get back on his bike and enjoy the feeling of pushing the pedals.

“Some people worry about dying when they’re in the hospital,” Brodell says. “The only thing I was thinking was how many days until I could start riding my bike again.”

After three successful surgeries to repair torn muscles and ligaments, Brodell set a personal deadline: He would be back on his bike by Jan. 1.
 
The first steps weren’t easy. A stiff, straight-leg cast covered his entire left leg and prevented him from bending it.
 
Because of his mobility problems, Brodell was forced to temporarily move out of his dorm room in Forest and live in a campus apartment. His mom drove down from their home in West Lafayette to help take care of him.Immobile for the first time in his life, the cyclist relied on a campus shuttle to attend classes.

Doctors weren’t optimistic about his prognosis. It was going to take a long time for Brodell to walk on his own. The idea of getting back on a bike anytime before the summer, they said, was “foolish.”

Physicians prescribed physical therapy five times a week — intensive two-hour sessions testing the limitation of his movement. Doctors asked him to move his leg as far as he could without his brace on. Slowly, they would force his leg to bend farther and farther until the pain became excruciating.
 
More than the impact of the car or the bumpy ride to the hospital, bending his leg was the most painful part of the accident — and he did it every day.
 
Brodell refused to let pain get in the way of his plans. He was going to ride his bike by the new year. There was no doubt in his mind.

Slowly, he noticed encouraging changes in his life. After two and half weeks, Brodell no longer needed his mother’s help and moved back into Forest. He also began to regain movement in his leg — first bending 45 degrees, and then 90.

“When I first bent my leg to 90 degrees, it was so difficult, but so rewarding,” Brodell says. “Every little inch that I got was a huge success to me and that’s what kept me going.”

Brodell’s leg healed more quickly than expected, and his confidence grew. He decided to join the Cutters on a winter break training trip to Florida, even thought he would be forced to watch from the sidelines.

As his teammates trained, he felt his deadline creep closer. On the way back, during a stop in North Carolina, Brodell forced himself on a bike. It was Dec. 28.

The familiar feeling of the wind in his face and his legs pumping in a circular motion felt good at first. The Carolina hills are known for steep inclines and hard riding, but Brodell pushed through the pain. The burn was a reminder of how far he had come. The fatigue was a sign of how much work was ahead.

He took the five-hour ride as a sign that his body was ready for training. In addition to rehabilitation, Brodell began biking by himself and doing light weight training.
 
Still, the pain lingered. By late January, all of his training had re-aggravated his injuries. It wasn’t until March that he was in good enough shape to ride with his team again.

This year, his role in the Little 500 race is still uncertain. What Brodell is sure of, however, is that in a year, he will still wake up with scars. He will still have pain in his left leg. And, come Little 500, he will be with his teammates, not in the back of an ambulance.

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