Anyone who's ever doubted the concept of a careless moment changing a life forever should check out the story of Dale Stetina. Once among Colorado's most elite cyclists, he was injured while avoiding a car near Boulder in August 2013. More than a year later, the person who caused the accident -- Longmont's Ryan Dowd -- has entered a guilty plea. But that hardly ends the tale, since Stetina is still grappling with the effects of the incident, which nearly killed him. Photos and details below.
As noted by the Boulder Daily Camera, Dale was a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team; he won the Red Zinger Classic in 1979 and the renamed Coors Classic four years later.
Since then, Stetina has remained an active cyclist, and on August 31 of last year, he was rolling through Lefthand Canyon with a group of fellow riders when Dowd, behind the wheel of a 1999 Jeep, reportedly crossed the center line and drove onto the shoulder on the opposite side of the road, then pulled back into the lane just as Stetina and company came around a bend.
While trying to avoid the Jeep, Stetina fell from his bike -- and in the process, he suffered a traumatic brain-stem injury. He had to be airlifted from the scene and was subsequently placed in a medically induced coma. Once he regained consciousness and was given medical clearance, he began months of rehabilitation at facilities in Denver and Omaha -- and the process has continued since he returned home to Boulder earlier this year.
Dowd, for his part, was scheduled to go on trial beginning today. But the session was canceled after he pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in injury. He's expected to be sentenced next month; he could get up to a year in jail.
Meanwhile, more than a year has passed since Stetina's accident, and to mark the occasion, his son Peter, himself a professional cyclist, penned an update for his dad's CaringBridge.org page. Even though the account is upbeat, it demonstrates how many challenges are still before Stetina. The essay, posted September 4, reads:
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Many people have asked us how Dale is doing since we have been remiss in updating this site. Thank you all for checking in and caring. We hit at the one year mark last weekend - a difficult anniversary for the family. How did we get through this past year? Focusing on the positives of the "roller-coaster" process that marks TBI recovery, and being encouraged by the outpouring support from the community, friends and family. Also, a shout-out to the amazing nurses, therapists, doctors, etc, that have entered our lives; they are very special people doing hard work with so much kindness in their hearts, and we are thankful they have stepped into our lives. Seriously, the support found from each other, family, friends, medical professionals, and each of you, has so graciously helped and showed us love. We are so grateful.
Dale is doing very well! We have a surgical plan in place for his eyes. Although the vision in his right eye will always be limited, we have at least two surgeries over the next couple of months to improve it. Although much, much better, his right leg and arm continue to have spastic movements, which frustrates Dale. His communication skills are still a challenge for all that see Dale regularly as he cannot communicate as succinctly as he'd like. His mental processing speed is slower and multi-tasking is difficult. Nevertheless, many people tell us that in short interactions with Dale, they don't even notice a huge difference from before the accident!
What is amazing is that his intelligence for trading financial markets is unchanged but how he communicates it is different. He is working with an extremely patient friend who has written computer code for Dale's logic and they are in the final back-testing steps now. This has been a huge effort and challenge for all involved, and we are hopeful for positive results.
His dedicated group of friends continue to ride the tandem, hike, and even indoor rock climb with him! His bike handling skills and fitness level are very good. We will post some pictures below. He enjoys walking around Boulder to get to some appointments by himself but can get distracted by long conversations with folks he meets and is late. He says he is working on that but truthfully, he loves to talk so much that it won't change anytime soon!
It is so remarkable to think of one year ago today -- family/friends sitting in the hospital waiting room, hoping for hand-squeezes or eye-flickers, and a flood of condolence cards in the mail from around the country. If we had pictured one year in the future then, our current reality definitely has semblance to the bold and hopeful miracles we prayed/hoped for. Thank you for praying and hoping, with us!
If you'd like to make a donation toward Stetina's continued rehabilitation, click here.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.