Tim Connery - Riding from the Ashes
Tim Connery is 57 years old and was born in Schenectady, New York. He currently resides in Portland, Maine and is an avid cyclist. Cycling is a sport that has always been central to his life, and even more so in recovery. Ride along with Tim and thousands of others in CycleNation, as they work to ride 1 million miles and raise $1 million before World Stroke Day on October 29!
In March 2019, I had a stroke while driving alone, was rendered unconscious, launched off the road into the woods at 60 mph, and shattered my L3 vertebrae when my SUV failed to sustain level flight. At the time, I was helping to care for my 80-year-old father who was himself recovering from major back surgery. As a result of the accident, my life was turned upside down in an instant. After two weeks in ICU and Rehab, I moved in with my Dad, we became “co-mutual caregivers,” and supported each other throughout recovery.
I was what they called in rehab “Dual Diagnosis” which just means they were treating both the stroke and the fracture. What it came to mean to me was, if we couldn’t trace the issue/symptom to the fracture, it must be related to the stroke and vice versa. The medical equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. As a result of the accident, I could not stand or walk nor could I feel my left side. I also had visual and cognitive deficits, most of which I have overcome or adapted to. I felt like life had handed me a big bags of rocks. My first question to my surgeon was “will I be able to ride my bike again?” and his response was something to the effect that “I’m lucky just to be walking.” That was not an acceptable outcome.
It has taken a while for me to acknowledge, but I was blessed by many miracles when I had my accident. In the car behind me were two off-duty EMTs who came to my aid. They told me, and my dashcam later confirmed, that prior to leaving the road, I was drifting into the opposite lane and had several close encounters with a semi-truck at one point. It was a miracle that I was the sole victim. It was also a miracle that I even survived at all. When I pancaked, the weight of my SUV was transferred up my spine, and as my surgeon said, “the force would have killed most people.” But the biggest miracle bestowed upon me was the pairing with my father, at a time when we both needed each other the most.
He and I had always been close, but had spent less and less time with each other as my life was keeping me busy. As a result, moving in with Dad was indeed “going home,” a place I felt I could be nursed back into health. My mother had passed away in the very same house a year prior, and her spirit was still strong. In fact, my Dad and I were both still grieving her, and our new living arrangement gave that grief a place to process, as well as take our minds off our back pain for a while. We went together to visit her gravesite on all the important holidays and birthdays.
For the next year, my Dad and I were inseparable. We went to PT and doctor appointments together. We exercised and walked together, and gently nudged our limits out with each outing. We visited parks, museums, historical sites, and of course bike shops. We even had a chance to bike together that summer as despite doctor’s orders, I was riding some to keep my legs under me. Dad also loves to cook, and I was a major beneficiary of his skills. We had a customary Burger and Beer night, an Italian night, and we had such a good rapport that our barber referred to my Dad as my “Father/Brother.” I liked that. It was truly a gift to have spent this time with him, even if the circumstances which made it possible were unfortunate.
In September 2019, six months after my accident, I finally had surgery to repair my back. It was a bit like setting the recovery clock back to zero. My Dad was well on with his recovery and was able to help me some as I relearned how to stand and walk for the second time that year. I did a second and third round of PT and I walked so much (doctor’s orders) that I wore out my left foot! As a result, I don’t like to ambulate by foot very much these days, but on a bike, I can fly! I themed my recovery #ridingfromtheashes, a cyclist version of the mythical Phoenix. In January 2020, I decided that it was time to get back in the game, and with a little help from mandatory quarantine requirements, I relocated to Portland in February to rekindle a relationship with a woman I knew who was a huge emotional support to me during recovery. With her support and companionship, she and I rode over 3,000 miles together during the COVID lockdown as I got my legs solidly underneath me for the first time since the accident. Since then, in addition to ongoing “rotational therapy,” what I like to call a 3-hour-plus bike ride, I have been spending my time volunteering for AHA and the Bicycling Coalition of Maine as I seek to support stroke awareness and cycling advocacy. I would like my next professional opportunity to be one that allows me to merge both into a meaningful career.
My Message: In recovery, I was struck when I learned that 80% of all strokes can be avoided. As I reconstructed what happened to me, I realized that I had actually had the stroke during the previous night. I was exhibiting symptoms, and even while I could recognize them, and others that I spoke with the next morning even told me I wasn’t well, I was so task-focused that day that I was in full denial. I got behind the wheel when I shouldn’t have, and I am lucky I did not kill myself or anyone else in the process. I later learned that there was a bit of survivor psychology going on, but I was left with another statistic. While 80% of strokes are preventable, my accident was 100% avoidable if I had been able to fully recognize my symptoms and understand the consequences. Part of my remaining mission in this life is to help others avoid what happened to me.
I am so grateful that my journey has taken me to Maine. I have always loved the Atlantic coast, and I am struck by the proximity to both the mountains and the sea here in Maine. While I will always be “from away,” I found my legs here, a new lease on life, and I could not have picked more scenic backdrop to begin the next chapter of my life. My Dad is doing well. I have not been able to see him since I moved north, but we are in frequent contact, and our bond remains strong. I have come to terms with why I was spared, and the people who are in my life now are the reason that my work is unfinished here.