If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 first. It is at this link: Engineering a Comeback from a Life-Altering Event.
Lying on his back in Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas in October 1981 after losing most of his right leg in a railroad accident, David Crittenden Walker was scared. Of dying. Of never walking again. Of the pain. About the look of worry on the faces of his family and friends. They were staying overnight with him for the first week. He was getting Demerol shots every four hours, and they were “wonderful,” he said, because it blocked the pain. But that last hour before the next shot was excruciating. He would get loopy, then pass out. Because it’s so addictive (think opioid crisis), he had to be weaned off it as soon as possible. He also started having some hallucinations which freaked him out. His brain had to make sense of his new reality. David was 17 years old, and all of a sudden, he only had one leg. How the fuck does anyone live with that?
There was a huge poster in the room, signed by all his friends. It was full of stuff: flowers, stuffed animals, pictures. Manifestations of the love people felt for him. But he started hearing voices from all the stuff in his hospital room. He’d watch the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and one night he kept repeating the monologue in his head to drown out the voices in his head. The voices kept repeating, “David knows.” He was talking to a nurse, but he couldn’t tell her about the voices. It was pure mental torture, and he was exhausted from sleep and withdrawal from the Demerol. But eventually that long night, he began to understand what the voice meant: “David knows… whose fault it is that he lost his leg.” It was his own damn fault.
This was a transformative revelation. It meant that no one else was to blame for the accident. It was his higher self, telling him that he had to take responsibility. This was heady stuff for a teenager. He survived the night and then went through withdrawal. He had to embrace the trials of a difficult passage, like navigating a ship through a field of icebergs. It was a new challenge, the toughest he had to face in his young life. But David Walker was no shrinking flower, and he fought though pain and did rehabilitation. He got into an amputee support group. His attitude was that he would refuse to let losing his leg sink him. It was a problem to be solved. The pain subsided, the wound healed, and he got better on crutches. He was making his comeback.
“No More Soccer,” but There’s This Thing Called a Bicycle
After experimenting for a long time with prosthetics that would allow him to run again, eventually he had to let that goal go. It just wouldn’t work with the damage that had been done. One day in the late 1990’s, David was working at Applied Materials, and some of his co-workers were doing the MS 150, an annual fundraising ride for Multiple Sclerosis. It is an arduous 170 miles over two days from Houston to Austin. The $6 million dollars raised annually goes for treating patients and research toward a cure.
“It sounded insane and ridiculous,” he said.
But they inspired him. He got a mountain bike and would go out and ride, coming home scratched and bruised from falling. David had put on some excess weight, so he teamed up with is his sister and wife to do the Weight Watchers program, and that the reward for completing Weight Watchers would be a new road bike, so that eventually he could do the MS 150.
But he realized that he wasn’t ready for such a long and arduous ride. He didn’t want to be a burden, so he didn’t do the MS ride. He kept riding, getting stronger, and learned how to fix his own flats, and he got to a point where he did not have to walk up hills. One day, he did a 40-mile ride, a personal best to that point. It was exhausting and slow, but he finally got his new road bike. That’s where his bicycling career took off.
A Milestone: His First Century Ride
In the early 2000’s, David began doing charity rides. First was the Ride for the Roses, and then he signed up for the Rosedale Charity ride. He was a planner and problem-solver, so he was loaded down with snacks and water. He left before dawn, and it took all day, but he rode to and from the ride to make 108 miles total. A first century! He was naturally excited by this major accomplishment most people who ride bicycles who have two original legs never do. He became involved with the charity and asking friends to donate. That gave him a goal and accountability.
And then he decided he was finally ready for the big one. In 2004, David signed up for the 20th anniversary of the MS 150, the 170-mile suffer fest. But he was anxious and worried he would not finish. The big day came, and he started the ride in Houston with his team but then immediately lost track of them. So, he just did what he came for: he just kept pedaling. He was riding alone for most of it, gutting it out mile after mile. Stopping for rest, food and water, but continually getting back on the horse. He had trained enough and he did well. Finally he finished! He did it!
David had finished an incredible distance — with his prosthetic leg. His team was there to support and congratulate him for this amazing achievement. He had also raised over $700 that first year. (A Dude did the MS 150 ride last year, foolishly but bravely adding 30 miles to make it 202 miles. Believe me, it’s hard enough with two legs, and I only did it the once so far.) But David went on to do something no one ever thought was possible: He’s done this ride 14 times! In a few weeks, he will do it again, making it the 15th time. If that doesn’t humble and inspire you, please go see a cardiologist immediately, because you are dead inside and don’t have a heart.
To Boldly Go Where No David Had Gone Before
Over the years, Mr. Walker has biked over 2,400 miles (just counting the 14 MS 150 rides) and raised many thousands of dollars. The most was over $2,000 in one year. Each year in January, he re-starts his training plan. He does two 50-milers back-to-back, and if he can, he tries to do a century before the bige ride in late April. Strava helps him stay on track and keep motivated. As the big ride approaches, he can become a little anxious, so he starts riding more. He loves the feeling of community. He’s ridden with several different teams in the past but has been with Team Tacodeli for the last 10 years.
For seven years, David signed up to be a Ride Marshall. They wear red vests and are there to help other riders, especially in the event of a medical problem, mechanical issue, or wreck. They get safety and CPR training and to jump ahead in the breakfast line on Sunday. The perks for him were that he got to help the riders and the good karma. After a while, people started calling him “Safety Dave,” and now the nickname has stuck. At the bank or even his mom will sometimes call him that. He admits that he likes to go fast and may not be the best bike-riding role model, but he is generally aware and safe.
He’s involved in other community efforts, too. A member of Bike Austin, he was invited to ride the Livestrong Challenge and the Mamma Jamma Ride to Beat Breast Cancer. He’s also been a SAG (support) driver for numerous rides. Off the bike he’s involved with the Scouts with his kids and has volunteered at their school. So, he’s not a one-trick pony. Or a horse of any kind, really. Well, maybe a workhorse. You know what I mean.
While his wife bikes some, she doesn’t get out there as much. Sometimes while the family is sightseeing, he’ll take off on a ride. They’ve been on family trips where he took a folding bike called a Pocket Rocket to Washington, DC, Boston, and Bend, Oregon. Riding Mount Batchelor was one of his hardest, due to the endless switchbacks. He couldn’t see the top, and it just kept on going and going. He had committed to the ride and eventually made it… on the folding bike!
He’s also taken some trips with his brother, like to Lake Shasta, and sometimes just goes on trips by himself. Recently he returned to Big Bend in West Texas, where he rode for the first time in the Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Bike Ride. He remembers his highest speed ever was 53.5 miles per hour going downhill back in Austin on Spicewood Springs. One mistake at that speed and that’s hospital time. Not a place he wants to go, so he’s careful. After all, he’s Safety Dave!
David Rides a Bike Long Distances with a Prosthetic Leg. What’s Your Excuse?
On that fateful night 36 years ago as a 17-year-old kid, David Crittenden Walker was lying on the ground in Austin, Texas. His right leg was GONE from a rail car accident. He thought he might bleed out and die. In the hospital, he was naturally in tremendous pain and then had the spiritual crisis: “David knows.” There was the long road of rehabilitation. It was far more arduous than any bike ride and required incredible amounts of courage and grit. He went through several prosthetics, then the surgery to save his knee. His life changed, but he lived. His injury affected him, but it does not define him.
At age 53, says he plans to keep riding his bike for many years to come. He keeps pushing himself to try new things and to improve. Maybe he’s not running and playing soccer, and no, he’s not on Dancing With the Stars (yet). But to not just survive but to thrive – to have engineered his comeback from a life-altering event – is remarkable. Even if you don’t ride a bike or pursue an athletic activity, his story inspires many people, including me. Keep trying, to find a way through tragedy and loss to adapt and overcome.
On April 28 and 29, he’s going to ride Houston to Austin yet again. If you are able, please make a generous donation to David’s MS 150 page (usually accepted for several months after the ride, if you are reading this in May-mid July 2018), by clicking on this link: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SafetyDave2018
EDITORIAL NOTE: These are the facts *as I heard them*, but any opinions or errors are mine. A better way of putting it is that this is a story, not word-for-word reporting. As with all writing of stories, there is no such thing as absolute fact and objectivity, as much as we may strive for it or fool ourselves into thinking there is. Not only was there no way to check many of the facts, and I took the subject at his word, there is the passage of time, choice of words, fading of memory and downright embellishment. The story as told by the interviewee is filtered through the lens, bias and experience of the interviewer. So is it true? Who knows? Everyone knows David’s a big fat liar. But we hope you’re entertained and inspired anyway.
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