Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

Remembering When I Broke My Neck

Anyone that’s known me for a while, or reads enough of this Crazy Ass Blog knows that I’m a bit of story teller. There’s the time I flew head first through the car window, the time I drown myself in the pool, and the time I ate a tub of Marshmallow Fluff in 1 minute and 46 seconds.

While I’ll try to blog about those stories at some point, none of them compares to this one. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell since June, but with the baby, foot surgery, and rehab, I had a number of other things in the forefront of my mind.

But during the last couple of months, as my recovery from foot surgery has been a bit slower than I’d hoped, I’ve been repeatedly reminded of the most challenging recovery of my life.

In early 2004, on an easy bike ride with a buddy of mine, I crashed and landed on my head. In pretty sever pain, my buddy rode home to get a car. We loaded me up, and drove to the Stanford Hospital – taking it easy around the corners, “because my neck hurts pretty bad, dude.” When I eventually got diagnosed, I had 5 fractures – a shattered C1 and broken odontoid process of C2. They called it a Jefferson’s fracture AND a Hangman’s fracture. Yes, Hangman’s Fracture is what you think it is.

I had 4 screws and a plate put into my neck. I went from riding 20 hours a week to a month mostly motionless on a couch, 7 months in a hard neck collar, and another 2 months in a soft collar. Needless to say, at the time I believed my athletic career was over. It was easily the biggest physical and emotional ordeal of my life.

Amazing that I found this photo. Even more amazing that I'm actually wearing aviators. Flip up aviators. Booyah!

Amazing that I found this photo. Even more amazing that I’m actually wearing aviators. Flip up aviators. Booyah!

Earlier this year I gave full accounts of the accident and the aftermath to two publications representing Sony Medical and Carestream, both of whose products were vital in my diagnosis, treatment, and rehab. I encourage you to read both articles if you’d like to hear the full story.

Click the image to see the full article in Imaging Economics.

Click the image to see the full article in Imaging Economics.



Click the image above to see the full article in Physical Therapy Products.

Click the image above to see the full article in Physical Therapy Products.

Reading these articles reminds me of two things that are super pertinent to my current recovery:

The body can do incredible things if you give it enough time, patience, consistency, and you back it with fortitude. I honestly never thought I’d ever compete again. I thought I might not ever be active again. But with enough time, your body will adjust and you can get through whatever it is.

I am really really lucky. That was a close call, and obviously the outcome could have been much different and infinitely worse. It’s amazing how much has happened in 9 years, how lucky I am to have a 2nd chance at an athletic career. Regardless of what happens, I’ll never forget that.

Thanks a ton to Sony Medical and Carestream for helping me put these stories in writing, and their support this year through the ups and downs!

8 comments to Remembering When I Broke My Neck

  • Ben-jammin

    That picture with the neck brace is a gem. Cool articles! What a great story. Good luck with your continuing recovery Jesse!

  • Nate

    All I can say is that’s it’s an inspiration to see you where you are today. I remember working with your mom on the day that she found out. She was distraught to say the least. Now, as we’re parents, I get how it feels when you want to help your child with their pain – even if they’re just hungry. All of the good things in life are earned, but a little luck never hurts.

    • Jesse Thomas

      Thanks Nate! Yep, my mom went through her own ordeal as well. Didn’t help that it happened a day before her birthday. It does take it to a whole new level now having a kid. Good perspective for sure.

  • Bart

    Hey Jesse, crazy ass picky bar eating fan and radiologist here. I’ve been glad to see your articles in Triathlete, but was a little surprised that you randomly started showing up in my medical journals. Since you’re in at least two magazines in my bathroom, I’d say you’re on the verge of overexposure! Keep up the hard work and good luck in your recovery, looking forward to some great race reports in 2014!

    • Jesse Thomas

      Ha! Thanks Bart! So funny and random. Yes, that close to you in your bathroom is probably over exposure! Appreciate your following the stories, and good luck to you as well.

  • Arie Strobel

    I like to follow you and Lauren on Twitter and cheer you on through all your adventures. I didn’t know about your broken neck. Four years ago a hometown friend broke her neck in a ski jumping accident and it was not diagnosed for five weeks. Here is a link to her quick story about how surviving that led to her starting to do long distance open water swims. In August she did 21.3 mile swim in Lake Tahoe in 14:28.


    All the best to you, Lauren, and Jude…love reading your great recaps of races. Many of my friends are doing Florida Ironman this weekend. I will be cheering them on and posting their success.

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