Brush Ridge Cemetery, where Gary collapsed. © Geoffrey Bernard

Brush Ridge Cemetery, where Gary collapsed. © Geoffrey Bernard

At the Barry Roubaix race, Gary Veldhof died for 25 minutes. A heart attack mid-race, right alongside a cemetery, but in view of several trained medics, who kept up CPR until an ambulance arrived. Miracle? Maybe. Lucky? Absolutely. Here, Geoffrey Bernard recounts the incident, and Veldhof himself talks about what happened.

by Geoffrey Bernard

Why did I drive back out there? Something special/extraordinary happened out there on that hill Saturday afternoon. I have never experienced the like of it before. All of us in that core group witnessed it. Only a few of us recognize it. I am only now beginning to comprehend it. I needed to go back out there to understand it.

I write this hesitantly, out of deference and respect to Gary. This is really not my story to tell or share. We witnessed a miracle. He was dead. Stone dead. Checked out. Left the race course.

He had been down over 25 minutes. No pulse, no respiration, unresponsive, glassy-eyed, and no color. Right, Miracle, uh huh. Got it. He was gone.

I joined just as they started doing CPR on him. CPR was administered to him for a long time, 20 minutes or longer, with guys switching who was doing chest compression and who was breathing. The CPR did not revive him. Folks were calling out the five-minute intervals (as the time down increases, the CPR regimen changes), verbally going through the drill, talking about how long he had been down/unresponsive (EMT-speak for preparing to call it and pronounce him dead). Finally the ambulance arrived (the driver got lost and was on the wrong side of the cemetery), and with it, a defibrillator. Gary was gel’ed (electro-conductive gel for the electrodes), electrodes attached, the unit charged, and he was zapped. It was a very intense, deeply profound experience.

Have you ever seen CPR being administered? It is damned hard work. Done properly it breaks ribs. He was zapped, and he convulsed and let out a groan like he had been kick in the … you know … by a horse. He was  checked again, and still no pulse. The defibrillator was charged again, and at the last moment someone yelled that he had a pulse. Ed talked to him, calling his name, and asked Gary to squeeze his hand. He did, and Ed shouted out that he was responding! He was intubated with an airway, and an IV was started. Then he was put on the ambulance gurney, loaded into the ambulance. The six or seven of us there held a short prayer service as the ambulance drove into the cemetery.

Gary died cycling the 36-mile loop of the Barry Roubaix – “The Killer Gravel Road Race,” keeling over at the very gates to Brush Ridge Cemetery. This was not a flabby a$$ed biker wannabe with more delusion than endurance. This was a 38-year-old seasoned rider and bike club member. A veteran B-R rider. He was revived and had to be driven through a graveyard to get to him to life sustaining deliverance.

Ed and Kurt are firefighters trained in CPR. Ed’s third CA this year. John is a PA. What cosmic events aligned to have Gary arrest and to have a doctor, a PA, and two CPR trained firefighters there at the exact location and the precise moment in time when Gary needed it? Cosmic Wheel of Fortune? Dumb luck? Divine hand?

Miracle? Absolutely!

As noted above, this is not my story to share or tell. It is Gary’s and his alone. Hence, my deference. I was there and helped out a bit, but the credit goes to the others. They did most of the work. I did what hopefully anybody else would do.

The race event is part racing, part spectacle, and part camaraderie. In a slightly twisted sense, the Barry Roubaix has come of age and tickled the attention and interest of a different caliber of rider. Hastings is a sleepy little ‘burb. Correction, was a sleepy little ‘burb. It now has a reputation. Just the word of mouth talk and website chatter has garnered the Barry Roubaix a whole new and difference audience now. My gut tells me the “show” will be coming to town next year.

Interview with Gary Veldhof

Cyclocross Magazine: When did you know something was really wrong? From what I’ve heard, you’re an in-shape guy who’s ridden long distances before, so this must have been new.

Gary Veldhof: I don’t remember anything at the point of collapse (the doctors indicated that is pretty normal).  I only have a few memories from the race that morning. The last thing I can definitively remember is the photo area on Mullen Road. A coworker of mine was taking pictures there. I ride about 3,000 miles a year and this was my third Barry Roubaix (I’ve usually finished mid-pack).

CXM: When you woke up, what was your first thought?

GV: I remember being awake shortly in the ambulance/helicopter. They said, ‘you were in a bike race and had a heart attack.’ I really couldn’t believe it but there was comfort in being in their care. At the hospital, I think I asked a lot of questions about what happened (many over and over again). I was concerned with how the kids were doing and recovery (getting back to work, etc.).

CXM: Are you planning on lining up for Barry Roubaix next year?

GV: I’m open to the idea but right now I’m leaning toward no.  It will depend a lot on what happens this summer.  Being there for my wife and kids is much more important to me.

CXM: Do you want to add a thank you to the guys who stopped/ambulance team/etc.?

GV: It’s impossible to thank a group of guys who saved your life.  I’ve thought about it a lot and without them providentially being placed there I wouldn’t have made it.  I feel blessed to be alive.  I certainly hope to have the opportunity to meet them and thank them face to face.