Normally, if you line up for your first Cyclocross National Championships, crash in the first 30 seconds and finish last, you might fly under the radar during a week that’s jam packed with so many inspiring and heart-breaking stories.
Nationals may have been over two months ago, but that doesn’t mean all the compelling stories have been told.
Sharon Sloan lined up for her first Nationals in Hartford this past January, having just upgraded to Cat 3 two races prior, and crossed the line in 17th, the last finisher in the Masters 40-44 women’s race.
After the finish, she was upset about her misfortune after getting caught up in a first-turn crash and immediately having to switch to her not-quite-ready B bike with clinchers pumped too high.
Just the fact that the ER doctor from Boston was disappointed by her bad luck during a National Championship race actually highlighted just how lucky she really is to be racing again, let alone be alive.
In the winter of 2014, while Sloan, a relatively new cyclist, was out riding her road bike, a driver ran a stop sign, smashed into her and forever changed her life while almost taking her life.
“My spine got crushed, my face got crushed in…I got med flighted to one of the hospitals in Boston,” Sloan recalled. Being a doctor herself might typically be beneficial during a minor accident, but in such a severe one, while lying on the pavement, her knowledge only helped her understand how severe her condition was. “I knew I was dying, and I tried really hard not to die,” she remembers.
As an ER doctor, Sloan knows many of the community’s EMTs, including the one who was trying to save her life. Only her face was so damaged from the accident, the EMT didn’t even recognize her, and her Road ID bracelet was the only clue that she was someone he had worked with.
Landing in the hospital, Sloan was just beginning her long journey to recovery. “[I] had a big surgery and then I coded after the surgery and spent a week in a coma.” Sloan, a collegiate rower at Tufts University, had been trying cycling as part of her rehab from knee surgery, and had only entered a few cyclocross races before her accident. She wasn’t quite hooked yet, and certainly didn’t know many in the New England scene. Yet word of her predicament and condition spread quickly.
“I woke up from the coma with 300 emails from the New England ’cross community, and they’ve been so awesome,” Sloan recalls. That support was one source of inspiration to literally get out of bed, as walking, let alone riding or remounting, was no longer a subconscious skill. “I was in a back brace, a full leg cast, and I had some very subtle spinal cord damage, and it took a while to [walk] again. I learned to walk again, and then I started to ride a bike on a trainer,” Sloan revealed.
Of course, once a racer, always a racer. Sloan goaded other patients into wheelchair races, and tried to force her way into a wheelchair wheelie class, but when they learned of her back and head injuries, she was banned from such risky activity. She wasn’t deterred, and set her sights on some larger barriers.
The 2017 Nationals course was not kind to someone who broke her back, didn’t have fully-functioning legs and just recently relearned how to remount with her reconstructed, rehabbed body. “It’s taking so long to get my legs going,” Sloan told Cyclocross Magazine after Nationals. “I finally got a semblance of a remount in about October, but I still can’t make them run much.”
“This is better than being dead let me tell you.”
Despite her challenges running, Sloan took in the full Nationals experience, even racing the non-championship race on Tuesday. As for the Nationals course, she admitted, “I did not enjoy the running in the beginning, but the rest of it was a blast.”
After reflecting on her race and the week during our interview, Sloan had her unlucky race in perspective. “I’m psyched to be here racing ‘cross,” she admitted. “This is better than being dead let me tell you.”
See our full interview with Sharon Sloan below.