On Aug 17, 2019, Austin Patten’s world changed forever. While out for a morning bike ride that he hoped would bring him one step closer to his dream of becoming an Ironman triathlete, he was struck by a car. The accident resulted in several injuries, the most serious being a severed spinal cord that caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down.
The accident, Patten said was devastating physically, mentally and emotionally, as it came at a time in his life when things were on the upward swing. In fact, it was just two months before, when Patten married his wife, Jill. The two were just about to sign on the home they had built together and begin building their family.
"We got the official letter ... to close on our home while I was in the ICU."
“Right after the injury, we had to give up our house that was under construction because of the lack of accessibility,” Patten said. “We got the official letter letting us know when we were to close on our home while I was in the ICU. That was hard. We had looked forward to that home for so long and to have it taken away like that was hard. We also were trying to start our family, so a wrench got thrown in that, too. Due to the paralysis, we must go through other avenues to begin our family which are very costly and invasive. This puts a strain on my wife Jill and me because she has to go through so much to bring a child into the world and there is not much I can do to ease the difficulty.”
Despite all of the physical, mental and emotional pain that Patten has experienced over the past year, he says there have also been lots of good things that have happened. Many of those things he says have given him hope for goals he set before his accident.
"I’m going to do an Ironman..."
“The second thing I said after I woke up from being intubated for four days was, ‘I’m going to do an Ironman,’” he recalled. “Before the accident, I was an accomplished athlete competing over a dozen half marathons and seven marathons, several triathlons and one half Ironman. I was very physically active, also playing basketball, softball, and other sports. I didn’t want this accident to change my ability to be physically active or reach my goals.”
Ben Light, Michael McKnight and Dax Hock are running a 300-mile ultra-marathon, The Utah BRAWL 300, in an effort to raise funds to purchase a racing wheelchair and specialized coaching for Austin Patten who has goals of completing an Ironman triathlon as a paraplegic athlete.
Over the past year, Patten has acquired a hand cycle to help him bike, and has three structured workouts and three free ride workouts per week, totalling about 6-8 hours each week. Many of the workouts Patten does on his trainer inside his home to be more consistent. In addition to official training, he receives physical therapy from Neuroworx, which is a nonprofit outpatient physical therapy clinic that helps people like him.
It was actually several years back when Patten ran on a Ragnar team that raised money in support of Neuroworx. Going from supporter to patient, Patten says, has helped him to see what the organization does to help individuals with spinal cord injuries.
"I am so grateful for their knowledge and expertise on spinal cord injuries..."
“I was on a Ragnar team for my employer, Costa Vida, where we raised a couple thousand dollars for Neuroworx and got to support their cause,” Patten said. “Since I now use Neuroworx for my physical therapy, it is cool to really understand their mission and it is even better to know that I helped raise some money for the organization. Making the transition from supporter to patient was easy and I am so grateful for their knowledge and expertise on spinal cord injuries and how to help those who live with it.”
While Patten has been driven to succeed despite his injury, he admits that the past year has been really challenging, too.
"Getting used to a new way of life sucks..."
“Getting used to a new way of life sucks,” he said. “Relearning how to sit up, roll over, get dressed, go to the bathroom, do chores, and get in a car and drive are all very difficult, exhausting, and frustrating. I still cry when I am on my handcycle and I pass a normal cyclist. I want to bike so badly, but what I can do is hand cycle. There are days I can’t get out of bed because the depression is so bad. Sometimes the depression is to a point that I spend much of my day in tears mourning the loss of freedom, mobility, normalcy, and activities. I try to remember a quote by John Wooden that says, ‘Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.’ This helps me because while I can’t bike, I can handcycle. So that is what I do.”
These everyday challenges that are part of Patten’s new normal, he says couldn’t be overcome without the support of his wife, Jill.
“My number one supporter has been my wife Jill,” he said. “We got thrown into this just two months after we got married. She has been there for everything. She sees me at my weakest and helps me get bad thoughts out of my head. I always have a shoulder to cry on with her. She helps me get my feet and legs situated on the handcycle and will spot me as I get off. It’s often not convenient for her, but she does it anyway. She has taken on more household duties because in our current housing situation, there are some things I am just unable to do. Jill lets me have time to mourn and cry. I can freely express my feelings with her and she with me. Jesus Christ and God are also big supporters for me. I believe that Jesus Christ knows what I am going through because of his personal suffering and because of that he can comfort me and provide grace so I can be more than I ever thought.”
“As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I want to share this story with a gospel perspective with as many people as I can so they can see that they are worthwhile, loved, needed, and important. If I can't get my own life under control, how could I share all my messages with others? That is why everyone is a motivation to me and keeps me going.”
As he nears the one year mark following his accident, Patten says he still has his sights set on completing a full Ironman triathlon, and understands that he needs a lot more help to achieve his goal.
"The sooner I can compete in any race, the better!"
“I still plan on doing it but need a lot of help,” he said. “I am looking for a relatively easy swim and flat bike and run because my arms are smaller than my legs. I have a hand cycle but need to start swimming more frequently, purchase a racing wheelchair and get a coach to help me learn how to compete as a paraplegic. I also need to learn a lot about swimming without the use of my legs. There is so much that needs to be done to get me to Ironman shape like competing in smaller races so I can see what transitions are like and what racing is like in a wheelchair, but I can’t wait to get back into racing! The atmosphere, adrenaline, and feeling of competing is an amazing feeling. The sooner I can compete in any race, the better!”
Patten may very well be getting some more support to help him reach his goals. On July 20, three accomplished ultra-runners will be running a 300-mile route through the Bear River and Wasatch mountain ranges with the goal of raising funds to purchase Patten a racing wheelchair he can compete in, as well as provide funding toward coaching so he can train properly with his new limitations in mind. This, Patten says, is a blessing.
"...this will open the door for us... and get on the path to competition."
“I have cried a few times thinking about the generosity and friendliness of each of these men,” he said. “I didn’t know how we would be able to buy a racing wheelchair or afford coaching and this will open the door for us to purchase these things and get on the path to competition. I am excited to find places to join them along the route and get on my bike along the Wasatch front.”
For more on The Utah BRAWL 300, CLICK HERE.
August 03, 2020
Thank you all for the kind words and support! If you have donated to the fundraiser, my wife and I are deeply humbled and grateful. This is a huge burden that is being lifted. If you would like to follow my story more, find me on instagram @latterdaytriathlete. I try to post updates on therapy and give insight into the challenges my wife and I face now.