Las Vegas, Nevada 2021-10-09 05:00:00 –
Maria Alejandr Cardona / New York Times
Saturday, October 9, 2021 | 2:00 am
Next to the upstairs room where Connor Fields is exhibiting the best souvenirs of his BMX racing victory (framed jersey, championship trophy, 2016 Olympic gold medal) is the laundry room. It has another kind of souvenir, the inside out of success.
The hanger has a finely chopped, stained-glass US racing jersey. It is torn across the shoulders and back from a shipwreck that Fields does not remember. It is carved out in front of the dull work of an ambulance worker trying to save his life.
Another hanger is his team USA racing pants with a knee bite.
Below the garage, the wall with so many huge novelty winners’ checks on the ceiling is a plain brown box. Inside the box were the red, white, and blue helmets that Fields wore when he first crashed, a life-changing shipwreck that all racers feared.
The helmet saved his life, Fields is certain. As it is, the chin and forehead are grated and there is a shortage.
“I want to tear all the ligaments in my body before I have a bad concussion,” Fields said. “This was my nightmare.”
A nightmare is a traumatic brain injury. Dr. Jonathan Finov, Chief Medical Officer of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, attended Fields in Tokyo and guided him through his early care.
“It was the worst injury the Olympics suffered,” Finov said. “It’s not just Team USA. It was the worst injury at the Tokyo Olympics,” he said.
Fields, 29, is quietly recovering at Henderson’s home with his fiancé Laura Groeninger and two dogs, with positive signs of outward movement. He can stand up, drive, talk, and appear publicly. He can trick people into thinking he’s back to normal. Not him. He knows it.
Forgotten or confused words. Malaise. Uneven mood. The annoyance of background noise. Permanent need for a nap. Occasional orders for quietness and darkness.
An unanswered and unnervous, protracted question is whether his brain will return to its previous state.
“The way I feel today is not the way I want to feel for the rest of my life,” he said.
Most progress after a brain injury comes in the first three months, doctors said. And no one knows how to quantify it accurately. Is the field 50%? 80%? Will he know that he has been completely healed?
So far, he is not allowed to do dangerous things in remote areas, such as riding a bicycle around the neighborhood. Season tickets he bought long ago to snowboard this winter may no longer be used.
“We’re talking about the rest of my life here,” Fields said. “If that means it won’t hurt my brain anymore, I can wait a few months.”
“There is nothing we can do”
Fields’ view of the crash is only through the replay video. The blanks in his memory continue from hours before the wreck to about five days after the wreck.
He doesn’t remember finishing third and then first in the first two semifinals on July 30th. He doesn’t remember anything about the third run he was injured. However, scattered memories are resurfaced. That morning, a rain-delayed clip that wipes tires with a towel, like the Zapruder film found, recently came to my mind.
Last weekend, Fields sat at his kitchen table and watched a TV version of the race on his laptop.
“At this point, I and the two French are pretty equal,” Fields said, pausing the video a few seconds after the first few seconds of the race.
The event took place at Ariake Urban Sports Park with three bank corners and four straight winding tracks filled with rolls and jumps. The top racer reached the finish line unscathed in about 40 seconds.
BMX racing can be dazzling and dangerous. Similar to driving in NASCAR, speed and tight cornering raise stakes, while other racers are wildcards. BMXer weaves in a flock like a bird. If one rider is out of sync, it can be confusing.
He chose the third lane because Fields won the second run. He took Lane 1 on the inside track for the first big turn.
Roman Mayu, a 26-year-old racer who has a reputation for not being aggressive enough, was in Lane 8 opposite the start gate.
The two immediately jumped forward. They started the jump. With big lips and a short landing area, it bothered riders in practice and racing.
The field was slightly ahead, but it was flying a little longer — wrong. Mahiu on the outside landed completely downhill and speeded up. He instinctively saw the chance and angled inward to the left, as if the rider had hit another jump.
“We’re both in the air right now, and there’s nothing we can do,” Fields pointed to the screen, playing one frame at a time. “He lands in front of me, -vans-hits my tires, his hips hit my hands. Just look at the position of the bike and get off. What can I do? There is no such thing. “
His tone is analytical and not angry.
“I don’t think it was a malicious and deliberate move,” Fields said.
He still has the confident voice of a sales person and he may be selling forgiveness to himself. He expresses what-if that is inevitable within the framework of chance, not intention. What if either of us landed another inch or two inches in some way?
Probably no crash. Maybe a gold medal. When Fields was hospitalized, he received a message from Mahiu and made his best wishes. Since then, they haven’t connected. The field clicked in the next frame.
His handlebars were twisted and the front wheels turned sideways. In a blink of an eye, Fields turned over and landed straight on the right side of his face.
“It was so terrible because I didn’t have time to prepare for the impact,” Fields said. “It happened so fast that I wasn’t reaching out. I didn’t have time to push in. I didn’t have time to do anything to get ready.”
Sylvain Andre of France and Tuvan van Ghent of the Netherlands have fallen to Fields. They got up, untied themselves and their bikes, and rode.
Mahiu inertially won the semi-finals and finished sixth in the one-race final.
Fields lost consciousness and collapsed after getting up for a while after his body was striped by a road rash. The doctors flocked around him. The field lay still on the truck for a few minutes before he was taken to a stretcher and put on an ambulance. There was a further delay due to uncertainty about which hospital would take him.
All the while, Fields’ brain was bleeding.
The official diagnosis was subarachnoid hemorrhage and subdural hematoma — bleeding and blood retention on the surface of the brain. From the tip of the right frontal lobe to the deep depression of the corpus callosum, there were multiple contusions and axonal injuries (shear or laceration of nerve fibers) scattered throughout the brain.
His range of amnesia from pre-accident to days after the accident classifies his traumatic brain injury into the “moderate” category. However, moderate is the best representation of an injury when it happens to someone else.
“He couldn’t tell me anything”
Due to the COVID-19 protocol, the Tokyo Olympics had no fans at the stands, and foreign athletes like Fields had no friends or family in Japan. When Fields crashed, it was late in the morning in Tokyo, but it was the best time in the United States.
Groeninger was at home and watching over with his parents. All they or everyone in the United States knew was that Fields was knocked out and taken by ambulance.
“I remember your dad calling me, Connor, and he got a call from someone on the scene,” he said, telling some of the episodes Fields hadn’t heard. , Said Groeninger. “He said:’Connor isn’t breathing. They had to create an airway for him. And your dad would be: I have to go. ‘”
In Tokyo, Finov was in the Olympic village when the message arrived.
“When I saw the accident on TV, the first thing I thought was that he not only hit his head against the asphalt, but also broke his neck, but now he has a quadriplegia,” Finoff said. He said. “It was really, really great news to know that he hadn’t broken his neck and was moving his arms and legs.”
Finoff met Fields in the emergency room at St. Luke’s International Hospital.
“I had to yell essentially to get him to open his eyes,” Finov said. “I was able to get him to say his name, but almost immediately he closed his eyes. He didn’t know exactly what was going on. He was where he was. I didn’t know if he was there. He couldn’t tell me anything. “
Some reaction is a good sign, according to Finov. CT scans and MRIs evaluated the damage. Dr. Finov was relieved to know that there was no internal bleeding other than the brain. The field had broken ribs and bruised lungs, as well as severe abrasions and bruises.
“There are many other things he might have,” Finov said.
The first few days were painful for Groeninger. She tried not to think of the worst — death, paralysis, permanent brain damage.
It was three days after the wreck that Connor Fields buzzed her phone when she wanted FaceTime. She didn’t know what to expect. She found him looking back.
“I could say you were moody and tired,” Gruninger told Fields in their kitchen. “But I could also say you are you.”
Before falling asleep in the middle of the conversation, Fields asked Groeninger about his plans to meet his friends.
“It was the first time I felt reassured,” Gruninger said.
After spending a week at a hospital in Tokyo, Fields returned to Las Vegas with his coach and Team USA trainer. His stay at home was short. He was taken to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City for about three weeks of evaluation and treatment.
“The first thing that really came back was the physical aspect of it: my balance, my adjustments,” Fields said. “Within three weeks I was able to balance with one foot and do some of the hard work at first.”
Much of the current focus is on processing speed and recall. Fields participates in a video session with a therapist working on a brain teaser.
“They will give me two words that are 7 to 9 characters long,” Fields said. “One of yesterday was a” quiz “and an” accident. ” And I need to spell them, but alternately. That is, it moves back and forth, like Q, A, U, C, so it multitasks and spells two words at the same time. It’s difficult for everyone. What happens is that I’ll be really good at it in just a handful of words, and then I’ll fall off the cliff because of tiredness. “
He explained this at a local restaurant beyond the soft hustle and bustle of the lunchtime crowd. He was clear, quick and entertaining. Occasionally he gets caught up in background noise. Upon returning home, his energy was flagged and he took a nap for several hours in a dimly lit, quiet room.
“I don’t feel 100% normal, but when it’s fresh it’s pretty close to normal,” he said the next day. “But when I get tired, it returns me to its initial state.”
Fields is not in a hurry to determine the future of his race.
“No one near me is interested in me coming back,” Fields said.
Maybe his last race is something he never remembers.
This article was originally New York Times..