Scott Mercier: It’s different when someone you love crashes.

By Scott Mercier,
CTS Contributing Editor, US Olympian, Retired pro cyclist

Crashing. Sliding along the pavement or hitting a tree or rock while on the trail is not a fun experience. But crashing is part of our sport. If you ride a bike, and particularly if you race, at some point you will crash. I bookended my racing career with crashes: I crashed three times in my inaugural professional race at the 1993 Ruta Mexico and ended my career with a face plant in the Giro del Capo in Cape Town. The latter crash was so bad I needed eight hours of plastic surgery to rebuild my face. I’ll never forget the words of the ER doc when he unwrapped the gauze covering my face: “Call plastics.”

It’s different when someone you love crashes. My wife pulled the trigger on an e-bike this spring. I was excited about the possibility of doing longer and more challenging rides with her. On our first ride, she put it in turbo mode and rode away from me as if she was Chris Froome. On the climbs she could ride away from me at will. She hadn’t had that much fun on a bike in years!

We made our way back home on the bike path. She’d turned the motor off and we were just riding. A tail wind was pushing us though, so our speed was probably around 18 mph. It was a warm spring day and we hadn’t had snow or rain in several weeks. However, parts of the path were still obstructed with ice. I wasn’t expecting ice. We rode around the first patch and then I saw another one covering the entire bike path. I was probably 30 or 40 feet ahead of my wife and was weaving left and right to see if maybe there was a gap in the ice that we could ride through. I saw a narrow gap where the ice had melted and rode through.

My wife, however, didn’t see the gap. She saw me ride through and thought that meant it was safe. I heard the impact of her crash and turned around to help her.

She was laying face down on the asphalt. Not moving. Not making a sound.

I lay on the ground next to her and started talking to her. “Honey, can you hear me? Blink your eyes if you can hear me.” Nothing. She was breathing, so I knew she was alive, but I thought she was either paralyzed or brain dead. Her eyes were rolled back into her head. I covered her with my jacket and lay next to her talking and scratching her back while I waited for an ambulance.

I felt helpless; impotent. I had no idea what to do. I knew enough not to move her, but that was it. I was terrified.

About five minutes later, she blinked her eyes and moved her hand. It was only five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I asked her if she could wiggle her toes. She looked confused and sat up. She looked at me and asked, “Where are we? How did we get here?”

“We were on a bike ride, and you crashed.”

“We were on a bike ride?” She had no idea that we’d taken a ride together. She couldn’t remember that our son had recently had surgery or that our daughter was away at college.

I held her and burst into tears. I couldn’t control myself and was sobbing with both fear and relief. The ambulance arrived and took her to the Aspen Valley Hospital. A CT scan revealed that her brain was bleeding in two spots and that she’d need to be flown to Denver.

Free Cycling Training Assessment Quiz

Take our free 2-minute quiz to discover how effective your training is and get recommendations for how you can improve.

mercier crash hospital

photo: Scott Mercier

She spent three days in a neuro-icu but did not need surgery. She spent another month in a darkened room sleeping. She had searing head pain and had also broken her tail bone. But slowly, she recovered. It’s been more than two months now. She cannot remember much about the accident nor the few weeks after, but her cognitive abilities are mostly back to normal and it appears that she’ll be fine.

The accident was a wakeup call about our fragility. About how we can lose everything in an instant. About how we can tend to get focused on the rat race rather than life.


The bike is a big part of life for us. We’ve taken one short ride together. Just 30 minutes on the bike path with flat pedals. But it was a start. My wife and I got a second chance. I hope we can put it to good use.

photo: Scott Mercier

Good riding! (And wear a helmet please)

Scott Mercier competed in the 1992 Olympic Games for Team USA and raced professionally for the Saturn and US Postal Service cycling teams. He will be contributing a monthly column for CTS, featuring stories from his cycling career and the triumphs and challenges of staying fit in the years since.

FREE Mini-Course: Learn How to Maximize Your Limited Training Time

Learn step-by-step how to overcome limited training time and get faster. Walk away with a personalized plan to increase your performance.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Comments 27

  1. So glad to hear she’s doing better and was able to get back out on a ride!!!

    That was a good idea putting flat pedals on her e-Bike (especially important for eMTB use)! “Lurching” and/or “motor overrun” can occur and good luck getting out of those clipless pedals.

    Linked here are two article further explaining the benefits, challenges, misconceptions, mixed group riding (conventional & e-Bikes), etc.


  2. So glad to hear she’s doing better and was able to get back out on a ride!!!

    That was a good idea putting flat pedals on her e-Bike (especially important for eMTB use)! “Lurching” and/or “motor overrun” can occur and good luck getting out of those clipless pedals.

    Linked here are two article further explaining the benefits, challenges, misconceptions, mixed group riding (conventional & e-Bikes), etc.


  3. Thanks for sharing Scott. I had a similar experience happen a few months back on my local training ride in Santa Fe, NM. I was heading back home (about 4 miles out) and was making a right hand turn and my front tire just washed out and down I went. I was shocked that I went down honestly…. After I stopped sliding on the pavement, I tried to get up and I couldn’t walk. Two people saw me on the ground and helped me to the side of the road. The kind gentleman called 911 and I called my wife. After arriving at the ER, I learned I had fractured my femoral head on my right femur and my right clavicle. My helmet was cracked and I have no doubt that it saved me from a major head injury. I had emergency surgery on my right hip and 3.5 months later and am walking and on the road to recovery. This was my first major crash in 17 years of riding. It has changed my view on how fragile our bodies are and that we need to keep that in mind. I plan to get back on the bike soon!!! Be safe everyone. 😊

    1. Ouch! Life can change in an instant. I’m glad you’re recovering and hope you can get back in the saddle this summer. Scott

  4. I agree with James McKenzie about the hospital in Denver that specializes in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) rehabilitation. About 11 years ago, I had a face-plant crash descending a mountain pass, and fainting (we think). I have about 1 month of complete amnesia with some spotty memory before the crash. Weird. My perception of me is not cognitively different than before, but my family notices personality changes. Although I was never truly unconscious, it was a terrible crash; TBI, 5 broken ribs, 2 vertebrae, collapsed lung. I was back to riding as soon as the doctors said it was OK. The intense exercise actually helped in many ways. Much research has been done regarding brain health and exercise. Two highly recommended books for those that want to learn more:
    Keep Sharp, Build a Better Brain at Any Age; Sanjay Gupta, MD; 2021
    Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain; John J Ratey, MD; 2008

  5. Great read. Two things: Demver has THE BEST brain hospital. My cousin was longboarding in Vail when he was knocked off the board and landed head-first. A helmet saved his life and the hospital saved him. Second: Bike paths are not always the safest place to ride is true. We recently lost a Cyclist when he struck an object on the side of one that catapulted him into a safety barrier (guard rail) that caused non-survivable injuries. Glad to read your wife is up and about and wants to ride again.

  6. It was 6:02am, on my way to the LBS for our Saturday ride. About 800 meters to the store, I could see water ahead covering the road. I slowed down so as to not get my jersey dirty so must have been 2 or 3 mph maybe less…
    That’s the last thing I remember. When I woke up all I remember seeing where the lights on the ceiling (at the hospital).
    There was a broken water main, it made a small fissure about 1 1/2 inches wide and about 7 feet long and 12 inches deep. Almost completely straight. My front wheel fell in and the carbon fork snapped in two. It was so fast I never stopped holding on to the handlebars. ( Had 1/2 finger gloves and only my knuckles on my right hand were scratched. ) The helmet cracked on my right temple area. Had a compound fracture on my zygomatic bone. Just below my rat eye. The plastic surgeon had to stitch my eyebrow back and the fracture now has 8 small titanium screws and a ti plate. The concussion was tough. I had a constant headache for about a month. The helmet saved me from a worse ending, but I can’t think that was it. God had something still in store for me. I believe that’s what second chances are. So Scott… I believe that you and your wife still have something left to do on this earth, just like me and all of us who have survived a bike accident. Helmets are good, God is great.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story, Scott. It brought back painful memories for my wife and for me, but it’s also touching and of course inspiring. Ten years ago my wife crashed in a freak accident (no known cause). She’s an experienced cyclist and we were (arrogantly!) riding helmet-less to the farmer’s market. Her injuries were more severe, and the TBI was severe enough to require a craniectomy, but she has made a complete cognitive recovery and now plays a leading role in her academic profession. She, too, is now riding an e-bike and she flies up hills with me trailing behind at 4 watts per kg (argh). Your story is a good way to help us remember that there is a very personal side to accidents. I’d like to add that we call them “accidents” for a reason: they are things that happen outside of our control, and no amount of skill is sufficient to protect against everything. Wear a helmet. Use flashers. Be smart. Stay safe. Thanks again Scott.

    1. John. So glad your wife had a full recovery. It’s terrifying when an accident like that happens. I appreciate you sharing your story. Have a great summer.

  8. Thank you Scott for sharing this challenging, (& scary) experience with us. Many folks may not realize how fast one can go down and slam the pavement, (or ground), especially on ice.
    I grew up racing motocross, and told myself I’d always wear a good helmet, even when warming up the bike. I do the same with bicycles.
    I’m still amazing, (& a bit disappointing, as they can be role models), at the amount of pros that used to, (and some still do), have their chin-strap so loose, you could get 2-3 fingers between. It should be obvious that this greatly reduces the effectiveness of the helmet in a crash, and could lead to a serious, life-threatening injury.
    The current helmets are so light & comfortable today, that even in 110f temps, I find them almost unnoticeable. We’ve seen many pro crashes that resulted in little real trauma, apart from nasty road-rash, due to a good helmet.
    I was on a popular bike path in Orange Co, ca. last week and saw a 12mph collision with a cyclist who attempted to leave the path at a very slow speed, as another was attempting to pass.
    Thanks again for sharing & another reminder to be safe & enjoy.

    1. Thanks, Scott. We feel protected on the bike paths, but often some of the worst crashes happen there. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on the story. Have a great summer.

  9. So glad she has come out of the crash and brain bleed so well. I’m a TBI survivor that didn’t do as well and that took over a year of rehab. Getting involved in the TBI community I count myself lucky!At the time(2002) there was so little info my wife wrote a book about the caregiving and traveled throughout the US disseminating information about the caregiving.Thank you reminding people to wear helmets!!!

    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing that story, Hugh. My wife also lost a brother to a TBI in a cycling accident. Take care and stay safe. Scott

  10. Heartbreaking story with such a blessed turn for a second chance!. Thanks for sharing Mr. Mercier. It made me gave a hug to my wife and tell her that she’s my purpose and how much I love her. God bless you and your family.

    Greetings from Miami.

  11. I’ve seen some spectacular bike crashes and been in a few myself…an endo on a North Shore descent and slamming the side of my face into a guardrail 120 miles into the Triple ByPass are two notables – so I can empathize with you. Like me however, you both recovered fully and earned that special appreciation of life that comes from coming a bit too close to perhaps ending it. On a side note, I’ve ridden the Cape Argus Tour….the scenery along the coast in Cape Town is simply breathtaking….as is the climb up Chapman’s Peak.

  12. Wow, that’s an eye opener. I have always wanted my wife to ride with me as many guys do, and she does on the road, but not trails. She literally hates mtb trails. I guess that’s a good thing in retrospect.
    What exactly was she wearing at her crash, and what do you think caused such a tbi?

    1. Hey John,

      The ice was wet, which made it really slick. She just rode over it and went down immediately and was knocked out cold. Her helmet almost certainly saved her life.

  13. Two weeks ago I was riding my bike with my wife, it was suppose to be a slow-easy ride because we had a race the following day. We decided to cross a university campus for the view, we were basically coasting and were riding (at most) at ~8 Kph, and then my front wheel slipped in a puddle.

    I was riding by her side so my bike slid and knocked her off, she landed on top of my bike. I just slid through the ground with my buttcheck, it didn’t even hurt. But she hit her leg and butt. Not hard to require attention, but enough to give her bruises at the end of the day.

    At the moment of the crash, I felt desperate, especially because it was my fault that she fell off her bike. As I was riding back home, I felt so guilty, and got this dark feeling as I was thinking something worse could have happened because of me. I was terrified, felt like crying, screaming… I can’t imagine what you went through.

    1. Thanks, Eduardo – I do feel responsible. It’s a blessing that she rides with me and part of my job is to keep her safe. I failed but we got lucky.

  14. What a heartfelt story! Thank you so much for sharing, and for the reminder of being safe when riding. I truly hope your wife is doing much better!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *