Teach Believe Inspire Award – Timmy Duggan

The Will to Overcome

Teach Believe Inspire - Timmy DugganPicture flying down a mountain at nearly 60 miles per hour on a bicycle, leaning into turns, watching the road like a hawk for obstacles and loose gravel as objects on the side of the road whiz by in a blur. Other bicyclists surround you, sometimes mere inches away.

You’re wearing spandex shorts and a form-fitting shirt, shoes fastened tightly to the pedals as you rely on instinct and a lifetime of practice to keep you upright as your wheels spin like a propeller.

All of a sudden, in a fraction of a second and without warning, you see the rider in front of you going down. Your heart sinks as you begin to feel impending terror and pain rushing towards you like a midnight train.

Then everything goes black.

This was the scene that professional road cyclist Timmy Duggan saw during Stage 3 of the Tour of Georgia in 2008.

When you’re descending a mountain on a bike, a 2-inch crack in the road can make all the difference. The fall broke Duggan’s scapula as well as his collarbone, a signature injury for cyclists.

However, these painful injuries will heal with time. Duggan’s crash was far more serious. He also slammed his head on the ground at such a high speed that he suffered brain hemorrhaging and convulsions as paramedics raced to his side.

Ride Safe

Cyclist - Timmy Duggan

Cyclist, Timmy Duggan

The piece of equipment that saved his life was a helmet. Shockingly, it’s been barely a decade since professional cyclists started routinely wearing helmets. Since then, they have proven themselves over and over as the most important piece of safety gear a cyclist could ever wear.

Paramedics arrived within seconds and rushed Duggan to the nearest hospital. He rode for Team Slipstream-Chipotle and his team chiropractor, Kevin Reichlin, rode with him in the ambulance.

“He was having a hard time,” Reichlin said. “But the staff was great. The race doctors were there within 30 seconds. We got him in the ambulance, to the hospital. They were great. We knew in the ambulance, he was moving his hands and his feet, so you knew he was okay. But he had a bad head injury, and he was in a lot of pain. And thank you so much to the EMT who was with me in the ambulance, he’s a local guy, but he helped me out so much.”

Duggan sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the crash. He likely would have been dead had it not been for his helmet. Broken collarbones heal, but keeping your head protected is important for protecting your brain. When the human brain is injured, there is no telling what the effects will be. Luckily for Duggan, he would go on to make a full recovery. Without his helmet, that might not have been the case.

Helmets have been found to dramatically reduce head and facial injuries for cyclists, even when the crash involves a motor vehicle. Nearly three in every four cycling deaths are due to head injuries.

For brain injury, the statistics are even stronger. According to a study in Boston, helmets reduced the risk of severe head or brain injuries by as much as 88 percent. The simple fact is that if you are riding a bike, especially on roads where vehicles are present, it is imperative to wear a helmet.

Duggan was lucky enough to not only make a full recovery, but to go on to have a very successful cycling career that included representing the U.S. in the 2012 Olympics.

From Skis to Bike

However, his first sporting love was actually skiing. In high school in Colorado, Duggan, along with his good friend Ian MacGregor, skied competitively for the Eldora Mountain Club and the Summit Race Team. This was an opportunity to become an elite-level ski racer, and they both were very successful to that end. Their coaches encouraged them to ride bikes during the summer as a way to stay in shape for upcoming ski seasons. As he became a regular on the podium at road cycling events, he started to see a possible future in professional cycling. With a second place finish in the time trial and a third place overall finish at the U23 national championships in 2004, he was well on his way.

In 2006, Duggan and MacGregor founded the Just Go Harder Foundation to create scholarships for local athletes involved in skiing and cycling. The scholarship is aimed at giving boys and girls who otherwise would not be able to have the opportunity a chance to learn to ski and ride with friends and “shape their lives through sport for years to come,” according to the organization’s website.

Duggan raced competitively until 2012, when he retired from professional cycling. Despite his TBI, he pushed himself beyond limits, becoming an inspiration for brain injury survivors as he continued working with Just Go Harder.

A Story of Inspiration and Hope

Not all TBI survivors are nearly as lucky as Duggan, but watching him rise back up to the most elite level of cycling after a brain injury is impressive. It shows that though it is never easy, pushing oneself beyond what is easy can have an incredible payout, both spiritually and physically.

For his work helping children shape their lives through sport, becoming an Olympian after overcoming a traumatic brain injury and inspiring people around the world to better themselves through hard work, Timmy Duggan is this month’s Teach Believe Inspire Award winner. We wish Duggan continued success in all his endeavors and hope his impressive story helps other TBI survivors realize that though the road is not always straight, the desire to travel further can get us where we want to go.

If you know someone who deserves to be highlighted for their contributions to the brain injury community, please let us know.

Image credit: “Timmy Duggan & Peter Sagan.” by Roxanne King. Licensed under C.C. by 2.0. Cropped from original.

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