Today is my last day as a Zwift employee. As I look back over the past three years, and the more than five years that I’ve been a Zwift user, I wanted to share my thoughts on what Zwift has meant to me. Even though I’ll continue to ride on Zwift, it will inevitably be different to be on the outside looking in, riding around without a little orange Z next to my name in the list of Riders Nearby.
10 years ago, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. My head went through the side window, shattering the glass and severing two of my jugular veins. The driver fled, leaving me bleeding to death in the middle of the road. Someone stopped and called 911. MPs from the local Naval base stopped traffic. But no one helped me until a Navy NCO named Tom Sanchez stuck his hand inside the softball sized hole in my neck, felt something pulsing, and pushed down. He held me like that for almost 10 minutes until the ambulance arrived. If he had not done so, I would have bled out in two.
I lost almost a half a gallon of blood. I’d shattered my collarbone. Smashed the bones in the left side of my face. The doctors told me they stopped counting after 150 stitches in my neck. I spent 18 days in the hospital before they sent me home, well enough to leave, but by no means healed. For months after that, I’d pick pieces of glass out of the raw scar tissue on my neck. I’d go for walks around the neighborhood in the middle of the night wondering if after working so hard to finally break through, after two Ironman wins in 2009, if I’d lost it all. I couldn’t ride a bike or run because of fear of damaging my tenuously repaired collarbone and because of blood thinners I had to be on due to an artery that had ripped internally due to the force of the impact. When I finally got cleared to go back in the pool, I couldn’t even use a kickboard because it hurt too much to straighten my arm.
Zwift didn’t exist back then, and even when I was allowed to ride a bike, I didn’t. Because I was afraid. I remembered laying in that hospital bed. Of those lonely walks where I wondered not just if I’d race again but if I’d ever ride or run. Wondering if I could do that without being scared. And the answer is no; I would always be afraid. But I finally got back on my bike because I wanted to ride my bike more than I wanted to be safe. Eight months after that accident, I broke my own course record on the bike at Ironman Arizona en route to a 4th place finish, 3 minutes off my course record from the previous year.
I’m still afraid almost every time I ride my bike. I say almost because the one place I’m never scared to ride is on Zwift. I’ve had transcendental moments on the bike in Zwift, seeing the god-rays of light filtering through the leaves of the trees inside of the magical world of Watopia. I’ve had moments of despair, when the darkness of an FTP test closed in around me or instead of surging on the final lap of a Crit City race, I got spit out the back. I’ve had moments of elation, setting a new PB up the Alpe or crossing a finish line – one that is real as any I’ve experienced in my career – ahead of everyone else.
Zwift is – and always will be – more than just a place that I worked. It’s a part of who I am. And I’m not unique in this regard. If I’d never gotten back on my bike, I never would have remembered the freedom it brings. The wonderful agony of hard riding powered by nothing but your own engine. And I never would have realized how special the chance to do something to the very best of my ability really is. I had to do that in 2010 without Zwift. But in 2017, when I stepped away from racing, Zwift is what kept my love of sport alive. Zwift is also a way back to normalcy for riders who wonder how they’re going to get back on the bike. People just like me. And people who are even more afraid. It’s a pathway to a different future. One where you’re lighter, faster, fitter, healthier, happier, and more. More people are more active, more often because of Zwift. And I am forever grateful for the opportunities that Zwift has given me, both as an athlete and as a professional.