By Avery Lantz
I watched as the pile of weeds next to me grew bigger and bigger. Third year on the job,
and this was nothing new. For countless hours I would sit in the sun, baking my skin to a crispy
pink color, while pulling bindweed and thistle out of the ground. I came to find the sound of my
digger ripping through the roots satisfying. My team and I usually started our gardening process
around 8:30 every morning, and by about 2:00 p.m. each day, every drop of my energy had
seeped, as water does, into the ground below me. I was giving up my life for the plants. It’s
funny though, how connected I could get to a single specimen growing out of the ground, when I
knew it would be dead and wilted come the autumn months. I watched the plants grow, and kept
the nasty weeds from wrapping their fingers around the plant stems and strangling them. I was a
caretaker to the gardens. Physically draining, yet oddly satisfying.
I paused for a moment, as that pile kept growing, and thought about my mom. She was
racing across America on her bike, and would be cutting across the southwest corner of Colorado
that day. I liked having my phone on me when she was gone. Updates buzzed through, and
missing them felt like I was missing a breaking news event. All morning, everything stayed
pretty quiet. Strange, I thought, but no news is good news right? Within minutes of this thought,
I felt a ring on my hip where my phone was tucked away. Relief. My mom’s team must be
making good time. As I put down my tools for technology, nerves overtook my world. A text
from my sister read, “Please call, I think something happened to mom.” I knew my sister tended
to be more on the dramatic side, but she did have a good sense of judgment.
I called. No answer. Slightly worried, I still had this life below me, so I focused my
mind back on what I could take care of. Still on edge though, I continuously pulled my phone
out, only to see a—what felt like—never-ending black screen. Then lights. I fumbled my phone,
with both anxiety and excitement and held it up to my ear. My sister’s voice had a hint of
concern in it, as she said that she was told our mom took a bit of a tumble and bumped her head.
She would be going to the hospital to get checked for a concussion, but would probably be back
on her bike within the next couple of hours. At this moment, I figured everything was going to
I’ve always been one to think that things get better with time. Plants grow and bloom,
storms pass, injuries heal. Though little did I know, that on that Monday afternoon, things would
be getting worse. What started as a little bike “tumble” turned into a flight for life trip from
Durango to the St. Anthony’s Lakewood hospital—a level 1 trauma center, specializing in brain
and spinal injuries. She was unconscious for 2 minutes. With a crewmember stabilizing her
head, she lay still on the ground, breaks and fractures crawling up her spine. At the moment that
this was occurring, I too was handling a life. This was a life that wouldn’t make it long without
the help of a human hand. Both this plant and my mom needed the most delicate touch in order
for survival. Any slight movement could damage the stem.
Within hours, I was sitting right outside of the hospital Emergency entrance, watching
my dad pace back and forth and my sister nervously scattering through thoughts in her brain.
When will she get here? The place didn’t smell very good. It had a clean scent, but not the type
of clean you would want your house to have. I honestly could not say the events that played out
until the moment that I walked into a white room with fluorescent lights and saw my mom’s
face. But it wasn’t my mom’s face. It was one of those Halloween masks. Bruised, black,
purple and red, with traces of blood on her lip. And swollen, really really swollen. A brace
surrounded her neck, but the rest of her body was free. Relief round 2. My mom was in front of
me. Not the version that I had come to know, but nonetheless, my mom. I watched her body,
waiting for any movement of a finger or toe. She was able to move, but elected not to. I figured
she was too mentally and physically exhausted.
She had to answer a lot of questions that night in the hospital. Whether she smoked, did,
drugs, or drank. She answered in some form of “yes, everyday” to all of them. As the nurse’s
pen carved out each answer on the paper, my mom had the slightest trace of a smirk come across
her face. She then continued to say, “No, I’m just kidding.” Relief round 3. It was a very
inappropriate time to include these little jokes, but it made everyone in the room lighten up. That
was the mom I knew. Seriousness collapsed on all of us again as the doctor walked in the room.
He had reported the fractures in C1, C2 and T4, a right rib fracture and a traumatic brain injury.
Ha! Yeah this was “just a bump to the head.” That light that we were all reaching for had
suddenly dimmed out. He gave us two options of how to heal the broken body lying on the bed
in front of us. She could either go into surgery and get a neck fusion, or opt for the halo brace.
As my dad and the doctor discussed the repercussions to both, I stood by my mom’s side. She
grabbed my hand and said, “It’s going to be okay, honey.” Through the pain she was
experiencing, she still played her role as a mother and made sure that my pain was lessened.
So came the question, would this accident really jeopardize the activity that she loved the
most? I couldn’t picture her life if she wasn’t cruising through it on two wheels. Yet I was
forced to picture it that night in the hospital. It was right in front of me, lying on a bed. A much
more important life than that stupid plant I had to water earlier. I became angry. Angry that this
woman who outlined aptitude was now unable to help herself. I didn’t like seeing the nurses
pick her up and move her from one bed to another. She should’ve been doing that on her own.
She was supposed to take care of me, that’s what moms do right? At that moment, she was just
as vulnerable as a flower. But despite how battered she was, she still had that glowing quality
that a garden does, living through even the toughest storm.
The halo brace it was. This brace would be screwed into her head the next morning and
permanently stay there for three months. No one was sure what this brace would encompass,
except that it would bring an entire new way of looking at life. Not just for the family, but for
her as well. She would be viewing her surroundings through a cage that would physically keep
her safe, but that had an added sense of fragility. It wasn’t until I actually saw the brace
embedded in her skull, that I realized how seriousness her injuries were. I walked out of the
surgery recovery room with tears filling my eyes. I wanted to think that the situation could be
worse, but at that moment, that was the worst it could get. That’s the thing. Her injuries could
have paralyzed or even killed her, and people made sure to tell us that. I understood, but it still
sucked. No one could comprehend this fear and pain. She had been entangled in a mess of
weeds, and it wasn’t easy to get out of.
It didn’t take long for the sympathy to start flowing in. My family had many people
offering to make meals for us and at first we declined. We thought we were a lot stronger. Only
about a couple days in did we realize that we overestimated our capabilities. On Wednesday, my
sister and I left the hospital hours after the moon was welcomed by the sky. Though only home
during the early and late hours of the day, we realized we actually did need some food. We had
to make a trip to the store and then we could head home. Both of us were exhausted, and this
was just another step out of the way that we didn’t want to take. I recall being short tempered
that night. I still could not wrap my head around the fact that this had to happen to my mom.
After a quick stop at the store and not long after walking through the door, I headed up to my
room. A place where I could normally find a sense of calmness. Not the case. Instead of my
head hitting my pillow, my fist did—then my tears. A moment of pure frustration. I kept fairly
quiet, but inside I was screaming. I was genuinely mad at the Sun for not providing enough to
keep this life upright.
Lying there, I thought about how much my mom would give to be wearing herself down
on the bike rather than trying to stand up in the hospital. Both of which required an extreme
amount of mental and physical toughness. I had never understood those aspects of toughness in
cycling. It’s an activity that is straining on the body and also challenges the mind to push past its
limits. The Race Across America (RAAM) was one of the biggest tests of toughness and
endurance. Riders go 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, with no
breaks, and a continuously running clock. My mom was always the image of strength to me, but
this made her a badass.
After the accident, I saw a whole new meaning to “badass.” It was no longer proving you
had strength, it was creating it. The halo brace was a big weight on my mom’s shoulders,
literally. Walking, let alone sitting up, posed a challenge. I watched as each day, after the six in
the hospital, my mom created more strength. She was starting from dirt. Dirt being the rental
hospital bed that stuck out like a sore thumb in our living room. No days were pretty, but they
were days nonetheless. I had never seen someone with a better attitude about life after being cut
down. Her perseverance over those three months made it look easy.
Now we are at a new season. Being presented with an opportunity to start over, but with
stronger roots. A family once close became even closer. I t has been almost a year and a half,
proving that healing takes a lot of nurturing and patience. I had the opportunity to watch a new
life blossom out of adversity, and that was better than any garden I ever touched.