DENVER — Halfway through the 2013 Triple ByPass cycling ride, Tim Atkinson, of Denver, found himself in a Summit County ditch, having failed to negotiate a crossing onto a bike path.
He really didn’t think it was much at the time. Having lost his left arm in an accident just after he graduated high school, Atkinson had gone on to ski for the University of Wisconsin for four years and continued a life full of sports. He had learned how to fall without injury.
“I stood up and was ready to shake it off and move on,” Atkinson, 57, said. “I said, ‘Go straight.’ My left leg was fine. My right leg said, ‘No.’”
Atkinson, a lawyer, had multiple right femur fractures.
One year later, Atkinson returned to the Triple ByPass, finishing it, and, for good measure, two weeks later, he’s riding in today’s Snowboard Outreach Society Colorado-Eagle River Ride.
Coming to Colorado
Skiing was Atkinson’s first love, and it eventually brought him to Colorado. While temporarily pursuing a economic career in 1978, he came out to coach at the Keystone Competition Center. He had not heard of the Winter Park Handicap Program, now known as the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
So he went over to Winter Park, and found himself fitting adults with Down syndrome with skis and boots.
“I told the director of the program, ‘You don’t know me from Adam, but I just spent the best half-and-hour of my life, and I want to work here.’”
Atkinson did teaching and coaching handicapped skiing, as well as competing himself, winning two national championships. In one of life’s ironies, Atkinson’s daughter, Hanna, 19, has Down syndrome, and he’s continued coaching in this line with the Special Olympics.
After shifting from economics to law, Atkinson went to Cornell for a graduate degree in the latter. He ended up moving with his wife, Colette, back to their native Wisconsin before coming back to Colorado in the late 80s. In the process, he clerked for the 11th Circuit of the Court of Appeals and eventually went into private practice, and about four years ago got the biking bug again.
Atkinson entered last year’s Triple ByPass, and then his right leg was in pieces.
Atkinson ended up at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics with Dr. Terrell Joseph, inserting one titanium rod down the injured leg and another one diagonally to set the affected hip.
“Dr. Joseph was wonderful, very matter of fact,” Atkinson said. “He came in and said, ‘This is how we fix it.’”
About three weeks after the surgery, Atkinson wanted to start pedaling again. He got Joseph’s approval and immediately got a stationary bike, designed not to put pressure on Atkinson’s healing pelvis.
Atkinson thought of two “revenge scenarios,” as he called them. The first was to return to the scene of his tumble that very autumn and finish the ByPass from that point. Fortunately, there was snow on the ground.
Revenge scenario No. 2 was to come back this year and do the Double Triple ByPass earlier this month.
Atkinson was back on skis, however, as the snow flew and met up with his son, Jeff, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“As we were driving out to the mountain, Jeff said to me, ‘Here’s the plan,’” Tim said. “’We going up the tram 4,200 feet and find the steepest run that’s open and, in five turns, we’ll know whether it was a good idea.’ I said, ‘You know what, son, ordinarily, I’d say you’re crazy, but that’s the best plan ever.’”
They both did fine, and Dad was ready to ride again.
Back in the seat
Atkinson is back with a vengeance. He pedaled in the Colorado Multiple Sclerosis 150, which is actually more than 150 miles during two days the way Atkinson did it. And, yes, he was to do the Double Triple ByPass.
“I signed up for that in January. I trained for it. I came up Saturday (on the westward portion of the ride), but I met up with a buddy on the top of Vail Pass and we came down,” Atkinson said. “We were sitting on the lawn, having a beer, and I thought, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.’ I went for a hike with my daughter and wife on Sunday instead.”
While today’s Colorado-Eagle River Ride benefits SOS, one of the ride’s sponsors is Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, and that is Atkinson’s motivation. The River-Ride, like the Triple ByPass, is not a race, but Atkinson will ride on the Vail-Summit Orthopaedics team proudly.
“Having lived up in the mountains for 30 years and knowing what I knew then and what I know now, the Vail-Summit Orthopaedics Group did a procedure I wasn’t sure I could find down in Denver. It was a godsend to be taken care of once and for all. That’s a game changer. I’d go ride with them anywhere.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.