Central Alberta’s Scott McDermott is one of the select athletes in the world to compete at the Ultraman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
The race, which McDermott competed in November of 2015, is a yearly 10 km open ocean swim, a 421 km cross-country bike ride, and an 84 km ultra-marathon run. McDermott was sitting in 10th place on the second day of the event during the bike, after completing the swim ahead of time. He was looking to make a jump into ninth, after passing his friend Peter Hudson of Australia.
“We were coming up to a place we call Tex, where they make malasadas – which is kind of like a Hawaiian doughnut,” McDermott said. “It is a thing you look forward to because Tex is about 190-200 kilometres in the race. I was ripping along, it was a bit of a downhill and it was raining a bit. The section we were in was basically where they had cut a hole through the jungle—so there are 100 foot trees on either side.
“My Garmin showed me in the high 60 kilometres per hour going across the bridge when everything changed.”
The course features many of these bridges that force the biker to veer off the shoulder of the road onto the sidewalk because of the danger of the road gutters on the bridge.
“I don’t remember anything but apparently, this up-ramp had algae on it,” he said. “My wheel slid out and we know from the crash that I put my arm down because I sprained my fingers, broke my wrist, broke my arm in half, broke my shoulder in four pieces and broke four ribs. After that, I did a cartwheel – my helmet twisted and I broke my skull open on a concrete curb.”
Hudson, McDermott said, heard a sickening thud before seeing McDermott ahead of him tumbling on the bridge. Hudson veered around the crash site and then dismounted to help McDermott’s crew team attend to the accident.
“They rolled me over and got me breathing again,” he said. “Apparently, I threw up all over the place – which they were happy to see because I was still alive. Apparently, I was swearing at them because I wanted to get back on the bike.”
McDermott was airlifted to the Honolulu Brain Trauma ICU. His next memory was the gruelling pain of the doctors stapling his skull back together, followed by him waking up in the ward.
“They cleared me after three and a half days. We went back to Kona and then flew back to Canada,” he said.
His arrival in Canada would be the beginning of McDermott’s recovery.
“The brain injury was really tough because I could only stay awake for an hour and a half at a time,” he said. “I then had to sleep for four to six hours. I was on lots of painkillers and I wasn’t very useful.”
Despite his struggles, McDermott didn’t lose sight of his goals of competing.
“I set my sights on getting better,” he said. “I started running again because I was allowed to run after a month. I velcroed my arm to my chest and went for a run – it wasn’t much of a run but it made me feel better. That allowed me to stop taking Percocet.”
Not being on addictive painkillers was an important step. McDermott then set his sights on the removal of the metal rods from his shoulder and arm.
“It was July 2016 when they pulled the metal out, which felt good because I couldn’t lift my arm before that,” he said. “I couldn’t swim or do a lot of things. I’m also left-handed.”
McDermott spoke about how important it is to him to throw an anchor in front of him rather than behind – or in simpler terms – setting large goals.
“I had signed up for a 50 kilometre Ultramarathon at the end of October 2016 and started to train for it, but every time I bumped my mileage up – my knee started to complain. I was also having all sort of problems with perception. My left hand was always a split second off – I would go to turn off the light switch and miss.
“I started seeing a sports neurologists and he started doing all this neurological retraining of my eyes. We made huge advances.”
McDermott also made huge strides in his recovery using a hyperbaric chamber.
“I also used a hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which really is the reason my brain recovered as much as it did,” he said.
Despite the progress, McDermott was forced to withdraw for the Ultramarathon due to the ongoing knee pain. After suffering an injury at a conference in the U.S., McDermott found out what was wrong with his knee.
“The theory was that my MCL and meniscus had actually healed together as one piece,” he said. “They fused and that is what was not allowing me to run for long.”
The injury in the U.S. broke the fused tendons apart, leaving only a torn meniscus to deal with – something more fixable than a torn MCL.
“I was stunned at how fast I could walk after the surgery,” he said. “I waited two weeks after the surgery and then I planned a basic run program for myself that was a five kilometres – wait three days; an eight kilometre – wait three days; a five kilometre – wait three days, etc. I had six weeks to build up before Ironman and I got myself to a half marathon running a 21 kilometres.”
The run program was building up McDermott’s eventual breakthrough in August, when he completed his first race since the accident in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“It crossed so many barriers of awesome,” he said.
McDermott said not remembering the crash helped him not be afraid of getting back on the bike, however, he did have some teary moments.
“The bigger moments I had when I was on the second lap of the bike course,” he said. “When I was thinking of finishing the bike, my eyes began to well up. When I came into town to transition, that’s when it hit me. I was safe, I made it and I was going to be okay. My whole body wanted to stop. It hurt and I was not in the shape I need to be. I am 20 pounds overweight and I haven’t run over 21 kilometres in two years.
“Nothing was in support of me running a marathon after a six-hour bike, but I knew it was all mental. It was about deciding to keep on going. I got pretty choked up when I ran across the finish line.”
Getting the first race out of the way was something McDermott needed. He now intends to shed 20 lbs. and start training for the 2018 Ultraman in Kona – the same race of his accident. The Ironman race allowed McDermott to have a qualifying time for Ultraman.
McDermott hopes that his journey back to racing can be an inspiration to others.
“Life doesn’t just hand you one problem,” he said. “If life handed you a problem – you would solve it and move on. Life hands you 13 problems at once. I have all those problems and that I am still moving ahead. I love being able to share that journey with people.
“Life isn’t easy and I don’t think we would want it to be. We grow through our challenges. Nobody plans on hitting a bridge, but it happens. Hopefully, I can inspire people to keep going and not quit.”