Brennan Donahoe was on a bicycle ride with a friend, coasting down a hill, when his skinny tires hit freshly mown grass on the pavement. His bike went out from under him, and he came to rest in a wire fence.
Donahoe knew he had landed hard, because his helmet broke in half. But he would have tried to get back on the bike had his friend, a third-year medical student, not told him to lie still.
A CT scan later showed that Donahoe had broken his neck, and he spent three months in a collar to keep his head immobile.
"They said it was the same break as Christopher Reeve, but with no compression," he said, referring to the late actor who spent nine years as a quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse during a 1995 equestrian competition.
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Donahoe's fate was much different: He will compete Sunday in his first Ironman triathlon. The grueling race in Louisville consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. "My goal is to finish," he said.
People find all kinds of reasons not to exercise and stay in shape. If Donahoe, 35, wanted to make excuses, he could find plenty.
In addition to having broken his neck, Donahoe became a new father five months ago when his daughter, Emerson, was born. He also works as a truck driver and is away from his Lexington home three nights a week while delivering supplies to fast-food restaurants scattered from Gatlinburg, Tenn., to St. Louis.
His wife, Annette Manlief, an English teacher at Scott County High School, said she supports her husband's physical fitness goals and the training time they require. Her sister, Lisa Lay, shares their home and helps with the baby.
Donahoe trains six days a week. He swims on Monday, runs and swims on Tuesday, runs and bikes on Wednesday, bikes and runs on Friday and Saturday and runs on Sunday. He takes Thursday off because it is his longest work day each week.
Travel doesn't get in the way of training. "People think it's funny when you're fueling a truck with running clothes on, or getting a bike out of the back of the truck," he said. "But I don't want to be like all the fat truckers."
He doesn't need to go to a gym to lift weights. Over the course of a week, he will unload as much as 35,000 pounds of restaurant supplies from his truck.
Donahoe started doing triathlons in 2004 after biking for many years. He worried after his accident about whether he would ever be able to do one again. While wearing the collar, he said, "I sat on the couch and played Xbox for three months."
Once his doctor cleared him for activity, Donahoe resumed training. "I couldn't wait," he said. "I had missed it so much." He competed in a triathlon five months later and hasn't looked back.
"My neck still bothers me some, but I can deal with it," said Donahoe, who has done several shorter triathlons. "If you look at (the vertebra) on an X-ray now, it is still crooked. They tell me if it happens again it would be hard to walk away from."
But Donahoe is determined to stay in shape and not be slowed by fear. He does, however, watch the pavement in front of his bicycle very carefully.