Fayette County

Devastating crash led to 10 surgeries. Now, Lexington man to compete in Ironman race.

A life-changing injury did not stop a Lexington man from his goal of completing an ironman race. In fact, it only pushed him to work harder .

This weekend, just over three years after a life-changing injury led to him needing 10 surgeries and 11 blood transfusions, Lisle Adams is set to compete in the 140.6-mile Kona Ironman in Hawaii. The upcoming race is a pinnacle for Adams, who suffered a life-altering injury on Sept. 13, 2016.

During his morning work commute that day, Adams had a fender bender on New Circle Road in between Alumni Drive and Richmond Road. After he pulled his vehicle to the side of the road and examined his car, a man had a seizure and crashed his vehicle into Adams, which crushed him between the two cars.

Adams, who was two and a half weeks away from competing in his first ever ironman race, shattered his pelvis, suffered a compound fracture in his femur, tore two ligaments in his knee and had extensive soft tissue damage that required skin grafts.

He would not be able to race in that 2016 Ironman, as he instead was in the ICU for four days, the hospital for 16 days and then bed rest for more than two months.

When he realized he would be OK, his desire to be a high-caliber athlete never wavered.

“I’ve always been a pretty physically-motivated person,” Adams said. “For me, in order to say that I recovered from this accident, I needed to get back to where I was. At the time, I was two and a half weeks from an Ironman and in the best shape of my life. I needed to get back to that again to show myself I can do it.”

While on bed rest, Adams was approached by his aunt to be the spokesperson for the Gift of Life 5K in Winchester. The race was around a year away, but he immediately set his goals on racing in it.

“The goal was, surely I could work up to a 5K over the course of a year,” Adams said. “With that in mind, I started going to physical therapy.”

But before the 2005 George Rogers High School graduate and 2009 Transylvania University graduate could run, he had to walk. In came Dr. Jim Rothbauer, who led Adams’ physical therapy at Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy in Hamburg.

Rothbauer said he’s never seen injuries to the extent of Adams’, but he was always positive and willing to work. The doctor put Adams through an aggressive therapy to regain his motion so he would have the mobility to start walking normally.

Following the long process of the physical therapy. Adams went on to complete the 5K. His work to getting back to where he previously was had just begun.

“Once he got his running down and through the 5K, I knew all of that stuff was going to be in reach. It was just a matter of the time frame,” Rothbauer said of Adams wanting to do a marathon race, and later an ironman. “He scheduled a marathon a little sooner than I would have wanted him to ... I was concerned he wouldn’t have the muscular strength to do that, but as he progressed through his rehab and got stronger and he got his mileage up, I thought that was something he could accomplish.”

Ironman athlete Lisle Adams, right, poses with Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy clinic owner Jim Rothbauer September 13, 2019. Lisle was preparing for his first Ironman in 2017 when he nearly died in a car crash and was left without half of his calf and hamstring muscles. Adams is now training for an Ironman race in the physically challenged category. Marcus Dorsey mdorsey@herald-leader.com

Adams was never satisfied, even after completing the marathon. He finished the Ironman Maryland in 2018, gaining a much-needed assist from his wife, Chrissie, who gave him the encouragement he needed to finish the second half of the race.

Now he’s aiming to finish the Kona Ironman, known as the Super Bowl of triathlons.

“As I got more capable of doing athletic movements, it became realistic I could do a 5K. Once I did a 5K, I had to think of what’s next,” he said. “Then I had a marathon on my mind, and when I did a marathon I thought, ‘Why not put a final episode to this and do the ironman?’”

The former Transylvania swimmer will first go through a 2.4-mile swim. That’s his best of the three sports, but it’s by far the shortest. He’ll then bike 112 miles, which he said will take him between six and seven hours. He’ll follow that up with a marathon and that will likely take another five hours, he said.

And through the salt water bay and races around volcano fields and heavy terrain in the Hawaii heat, it’s a race as challenging as any triathlon in the world. Adams said the environment is the toughest part of the course.

Approaching the race, scheduled for Saturday, Adams couldn’t help but look back at the accident that led to the obstacles he faced.

“It’s kind of wild to think it’s been three years. It’s been in my head a lot longer than that,” Adams said. “Some of it seems like it’s just been momentary. It’s been an interesting transition. My life has changed so much since the accident and now.”

Adams has been an inspiration for many of Rothbauer’s patients, who typically ask the doctor about what he has been through.

“More than one patient said how inspired they were to see how hard he worked and it inspired them to do the same,” Rothbauer said. “And even myself, it inspired myself to figure out how I could push him to the point where we could get where we needed to reach his goals.”