Slamming the Pavement
AgeGrouper Paul Capuzzo opens up about getting back on the bike after his debilitating crash.
Paul Capuzzo, athlete and triathlon coach, has decades of training under his belt. In the summer of 2020, during a routine 80-mile bike ride, Paul lost control while going 30+ MPH down a steep hill. The crash broke bones in his neck, the base of his skull, and several others around his shoulder, in addition to suffering a concussion. His condition was bad, but he will be the first to tell you, it could have been much worse.
“Following a huge crash, you emerge a different person,” Paul said. “It gives you a healthier, more grounded perspective of what’s most important in life.”
Recovery is more than physical healing; it requires a degree of mental repair as well. Years of training can never prepare you for a crash or injury. What it can do is strengthen your mental fitness so you can better handle the challenges that lay ahead. It’s a humbling reminder that our physical abilities are a gift, and should not be taken for granted.
Perspective and patience
Immediately following the accident Paul had a critical choice to make – let the situation dictate his mindset or regain control, he chose the latter. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, Paul chose a state of optimism.
“I just had such gratitude that came from knowing how much worse it could have been. I’m not going to be some grumpy guy that’s complaining because my arm is in a sling.” Paul shared that he had a friend, Matt Wetherbee, who fell playing pickup basketball and landed on his neck. He is now a parapalegic. Paul quietly reflected, “You just never know the cards you’re going to be dealt.”
It’s no secret that exercise improves one’s physical and mental wellbeing. So as someone who regularly trained for years, this injury prevented Paul from doing what he loved. “I’m 48 now, I don’t think I’ve had that much time away from training since high school.” It was a radical lifestyle shift to say the least.
Paul started with endurance sports as a teen. Running cross country in high school and college led him to a very successful high school coaching career. In adulthood, his interests evolved to triathlon and triathlon coaching with Capuzzo Multisport Coaching (CMC). He had his whole personal and professional career ahead of him, and this accident couldn’t be the end of it. He said, “I just needed to ride it out, let things heal, and when it’s time to get back to work, I’ll get back to work.”
After four months of extraordinary patience and healing it was finally time to get back into training. Before he could even think about his A race, Ironman Maine 70.3 in July 2021, Paul had to get back into shape.
As a seasoned athlete, Paul knew less is more. His aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance were weaker than ever before so he started off slow, trained based on rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and kept all of his workouts short. He didn’t want to risk additional injury so he focused on his routine and maintained a light workout. If he didn’t feel well, he stopped. He slowly built up his volume, increasing training time and distance by at most 10% each week.
Once he was able to complete a 60 minute workout comfortably, he started increasing the intensity, again using an incremental approach. Over the course of a few months, he was back to his original levels of training.
Paul stressed the importance of finding providers and support systems that you like and trust. These people will work to get you back to where you need to be physically and mentally. Says Paul, “I call it my constellation. It’s my circle of HCPs, my physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, and active release. Without them recovery would have been so much longer and harder.”
Getting back in the saddle
One of Paul’s goals is to complete Ironman Lake Placid in 2022. This course is notorious for its challenging bike course, which includes a three mile descent where riders can average speeds of 45 mph. Paul had to get reacquainted with riding his bike outside, and more importantly, downhill.
When asked about his level of comfort on the bike, Paul said, “I just wasn’t sure I’d ever be comfortable on the bike again. I’m definitely not fully recovered psychologically. I’ve noticed it’s not the speed that scares me, it’s the degree of descent.”
Knowledge is power
In an attempt to quell his fear of downhill riding he started researching the proper form for descending downhill at speed on a bike. “I realized after the crash that in all my years of riding, I didn’t actually know the proper position for going downhill.”
By arming himself with more knowhow, his confidence increased as he tackled the bike again. He built up slowly over time and always listened to his mind and body. If he’s not feeling it, he doesn’t do it. Eventually, short rides got longer, slow rides got faster and hills got bigger and steeper.
Paul also read stories about big wave surfers who crashed to see how they handled the accident. A resounding theme was how they reframed their perspective. The surfers would take a step back and critically think about what is most important athletically and in life.
The Comeback Kid
One year after his accident, Paul toed the start line for Ironman Maine 70.3. As he watched wave after wave of athletes head into the ocean, his mind was full of thoughts. “Will my shoulder hold up for the whole swim?” “Is my fitness where it needs to be?” “Am I ready for this?” But Paul’s mental strength prevailed. Not only did he finish the race, he achieved a personal best for the distance and finished in the top 20 of his age group. One challenge down, next up is Lake Placid, and if anyone has the fortitude to tackle that course, it’s Paul.
Paul Capuzzo’s Tips & Lessons Learned for AgeGroupers
Proper downhill riding form:
- Feet positioned horizontal at 3 and 9 o’clock
- Soft bend in the knees to absorb vibrations
- Knees slightly bent inward toward/touching the top tube
- Weight shifted back and low on the seat
- Soft bend in the elbows with relaxed arms and shoulders
Road ID’s: bracelet with key information for first responders that is to be worn while out riding and running.
- Information should include: first and last name, birth date, blood type, any allergies and an emergency contact/phone number.