“When I would be out there, for some strange reason I never thought it could happen to me"
Long bike rides were typically part of her weekends. But, with Mother’s Day approaching, Triny Willerton opted to get her miles in on Tuesday to spend the whole weekend with her kids and husband. The weather was beautiful in her home of Boulder, Colorado, and she set out on a familiar route, preparing for the upcoming Ironman Boulder.
“My mission was to qualify for [Ironman World Championship in] Kona, so I knew the [Boulder] course like the back of my hand,” she said. “That was the Ironman I was training for when I got hit.”
On May 8, 2018, while Willerton was riding on Nelson Road, she was T-boned by a driver as he illegally passed her. Her list of injuries included six broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured scapula, a fractured pelvis, and the whole left side of her body was affected.
“When I would be out there, for some strange reason I never thought it could happen to me, even though people who were close to me had been hit,” she said. “I’ve always been very careful and very safe with my cycling, always signaling. Then it happened to me.
“I never lost consciousness, but all of these horrible things went through my head, like what if I was never going to be able to walk again, and about my kids,” she said, “But, I felt so incredibly lucky to be alive.”
Willerton was in peak condition. She started cycling and competing in triathlons 10 years prior and was aiming to qualify for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii that October. Suddenly, she found herself in the hospital and unable to move.
When she inquired about her expected recovery, one nurse suggested she make it a goal to go trick-or-treating with her kids at Halloween. “I looked at her in disbelief, thinking that’s not going to work,” Willerton said.
After leaving the hospital, she wanted to get moving again and did so with the support of the CU Sports Medicine clinic, therapists, coaches, friends and her family. She also learned she had been selected for the special Women For Tri slot for Kona.
“When the Women For Tri spot came available, I had a purpose. There was no turning back, and no matter what I had to do, I would do it,” she said. “I kept focusing on the things that I could do. Little by little, I was able to do more and more. I treated my recovery like another Ironman. It’s what I had to train for.”
The strength she had prior helped propel her body through recovery. And five months after the crash, she was on the start line in Hawaii.
“Every single moment of that day was about being incredibly grateful for being able to be there and for being alive. It was a magical day,” she said.
The same determination Willerton put into her rehab and training she is now channeling toward making roads safer for cyclists and triathletes. And, earlier this year, she launched the “It Could Be Me” movement.
“The goal is to change the narrative between drivers and cyclists,” she said. “People may not always see cyclists as humans. There are so many layers to the problem, but I figured we could do something to change that and tap into the humanity of everyone that’s out there.
“It’s giving people a voice and an identity, helping drivers realize we’re just like them and that we are drivers too. It could be any person they know and love on that bike. It’s a shift in perspective.”
To help put a face to the cyclists, she is crowdsourcing video messages and testimonies. Those clips are shared across the It Could Be Me social media channels, and a new website has launched – itcouldbeme.org.
Support is coming in from around the world, from cyclists and triathletes, elite competitors and recreational riders and runners, from mothers and daughters, friends and neighbors, and people of all ages. They’re telling their stories and encouraging drivers to be alert for anyone sharing the road.
“Hopefully the more people hear about this, the more people this movement touches, more people will realize that it’s not worth it to put someone’s life in danger. I don’t think people think about that often enough,” she said.
Willerton has also been lobbying for cycling safety. She met with lawmakers to support Colorado Senate Bill 19-175, which Governor Polis signed into law in May and imposes harsher penalties on drivers who cause serious injuries to vulnerable road users.
She continues to work with organizations to build awareness, provide tools to people in other states around improving their laws, and to encourage creative solutions for improving relationships between motorists and cyclists.
“The growth of cities has often been so fast that there hasn’t been time for the infrastructure to become available so we are safer. Once we prioritize human life as opposed to cars, I think things will change,” she said. “It all starts with people’s attitudes and their will to create a different atmosphere. That’s why I think It Could Be Me can be so meaningful.”
Through cyclists and triathletes and communities everywhere, Willerton hopes to unite everyone in one strong voice for safety. She’s also continuing to ride, train and race.
“I consider myself extremely lucky and blessed to be able to still do the sport I love so much. I honestly believe I survived for a reason, and maybe this was the reason. I’m very tenacious and I think things need to change. I cannot read about anyone else getting hurt.”
Please help Triny and Your fellow cyclists by creating a short video (30-60 seconds), including something special about yourself, then take a vow to follow all the rules of the road and remind viewers that "it could be you." Share it with your social network and tag it #itcouldbeme. Then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will share your video across all of #itcouldbeme's social media platforms to engage the most people possible.
About the Contributor
Triny Willerton is a wife, a mom of 5, and a cyclist. In 2018, she was struck from behind by a driver with a truck while on a bike riding on the streets of Boulder, Colo. Because of the crash she sustained over 12 fractures and a punctured lung. Now Willerton, and her platform #itcouldbeme, work to change the narrative between cyclists and motorists to promote road safety for everyone.
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