But injuries sustained in a climbing accident nearly a year ago threatened to forever alter his life as a cyclist.
While climbing in Ophir’s Crack Canyon on Oct. 1, 2006, Colt was struck in the head with a 25-pound rock. The impact broke a bone in his upper cervical spine and left a gaping cavity in his skull, where fragments of shattered bone lay jumbled amid the traumatized tissues of his brain.
It was unclear whether Colt would ever walk – much less cycle – again.
Yet less than a year after his brush with paraplegia, Colt has beaten the odds – and broken a few doctor’s orders for rehabilitation – by returning to the bike saddle. Not only has cycling become the most rewarding aspect of his long-term physical rehabilitation, Colt has also decided to make it his way of giving back to the community that has continually offered its support along what has become an increasingly difficult path for him to navigate.
This weekend, Colt will be the first disabled rider to participate in the annual Mountains-to-the-Desert Ride, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Just For Kids Foundation. His goal is to complete 50 miles along Saturday’s route from Telluride to Moab, riding in the custom-designed three-wheel recumbent bicycle that has helped him regain some of the physical freedom he once took for granted.
“It is the one thing that has truly empowered me,” Colt says of returning to the sport after his injury, the residual effects of which left him with a debilitating weakness along the right side of his body. “It is something in my life that I love to do… It has been a big deal for me to have the ability to move through space, and not need to be helped by someone else.”
The past year has been incredibly trying for the Colt family, and cycling has also served as a vital part of Colt’s emotional healing process. Just weeks before Colt’s injury, his wife, Leslie, finished her final series of chemotherapy treatments for cervical cancer and was given a clean bill of health. But while Colt lay motionless in a hospital bed, Leslie’s cancer returned and his wife of 37 years was again fighting for her life. She succumbed to the cancer on Oct. 25, just 25 days after her husband nearly lost his life, leaving behind two couple’s two children, Summer and Jonathan.
“She was dying of cancer, but she was sitting next to my hospital bed,” Colt remembers through tears. “My recovery is not just for me, but also for my wife.”
Colt’s resolution to participate in the Mountains-to-the-Desert Ride, a supported ride that tests the physical limits of even the most able-bodied riders, was sparked by friend Carrie Koenig’s suggestion to set the annual event as his autumn cycling goal. As she explains, “James has been so incredibly focused on his recovery, but at times his progress has seemed so small and slow – at least to him. I thought it was important for him to see that he is making progress, and so should set a goal that is outside of his normal parameters.”
Colt began riding again only eight months after the injury, following six weeks at St. Mary’s Hospital, then the subsequent two months in rehabilitation in Grand Junction. His bike, which was custom made in Germany by the HP-Vilotech company, was designed with his special needs in mind. All shifting, braking and steering on the 27-speed, rear-suspension bicycle is done from the left side, where Colt has normal strength and motor skills.
Since early summer, Colt has used the bicycle as his main form of rehabilitation, riding four to five days a week. He has even begun to return to the off-road trails (Bear Creek, Alta Lakes and Tomboy Road) that were once part of his normal mountain biking routine.
While the physical byproducts of Colt’s onerous past 12 months are still discernible in the labored manner he must drag his right foot to walk, and how his signature is nearly unrecognizable, even to him, he’s continually regaining strength in his right leg, thanks in great part to his steadfast dedication to riding his bike, and he’s learning to use his left hand to write and perform other tasks.
Saturday’s ride is the result of Colt’s tireless efforts this summer to recapture a part of his life he once shared joyfully with his wife and two children, as well as an opportunity for him to give something back to the Telluride community that has been a pillar of support since his injury.
Of his return to Telluride after spending nearly four months in Grand Junction after the accident, he remembers: “It was this incredible feeling of elation, like I was finally home.”
Koenig says the Telluride community’s support throughout Colt’s taxing last year has been a vital part of his physical and emotional therapy. “The community has been really important in his healing process,” she says, adding that the “community within a community” of Telluride’s cycling circle has given added encouragement for Colt’s recovery.
Colt will depart from Norwood Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m., with a goal of completing 50 miles. He is still accepting donations for the fundraiser, which benefits the Just For Kids Foundation. The Mountains-to-the-Desert Ride’s fundraising goal is $50,000, which will be matched by the Carstens family. Those wishing to donate may still do so by contacting event organizers Erik or Josephine Fallenius at 728-4454, or visit www.mountainstothedesertride.com.