Just last weekend, Australian triathlon superstar Greg Bennett was smiling and getting a trophy, applause and an $8,000 check for winning his fourth straight Nautica New York Triathlon. But six days later, returning home after an exhilarating 55-mile training ride Saturday on the St. Vrain Loop, Bennett got hit by a car while cruising home in north Boulder.
“I was riding a mile from home on North Broadway across the street from Amante coffee shop,” said Bennett Sunday while nursing a severely sore shoulder, swollen knees, and a suspected broken nose. “We were both going south on a slight downhill, fairly fast. I was in the bike lane and he was just in front of me when he suddenly put on the brakes to turn into a driveway on the right and there was nothing I could do. He hit me and my head hit the curb and my front wheel buckled and all that type of stuff. I think maybe most of the force came from hitting the curb. Then I was laying out on the pavement in shock.”
Bennett said he has a hard time remembering the moment of impact, but he was not knocked out. “Blood was everywhere,” he said. “My nose was smashed and bleeding seriously. All the blood was in my eye. When they asked me where it hurts I said ‘My shoulder, my elbow and a bit of whiplash in my neck.’ It seemed like all the blood had gone to my right eye and I could not see with it.”
Look at this picture of Bennett in Boulder Community Hospital and it doesn’t look like the handsome devil-may-care triathlete who could have modeled for the poster of the movie Gallipoli about brave Aussie soldiers. More likely, this fellow could have modeled for the chewed up soldiers in a field medical tent. Instead of looking like triathlon’s version of the young untouchable Muhammad Ali, he looks more like that classic boxing photograph of Jersey Joe Walcott’s face getting flattened by a punch from Rocky Marciano.
Just after the moment of impact, when he had a moment to collect his wits, Bennett thought this might be a serious career interruption. “I thought ‘Oh shit! Just as I was getting my season together and won New York, now the year is over,” said Bennett, 36.
But with a little time to reflect, Bennett was optimistic and grateful. “Honestly I walked away pretty fortunate,” he said. “I think I hit going 40k an hour. I actually can’t believe I walked away. But today, I feel pretty bad and have a nasty headache and walk gingerly. But I am thinking, ‘Wow, I could be back at Chicago (August 30).’”
Bennett was the second triathlon star recently to get hit by a car in Boulder. In May, six-time Ironman Hawaii champion Dave Scott was hit by a driver making a U-turn in the middle of Linden Avenue in the nearby Wonderland Lake area and suffered a broken collarbone and broken ribs.
Bennett remained understanding of the driver who hit him. “The guy in the car made an honest mistake, as we all do,” said Bennett. “I could not have been hit by a nicer guy. He is an Iowa fireman, and there are not better guys than fire-ies. This guy is usually the first one on the scene helping people in my situation and he was devastated. I really feel for him. It happened on his 25th wedding anniversary. He left a long message on my phone upset and apologetic.”
Bennett Unlike many cyclists hit by a car, Bennett had empathy for the driver. “I think we all drive cars and we are not 100 percent all the time either,” said Bennett. “Moreover, I think when we are on our bikes we need to be more aware of everything around us.”
On the way to the hospital in the ambulance, Bennett was more worried about his wife, fellow elite triathlete Laura Bennett. “I had my cell phone with me and I made a call to Laura and left a message,” said Bennett. “She was in the pool swim training and I tried to sound as calm as possible. I did not want my partner freaking out. I think some times these things are worse for spouses. Obviously it hurts and I have a nasty headache. But I think the shock is worse for others around you.”
On Sunday, Bennett took some time to reflect about the cyclist’s precarious, fragile relationship sharing the road with two-ton cars and trucks. “At the end of the day, I realize I've had crashes like this before,” said Bennett. “At the Nice World Cup in 2003, they did not close the roads and a car came up on me, I clipped the back of the car and went flying at 50-60k an hour and landed on my back. I have had quite a few crashes the past 20 years in the sport. A few were bad and I feel pretty fortunate I only broke my arm once or twice, my nose two or three times. I guess by now I look more and more like Owen Wilson.”
Bennett chuckled over that, but then turned serious again. “The thing is we have all have been hit,” he said. “Yeah honestly, Brad Bevan got a devastating injury when he was hit by a car just before the 2000 Olympic Trials. You can get killed or hurt badly. As for me, the fact that I’m sitting here the next day to do a phone interview with you is pretty miraculous. I feel very fortunate, and I am really touched by the amount heartfelt support on Facebook, Twitter, email and all the modern forms of communication I have received from people all around the world.”
Assessing his potential for recovery in greater detail, Bennett says:”At the moment I am just able to walk up and down the stairs. It is pretty painful. I don’t have the ability to use my right arm with the shoulder and elbow, so the swim might be the last thing to get back in working order. I will give it a couple of days and not do anything and make sure my brain calms down after the hit. I might start with bike on the wind trainer and easy riding to loosen up the knees. I will run later and then float on the water. One day later I can’t tell. It is pretty sore.”
As for his modeling career, Bennett is cavalier. “That may not be entirely over,” he quipped. “I am seeing an ear nose and throat doctor Monday and will ask him how badly my nose is fractured. Most of the time they let it heal itself. I may end up with a slightly crooked nose. Actually, I already had a bit of a crook. Who knows, this might push it straight.”