BY TOM DEMERLY.

tooskinny80_800

A Victoria’s Secret ad run on Facebook after I used Photoshop to retouch back to what I thought were normal looking, physically fit females.

 

Top fashion brands like Victoria’s Secret have taken heat from consumers and media for manipulating the appearance of their models through both real diet and exercise regimes and also by using photo retouching techniques to make the models appear thinner, taller, and without skin blemishes.

I wondered what would happen if I used Adobe Photoshop to retouch a Victoria’s Secret ad seen on Facebook in the other direction. I wanted to make the models look more “average”, more like my impression of what physically fit females actually look like. Here are the results seen side by side.

sidebyside800

The original ad on the left, my retouched version on the right. It took a lot of work to get rid of all that “thigh gap”.

 

The project took about 20 minutes in Photoshop, and I am not a skilled user. I used the “liquify” tool, the rubber stamp tool and the masking tool. For an expert in Photoshop the results would be better and quicker.

When I put the two photos next to each other I was struck by how truly bizarre the actual Victoria’s Secret ad looks. The two girls in the center with bare midriffs look truly weird in the real ad, and look a lot more realistic in my Photoshopped version.

The thing that struck me the most was that the ad I Photoshopped now looked pretty reasonable. The actual ad, before my Photoshop, looked freakish.

I don’t know how much (if any) Photoshop is done in an ad like this one for Victoria’s Secret. I do know it took 20 minutes of work to restore the image to my perception of a more normal, fit looking bunch of girls on the beach.

 

By Tom Demerly.

realtri20_edited-1

The heart and reality of modern triathlon is the everyday hero, not the thigh-gap supermodel.

Who does triathlons in the United States today? What does the “average” triathlete look like?

Industry dogma suggests all triathletes are high wage earners between 30 and 45 who aspire to race Ironman (or already have). They own a $10K bike, race wheels and a power meter. Their household income is above $120K and they have a graduate level degree. They are the marketer’s dream come true: Young, affluent, fit and shopping.

There are two problems with that “demographic”: it’s outdated and likely wrong. Why?

Set the way-back machine to December 2007. Economists agree this is when the Great Recession started in the United States. It ravaged personal discretionary income and decimated those just hanging on to upper middle class. Many haven’t recovered to pre-recession income and savings levels even though the recovery has thundered ahead, dropping them from the pack like a newbie on their first group ride. Those that have recovered or never suffered an economic loss may be reluctant to part with cash earned during the stock market gains of the past seven years. Americans seem less eager to carry debt, despite an ominous recent spike in credit card debt. Discretionary spending decisions have tightened in the post-recession era.

Many of the tired marketing statistics rehashed about triathlon were collected prior to the 2007 recession– and haven’t been updated since. The post-recession demographics for triathlon have changed.

Americans have also changed physically. We’re heavier- all of us. The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona.

realtri100

Americans, including triathletes, have gotten heavier and may continue to as a population. Triathlon has failed to market effectively to that reality.

As a result of this economic and health demographic shift triathlon has filled from the bottom. The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.

This is good news for the triathlon industry if they become more pragmatic about who is really doing triathlons. History suggests the triathlon industry isn’t very realistic about its own consumership. It continues to (try to) market to the svelte, Kona demographic in print and internet media- even though the inspirational stories that bring people into the sport are usually the saga of the everyman participant who had to overcome to participate, and doesn’t really compete.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between Participation and Competition is what continues to hold the triathlon industry back. It is also why retailers have a hard time earning consistent profits from a market they are increasingly out of touch with.

There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes. In fact, the same rebellion that has happened in women’s apparel marketing with consumers raging against brands like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch is ready to happen in triathlon. The middle 90% wants triathlon to “get real” about who is actually participating, and they don’t care about who’s racing in Kona.

realtri40

Triathlete Niecia Staggs and his Ocean Swim Club at Torrance Beach, California represent the athlete constituency that truly pushes triathlon forward.

 

A gold standard metric for triathlon marketers and product managers has been the “Kona Bike Count”, a census of brands and models seen in the transition area of the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii each year. This increasingly irrelevant set of metrics is still used to (try to) sell everything from race wheels to bikes to power meters. There is one problem though- as the sport fills from the bottom the assumption that every participant aspires to emulate the couple thousand athletes in Kona is statistically flawed.

A bike company may devote six figures and more to developing the next triathlon “super bike” costing over $5000 (and even $10K) but they have failed to develop inspiring new designs in entry-level triathlon bikes. If a bike company introduced a comfortable, high head-tube bike with aerobars and a comfortable saddle with an aero appearance at the $1500-$2200 price point it would be an easy decision for new triathletes. New triathletes aren’t interested in the tired marketing paradigm of wind-tunnel white paper dogma that is debated ad nauseam among a shrinking number of triathlon Internet forum mavens. They just want to sit upright on their bikes, be comfortable, look presentable and have a good experience at their triathlon.

realtri30

Apparel and personal care brands have begun to leverage an inclusive, realistic approach to expand brand awareness and foster broader-appeal sales. Numbers say the approach is working.

Apparel manufacturers have missed the mark too, alienating prospective customers with images of sponsored pros with little or no recognition among average triathletes and building clothing that is too tight, too short and in size runs that are humiliating to try on. If a forward thinking triathlon apparel brand introduced a tactfully marketed apparel line called “PR” with upward-adjusted size runs, modest cuts and middle-road visual appeal they would outsell too-tight, mis-sized brands designed to fit anorexic Kona winners.

The idea of every triathlete being the “alpha consumer” isn’t accurate anymore. Triathlon has changed. The sport is filling from the bottom. It has become an “everyman and everywoman” sport. The vision of the triathlete as a super fit, alpha-consumer threatens the sport by becoming increasingly exclusionary. It fails to welcome new athletes and creates barriers to entry like body image and entry price.

There will be big and quick rewards for the first triathlon brands who acknowledge this in their product mix and marketing message. The money is there to make, but it must be earned through pragmatic product design and judicious, ego-free marketing. The first brands to reach the finish line of the new, realistic paradigm in triathlon marketing will be the new podium finishers on the top of the sales charts long after the “winners” of the Kona Bike Count are forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

fiftyshades70

If you made it to this review, you’re somehow curious. And that is the premise that Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey works on: curiosity.

If you want me to tell you that Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad movie, then leave now.

Fifty Shades of Grey is every guilty dessert you’ve ever had, and crave again. A sticky, corny, breathless mix of horny inference and naughty voyeurism combined with a visual and aural experience that is incredibly satisfying for those open to admit it. For everyone else, Disney is releasing a new version of Cinderella on March 13.

But Fifty Shades hits all the grown-up hot buttons of Cinderella, Titanic, The Beach, Dracula and every other cliché’ romantic theme, and it spins these clichés freshly enough for two very rapt hours. On a cold winter’s night, that is pretty damn hot.

Firstly, Fifty Shades of Gray is a visual treat. With beautiful, escapist sets, wardrobes and music this is the 120+ minute escape from reality we buy a movie a ticket for. Every detail is at least well done, some so well done they are breathless. And while the bondage and dominance themes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, everyone but the most severely repressed will find naughty, voyeuristic fun in this corny fantasy. Even Anastasia’s Steele’s lilting and gentle voice is a method of seduction that punctuates the movie. The scene where Christian straps Anastasia into the helicopter is absolutely incendiary.

Casting is also superb, with Dakota Johnson interpreting Anastasia with incredible accuracy and function and Jamie Dornan as a perfect mix of hot, demented, tormented and tender as Christian Grey. 

fiftyshades60

This is a movie of gems, from a beautiful scene where Christian Grey takes Anastasia for a ride in a glider to a lilting dance scene where wardrobe, music (Frank Sinatra, of course), set and characters make movie history. All of these scenes are stolen clichés, and all of them are done brilliantly. Interestingly enough, the bondage sex scenes really don’t push limits or get very racy, they just have a breathy inference that does the trick.

The mastery in this film includes a use of silence that is captivating, using it as an awkward negative space that anyone who has ever suffered obsession has felt.

A packed theater for a 10 PM showing contained only about 10 men- in the entire movie theater. The assembled hen party alternately giggled during the sex scenes and was in rapt silence during the heavy parts when the audience hung on the dialogue in virtual bondage- with no safe word. It’s pretty safe to assume that PTA meetings and knitting circles were poorly attended the night Fifty Shades opened

There is one disturbing sequence in the movie, when boundaries are bent just a little too far, and the movie isn’t fun there. But even this heavy moment can be forgiven- only in artistic context- as an appliance of punctuation in the story line.

fiftyshades80

For those who are wary of the movie and fear it crosses lines that advocate abuse, I can respect and identify with that perspective. The movie is about power trips and control, and those are things easily demented. But this movie is also about tender themes of communication and honesty, and to lose those against the sultry and pornographic backdrop is to not get everything you paid for in the story. That said, for victims of abuse, this is not the right movie and should be avoided. The story itself does not endorse non-consensual abuse, and makes repeated and clear statements to that effect. And recall that there are more than a few epic and noteworthy romances that challenge boundaries and cross lines, from Gone With The Wind to Casablanca.

The movie does exploit gender role stereotypes, and there are victims on both sides; the innocent simple girl and the tormented powerful man. If you are offended by stereotypes then take equal offense at each. Both are exploited here. That is a function of great fiction. Remember- this is fiction. The fact is people control or attempt to control each other in many ways in relationships; this story expands on those themes. Its over-emphasized delivery of these themes is what gives it such unusual candor, and make it such a spectacle.

fiftyshades10

The inspiration of this story includes themes from the life of Howard Hughes and borrows snippets from little known cult classics like the much more disturbing Boxing Helena from 1993. This is simply an updated compendium of all these themes. It’s been a while since we had something like this, so audiences are ripe for Fifty Shades.

What is so well done about Fifty Shades of Grey is its wide band of erotic frequencies. The hottest scenes have neither nudity or sex, although there is plenty of that too, and it is pretty darn good. Perhaps some of the most powerful scenes include a brand of honesty and openness almost never seen in real life relationships, and seeing that is incredibly hot. The “contract negotiation” scene is a fantasy I wager everyone has wished for. There is also the dramatic back-and-forth of control, and the concession that having it is usually an illusion, and always ephemeral. In that regard, Fifty Shades of Grey is a documentary.

Ultimately you are either a fan of this romantic theme or you aren’t. For fence sitters I wager Fifty Shades of Grey will win some people over to the dark side and sell a lot of bondage gear. If it’s not your thing, avoid it. But if you are curious, then submit to the cliché and caricature of Fifty Shades of Grey and get ready to be strapped down for two hours with a racing heart on a wild, romantic and naughty ride.

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly

snowstormshovelBW

I stepped out the door on the way to work two weeks ago. It had snowed. Nothing remarkable about that. It’s Michigan, it’s January.

What was remarkable is that my sidewalks, walkway and driveway were cleared of snow. I did not do it, it was done for me.

I live in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Three blocks north of me is Dearborn. Dearborn Heights is considered less affluent than Dearborn. It’s like “Dearborn on a budget”. We have lower home values- by a lot. There is less government, fewer services, fewer building codes, fewer police and emergency services. A girl I dated a long time ago is on city council and has run for Mayor a few times. She hasn’t won yet, but I’d vote for her. She’s a smart politician and good administrator.

I can look three blocks north into Dearborn from my house in Dearborn Heights. I live in Dearborn Heights now because it is cheaper. A three-bedroom house on a big lot in Dearborn Heights is about $800 a month. Same house in Dearborn; maybe $1200, on a smaller lot.

Part of the reason Dearborn is more expensive is city services and government.

And that brings us back to the snow.

Like I said, my snow was cleared completely. Quite nicely too. Since I had allowed an extra 15 minutes to shovel my own snow I now had 15 extra minutes of discretionary time before I left for work.

Discretionary time: think about that. It is our most precious non-renewable resource.

So I had a choice about what to do with this valuable 15 minutes.

I was in the Army. And the National Guard. A key thing we learned was to be a team player, act without direction congruent with a key set of values. Work together selflessly. Strive to do more than is expected and never settle.

So I picked up my snow shovel and shoveled the snow of the neighbor one house down from me. Mine was done. His was not.

Meanwhile, three blocks north in Dearborn the city plows had been out (higher taxes there, more expensive housing) but the sidewalks were still snow covered. It takes a while for the sidewalk plows to come after the streets have been cleared. The city can only afford so many sidewalk plows and people to drive them, and sometimes they have damaged people’s private walkways to their house creating lawsuits to get the city to repair them. So it takes extra time for the sidewalks to get cleared in Dearborn. It’s also expensive. The sidewalk sweepers have to be bid on and bought, someone is paid to administer that project, and they must have a college degree in a related field since they are controlling a lot of public money. Then they have to hire people to drive the plows, and the process of hiring those people must be administered fairly and without discrimination or nepotism, so there needs to be some oversight there as well. The sidewalk sweepers also need gas and maintenance and storage during the summer, and that costs money too.

In Dearborn Heights, we just use snow shovels. A guy down the street has a snowblower, so he clears the sidewalks and walkways of his house and the neighbor on each side. Then the guy three doors down, also with a snowblower, does the same. I shovel the rest to the corner. I don’t have a snowblower.

Another guy, one block over, owns a snow removal service. He runs his plow up and down the street. Then we’re done.

Three blocks north in Dearborn, the sidewalk sweeper still hasn’t come.

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

D5N934

I view Facebook as a place to socialize, connect, share similarities and expand understanding. Not a place to draw lines or open wounds.

It’s rare for me to “unfriend” someone, but last week I did that and it made me sad.

I was sad because I sense that I actually like the person, even though there are some things I disagree with them about. That is fine.

But at which point a person begins to use a public and social platform to spread more than just their beliefs- to spread hurt and ridicule and even hate, then I must exclude them from the stream of consciousness that is my Facebook feed.

Here’s why:

Social media isn’t reality. We portray ourselves the way we want other people to see (and not see) us. We paint a picture, based more or less, on some version of who we really are. That is good because it is, well, “social” and it gives us a very controllable 600 X 800 persona. It is bad because what we envision in the virtual does have a tendency to manifest itself in reality.

I subscribe to a few axioms of life; one of them is that “We each create our own reality”. The reality I wish to create is one of friendship, unity, understanding, tolerance and kindness. I am not about drawing lines or about cruelty or ridicule.

You may disagree with me if you’d like, and I may disagree with you, but we can still find common interests on social media. And I welcome your ideas.

I am interested in making new connections, especially with people in places I either have never been or do not understand. In the words of great author Steven Covey I try, as best I can, to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

tomfacebook10

Over 4,000 people tolerate my incessant and tedious litany of Facebook posts about my cats, strange animals real and imagined, airplanes, triathlons, bicycles, scantily clad girls and videos of strange happenings. Every once in a while a few people get fed up with it and “unfriend” me, and every few days I pick up a few new “friends”, almost always people I have never have never met, nor will I ever meet.

A big part of my involvement in Facebook is commercial- to promote the work I do for a few different outlets in three different and unrelated industries. People get understandably bored with that too. Fair enough. There’s an “unfriend” button for that.

But the quickest and really the only way to get “unfriend-ed” by me is for someone to threaten violence, or advocate ridicule or insult in what should be a peaceful space. This is a gray area, and I support some institutions that do violence; the military is an example. But I am judicious (at least I think so) in my advocacy of these causes and interests, and I acknowledge you may have no interest in them. I respect that. You may even take exception to them. I accept that.

There are vast areas of gray in social media use; what is obscene or profane to some of my friends is acceptable, desirable even, to others. There is a point where gray becomes black and that isn’t always the same all the time, with every topic and every person, but I know when I see it. And I won’t let it in my Facebook feed.

By Tom Demerly.

AMSNIPE10

If you were waiting for the release of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper you have probably seen it by now. If you haven’t, and have no interest in movies of this genre, then you need to see it.

American Sniper is three distinct things: Firstly and most profoundly, it is an unflinching commentary on the American experience in the Global War On Terror. Secondly, it is a brilliantly crafted film in every way that uses contrast and plot to slam home a message of ongoing relevance. And lastly, it is a call to action to adapt our doctrine in the never-ending conflict with barbarism and cruelty.

Modern American Heroes are Tragic Figures.

American culture has a habit of moderating the horrors of war by deifying the sacrifice of those lost to it. We build heroes. And then we aspire to be heroes. This has a dreadful self-perpetuating tendency to use war as our primary tool in the darkest corners of international conflict. American Sniper challenges that national notion.

AMSNIPE20

Our heroes are often tragic figures, wracked with conflict and fear, who meet sad and untimely endings. The main figure in American Sniper, Naval Special Warfare Operator Chris Kyle, is just such a character. His valor, patriotism and loyalty were unswerving. This film celebrates that. But he mounted a quest to slay an un-slayable dragon, and was tragically consumed by it. This film mourns that.

This is a notice to American culture in a new age: maintain our current doctrine and continue to produce tragic heroes like Chris Kyle, or advance our thinking in conflict resolution and find a less costly method that produces more tangible results.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the tragic theme of American Sniper is that U.S. troops still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will see this movie there instead of being at home. And the region is still locked in conflict.

Flawless and Authentic Filmmaking.

American Sniper is marble-hard filmmaking perfection. Director Clint Eastwood employs every trick of drama, suspense, tragedy and action with expertise. Casting is also superb down to the minor characters. There is not a single weak spot or feature to American Sniper. The film is so effective and hard-hitting that when it ends the theatre is left in stunned and exhausted silence. If you calibrate this film against the standards of Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down or any other conflict film it exceeds them all. This is the new standard in conflict commentary film.

AMERICAN SNIPER

A National Call to Action in an Unresolved War.

Finally, American Sniper holds a vivid mirror up to our military doctrine in the ongoing Global War on Terror. The inescapable verdict is that, while we have succeeded in thwarting any major terrorist actions on U.S. soil, we have fallen short of providing functional reform and security to much of the region where the GWOT is waged. The significance of both of these points is more relevant now than ever, after two weeks of new terror attacks in France and months of escalated terrorist activity by ISIL in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve kept the (Middle Eastern) terrorists off U.S. soil since 9/11, but we are far from anything resembling a “victory”.

American Sniper is made with sensitivity and care, expertise and authenticity. It is also a relevant movie for the times. Eastwood’s film rises to the very top of the GWOT film genre’ and challenges all of our thinking about the past and the direction of our future role in this seemingly never-ending conflict.


gluck10

It’s Saturday morning, September 15, 2012. Washington Township, Michigan. An idyllic late summer day, 73 degrees. Wind out of the NNW at a calm 4 M.P.H. A perfect training day for the Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii a few weeks away in October.

Local heartthrob triathlete Amy Gluck is out training for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2- mile run that is the most famous triathlon in the world.

Gluck is putting the final touches on her preparation for Kona. Blonde and beautiful, the (then) 40-year old Amy Gluck could grace the cover of any fitness or fashion magazine. In person she is warm and unassuming about her athletic accomplishments. By day she works as a clinical nutrition manager. The rest of the time she inspires the local triathlon community with her drive and humble athleticism while she prepares for another great Ironman.

gluck30

Amy Gluck at the finish line and on the podium at the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii before her accident.

Amy is up early, as usual, inflating her bike tires and texting training partners. She meets another athlete for their long ride inside one of the local Metroparks where the smooth, tree-shaded winding roads are perfect for cycling. Toward the end of her ride she leaves the park and rides out onto local roads.

Where she is hit broadside by a gravel-hauling semi truck.

Gluck’s bones are crushed, snapped and mangled. Bone fragments, now lethal internal shrapnel, ricochet inside her body. Even though she is wearing a bicycle helmet her brain accelerates inside her skull to smash into the bone, beginning deadly inflammation almost immediately. Her left eye is internally detached. Connective tissues are creased beyond any normal range of motion. But mostly, it is the fatal force of the impact. Based on the reports of the accident the combined forward speed of Gluck’s bicycle and the speed of the semi-truck are equivalent to riding into a concrete wall at about 45 M.P.H. A BBC report on bicycle helmets states that, “If you crash at 15 miles per hour in a normal helmet, your head will be subjected to around 220G [G-force].” But Wikipedia says that, “Very short duration shocks of 100 g have been survivable in racing car crashes.” Gluck’s impact may have occurred at nearly two times those forces.

The next hours are a blur of emergency medical trauma decisions; any one of which made differently- even slightly- will kill Gluck if she manages to live to the next one. Which, in her condition, is unlikely. She is eventually medevaced by helicopter to a more advanced trauma unit, but only after a large section of skull is removed to reduce brain damage from swelling. The skull section becomes contaminated and cannot be replaced inside her head if she lives. Nothing about her condition is hopeful, and the situation is deteriorating. She slips into a deep coma, hovering barely outside the margins of death.

It is a nightmare scenario, every cyclist’s worst fear. The injuries from the shattering impact with the grille of the giant semi-truck are so extensive no one person I spoke to could list them all.

News of Gluck’s accident travels fast in the tight-knit Michigan triathlon community. It’s a community of athletes across all skill levels from Ironman finishers to athletes in their first year of triathlons. And it is a community used to tragedy and loss. There was the death of popular local Ironman age grouper Jon Logan to cancer. A life-threatening accident for triathlete Mike Orris. The sudden death of athlete Sean Tyrrell, the death of Gary Plank, the earlier death of local cycling coach and rider Michael R. Rabe to a drunk driver. Even local running entrepreneur Randy Step suffered congestive heart failure and had heart surgery then came back to be a signpost for not just surviving, but truly living. But Gluck’s accident resonates somehow deeper. In a tragic epilogue another cyclist, 38-yeart old Emily Sands of Dryden, Michigan, is hit and killed seven months after Gluck’s accident on the same roads.

Triathletes- the people who do Ironmans- are a funny breed. They consider themselves somehow exempt from mortality. They are fitter, leaner, healthier. Aside from bouts with shins splints, swimmer’s elbow and road rash from minor bike falls most triathletes believe they are living a healthy lifestyle that contributes to their quality of life and longevity. Amy Gluck’s lethal accident seemed like a morbid alarm clock that woke up the community to their own mortality.

Two things could have happened in the wake of Amy Gluck’s accident, and they would likely happen in the hours while she hovered on the thinnest of lines between life and death. The athlete community could look at Gluck’s horrifying accident and withdraw, becoming individuals living in fear and retreating to a sedentary lifestyle that seems safer. Or, they could rally together and live, even when they were unsure if Gluck would live, and make an unswerving commitment to support Amy Gluck and each other- and not give in to the fear of mortality.

The community chose to rally together and live.

gluck40

The WXYZ television coverage of Amy Gluck’s prayer vigil on September 21, 2012.

On September 21, 2012, six days after Gluck’s crushing accident and at the low point of her descent into a coma, while she hovers between life and death, athletes who know Amy have a prayer vigil at Henry Ford Hospital. Local ABC News affiliate WXYZ reports the story.

It is an unusual video report to watch. Awkward almost. But one senses there is a transition that takes place right before your eyes- in that video. It is the beginning of the collective decision of the community to band together, to rise above, to somehow turn this tragedy into a rallying point. And to pull Amy Gluck back from the brink.

Against all odds, Gluck does not die. She is, however, far from living. Especially by her standards.

Weeks pass. Amy’s sister Kendi Gluck, a physician herself, told the ABC News affiliate, “It’s like a nightmare and I just want to wake up from it.” Friends take turns at Amy’s bedside. Uncertainty about Amy’s survival remains but the tight bonds within the athlete community only strengthen. These are people used to tough going in the late hours of an Ironman, when it seems like the race will never end and the finish will never come. There is a saying among Ironman triathletes, “If you don’t like how you feel, wait a few minutes, it will change.” The community applies that same mental resolve to endure Amy’s tedious grip on life. It is a community uniquely prepared to handle the wild swing of ups and downs. Outsiders would ask, “What will happen to Amy?” the answer was oddly unanimous. “Don’t count Amy Gluck out.” And they didn’t.

The weeks turn into months. One day- different people suggest different dates, Amy Gluck wakes up. And a new race starts. A race harder than any Ironman Gluck had competed in, and a race with an undefined finish line. Now that Gluck has survived the accident, no one knows where her recovery will take her. But Amy Gluck is back in the race, and her multiple Ironmans were merely a warm-up for the race to get back to who she was before her accident.

Gluck before the start of the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon.

Gluck before the start of the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon.

There are surgeries. Many, many surgeries. Most sound more like carpentry than medicine. There is an endless procession of setbacks and low points. At times Gluck seems out of touch with reality, talking about getting ready for an upcoming race that doesn’t exist as though the accident never happened. But the nature of brain injuries is that, as they heal the person who suffered them gradually reintegrates into collective reality. Gluck has begun that long mental process along with the grating and painful physical recovery, a recovery that may never end.

On May 14, 2014 I visited Amy at the recovery facility she lived in at the time. It was a comfortable, nicely appointed single story community building that felt like an apartment. I had no idea what I was walking into. Would she be… somehow not in touch with reality? How do you ask a person who has been through a terrible accident and barely lived if they are “OK” now? Would she know?

Amy answered the door and gave me a hug. Unusual since, quite frankly, I never knew her well prior to learning about her accident. I only knew of her. She was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants and big, floppy socks. Her hair was a messy heap of blonde.

There was something oddly…naked about her eyes. Like she had seen something very bad. They were, however, fully open, as if to suggest an incredible awareness to the unlikely circumstances of her survival. And, to take in all the challenges and possibilities that lie before her.

It was a year and six months since Gluck’s accident.

“Do you remember the accident?”

“I don’t even remember how I ended up where I was riding. I don’t remember anything about the accident. Maybe that’s better.” She speaks quietly between gentle pauses. Each comment from her, whether she is recounting her injuries, recovery or talking about her future, is articulate and well conceived. She is all there. Nothing is missing.

I ask her about being in the hospital and when she woke up.

“I don’t really remember when I woke up. It seemed like a long time. I was kind of in and out.” She says. She seems to diminish the brutality of her ordeal. She says waking from a coma was not like they show it on TV, it does not happen suddenly and all at once.

It occurs to me that blocking out much of what she has been through is not only a physical result of her injuries, but an emotional necessity. Amy had a huge section of her life torn out. She’ll never get it back.

Over the next few months I spoke to many people about Amy Gluck’s accident and miraculous survival, and prospects for more than survival.

amychristina

Amy Gluck with friend Amy Christena at a triathlon swim start before Gluck’s accident.

 

Amy Christena, a longtime friend of Amy Gluck told me, “She’s challenging herself every day. To get back to the girl she was. She is something more than a survivor. She never lost her drive. That is why, inside at least, she is still the same person.” Christena is also an experienced triathlete who shared in many of Amy Gluck’s races and successes prior to the accident. “I honestly thought she was going to die. I’m really amazed she lived.” Amy Christena was one of the people who visited and supported Amy Gluck from day one since the accident, and she participated in the dreadful rollercoaster of her difficult and ongoing recovery ordeal.

During one visit Amy Christena asked Gluck how she was doing. Gluck told her she was getting ready for [Ironman] Louisville. “She was very confused. She took all the conversations in the room and merged them into one. I was devastated”. But Amy Christena never counted out the possibility of Gluck somehow getting better.

Through endless suffering and staggering setbacks Amy Gluck did continue to improve. Her ambition and drive to get back outstripped the pace of her physical recovery sometimes, and that was frustrating. Gluck held exactly the same high standards for her recovery as she did for an Ironman performance in Kona. Just recovering was not enough. Gluck wanted back in the race.

gluck70

On Sunday, January 4, 2015, 2 years, 3 months and 21 days after her accident, Amy Gluck did a triathlon. She participated in the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon in Commerce Township, Michigan. The race is part of a national series of indoor triathlons sponsored by Lifetime Fitness. And while a short indoor triathlon at a health club is an incredible measure from competing in the Ironman World Championships, it is also a long way from lying in a coma trapped between life and death.

Michael Wilker, General Manager of Lifetime Fitness in Commerce said, “It’s incredible, one of the greatest stories we’ve ever heard, and we’re excited Lifetime could be a small part of it.”

Many of the same people who were seen in the WXYZ news story back in 2012 were at Lifetime Fitness for the event- over two years later “Amy’s Army” was stronger than ever.

College friend Colleen Churchill, a bubbly, adorable physical education teacher chauffeured Gluck to the event from Livonia, Michigan. Churchill’s devotion to Amy’s comeback has been strong. She is one of many foot soldiers of Amy’s Army who never gave up on Gluck’s long run at a comeback. During the event Churchill shared a swim lane with Gluck and rode an indoor bike next to her for the bike leg then ran on the treadmill next to her to the virtual finish line.

gluck100

Along with many other friends of Amy Gluck, Colleen Churchill was there when Amy was in the hospital hanging onto life and then over two years later as she celebrates her miraculous survival.

Amy Gluck still needs help, and plenty of it. While her story has an inspirational ring to it, her recovery is very far from complete. She can’t drive, she does not live independently, her balance issues from the accident mean she may not be able to ride a bicycle outdoors and even if she could, the trauma to her family and friends from the accident and ordeal of wondering if Gluck would even survive are unbearable. The depth of Amy’s loss is immeasurable, from Ironman competitor to being dependent on friends and family for basic transportation and assistance with day-to-day life. Her loss, despite her survival, is staggering. The trip from Ironman podium to life support is about the widest swing of life experience anyone can imagine. While Amy Gluck is soft spoken about her ordeal, everyone else stands in awe of what she has lost, and her brave, never-ending struggle to try to get some version of it back, even if it is only an indoor triathlon her friends have to drive her to.

gluck60

When I asked Colleen Churchill what it was like to share the experience with Amy she told me, “Amy’s struggle reminds me not to take anything for granted, to live your life out loud. Amy’s accident changed my life forever too.”

Talk to anyone about Amy Gluck’s story. They all say the same things. “She is incredible.” “She is stronger than I would be.” “She is an inspiration.” “She makes me value what I have even more.” “She has shown us that participating in the sport is a gift and we can lose it at any time.” “When I reach a tough spot in a race I think of her and it makes it easier.” Every athlete I talked to about Amy is inspired by her.

gluck90

Any other group connected by a common interest would have been shattered by Amy’s tragedy. People would have drifted away in fear, taken up golf or tennis. Something safer. But the opposite happened with Amy Gluck’s friends and the Michigan multisport community. They rallied to Amy’s support. And in doing so, athlete bonds were strengthened. New athletes were inspired and mentored. And athletes looked to Amy’s survival as an inspiration. It is as if the entire community looked to Gluck’s incredible example of trying to go beyond survival and asked themselves, “What Would Amy Do?” The answer is clear; Amy Gluck does more than survive. Amy Gluck gets back in the race.

gluck120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers