ATF Featured Triathlete David Pico explains how he got into this crazy sport and how he nearly died on a training ride.
There are really 2 events that are most memorable in my triathlon career – my first Ironman race and a recent really bad bike crash. The first item was my first Ironman race – Ironman Wisconsin. I remember as a kid watching the Ironman World Championship on television and I was amazed at their athletic ability. I never had a thought that I had would ever actually do one. It seemed too crazy to really try.
I was in my mid-30’s and was spending most of my free time watching TV or playing video games. My children’s school was having a 5K race. My sons wanted to participate and wanted me to train with them. I remember starting out training and thought I was going to die after the first mile of practice. I stuck with the training, complete the race and began running longer distances. I then moved onto triathlons, starting with an Olympic distance and then a Half-Ironman race.
At that time I thought why not try a full Ironman race. I signed up for IM Wisconsin the day the race opened. A few months later I moved down to Franklin, TN from Chicago, joined BEAT and began training with them. This was my first experience with a triathlon group and I really enjoyed getting to know many of the members.
The weekend of IM Wisconsin came around and I drove up to Madison with my wife, Elizabeth. I was amazed at the number of athletes and felt a little intimidated, but I was excited. The day of the race started, and I was up at 3:30 AM to catch a bus to the starting area from our hotel. After what seemed like only a few minutes, though was probably a couple hours, it was time to start the race! I jumped into the water for the mass start. A few minutes later the swim began, and I was in a mass of flailing arms and legs. This was my first mass swim start in open water. After a few minutes we began spreading out and it was much calmer. I was not particularly good at sighting, so I definitely swam more than the 2.4 miles. Finally, I hopped out of the lake and ran for the transition area but not before hearing my wife in the crowd cheer me on!
The bike started off really well and I felt pretty strong. I settled in and really enjoyed the 1st 3rd of the race. As I began going up and down the very hilly course my left knee began bothering me more and more. It was hard to really put a lot of power to that leg which was a challenge on some of the hills. The crowd support was amazing and really helped me up those hills. There were crowds on both sides of the course, and at one point towards the top of the road the crowds pressed in so much I felt I could touch spectators on both sides. It felt like I was in the Tour de France!
I powered through and finished the bike portion slower than I wanted but was happy to be done. I hopped off the bike at transition and I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t straighten my left knee. An old basketball injury in combination with pushing myself a little too hard on the bike and really bothered my knee. I hobbled through transition and began the run course. I saw Elizabeth, stopped by her and said, “I don’t know if I will be able to complete the race.” She replied, “You don’t have a choice. You have trained too much to give up now and I have already posted way too much on Facebook. Everyone is rooting for you! Walk or run but you will finish this race!” That was my thought process through the remainder of the race. My knee would loosen up for a bit and I would run when I could, walk when I had to. It was a long run and I was helped along by wife who saw me in multiple areas plus the very supportive crowd.
Finally, the end was near. It was at night with a lot of lights blazing, the crowd was raucous and I was so excited. I remembered just a few years ago not being able to run a mile and I was completing an Ironman race! I let the person I was running with go ahead and I slowed down to really soak in the crowd’s energy. Finally, I heard “Congratulations David Pico! You are an Ironman!” and crossed the finish line.
The other “memorable” item was a very bad bike crash in August of 2019. I was signed up for Ironman Chattanooga and Ironman Florida and was really having a great training season. I was faster than I had ever been before and was really looking forward to completing the 2 races. Every Saturday I did at least a portion of bike training with the scheduled BEAT training ride. That day started off as normal with a group of about 6 riders. About 3 miles into the ride I was going down a hill that I had ridden at least a hundred times before. I don’t know exactly what happened but according to the other riders I was in the aero position, shifted gears and my chain either slipped or got stuck which threw off my balance. I lost control and crashed hard to the ground. Two other riders then crashed into me. I had a compound fracture on my left arm, a large gash on the back of my head and I was knocked unconscious for the next few hours. The other riders were also seriously hurt. We ended up having 3 ambulances come to the scene to take us to the hospital.
I ended up with a bad concussion, staples in my scalp, and having plates, pins and screws inserted into my arm. The doctors at the hospital were amazed that I didn’t have any more serious brain injury. They ended up doing a second MRI because they couldn’t believe I didn’t have any brain bleeding. After hearing about the crash from the other riders and hearing my wife recount what was happening at the hospital while I was unconscious I legitimately felt happy to be alive.
In addition to being happy to be alive, I was very touched by the outreach from friends and co-workers. The number of good wishes and concerned calls/texts that both Elizabeth and I received from other BEAT members was particularly appreciated.
I am now mostly healed and out training again (on a new bike) but I am definitely still impacted. I doubt I will do any serious riding outside by myself. The fact that other riders can immediately help in the event of a crash makes riding by myself dramatically more dangerous in my opinion. I am keenly aware of making sure that I have a helmet that is sized correctly and is appropriately worn. I still can’t go down a hill completely at ease, however, God willing, I will be ready for Ironman Tulsa on May 31st.
Tri Club – BEAT – Brentwood Endurance Athletic Team
Favorite Race - Ironman Wisconsin
Favorite Gear – Power Meter – really helps me train
Favorite Nutrition – Coconut Cashew Bonk Bar
Favorite of the three- swim bike run – Bike