By Caryn B. Davis

5893October 8, 2011 was a day like any other. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The air had a crispness about it that is so suggestive of fall. Colleen Kelly Alexander was doing what she done many times before, riding her bicycle from her office in Guilford to her home in Clinton, Connecticut, 12 miles away.

But this day was no ordinary day. This day would change Colleen forever and alter the course of her life, because halfway through her ride, the driver of a large freightliner decided to break the law and jump a stop sign.

Colleen saw the vehicle heading towards her, but had no time to react and only one thought: “I am going to get run over.” And that’s exactly what occurred. Colleen was run over by the truck’s front and back tires and dragged several yards. To make matters worse, the driver kept going. She was left there alone, fiercely ripped apart and bleeding out.

A guardian angel in the form of a construction worker named Dave Smith happened to be in the vicinity eating his lunch by the roadside and witnessed what happened. He rushed to Colleen’s side, made sure 911 was called, and stayed with her until the street was closed off to ensure her safety.

Colleen did not lose consciousness right away. She was aware enough to be completely horrified at the site of her own degloved body in which her skin had literally been peeled back exposing muscle, organs, tissue, and bone.

Colleen was no stranger to trauma or loss. She had experienced more in her lifetime than most people ever do. She had already lived through lupus, overcome a cryoglobulinemia diagnosis, and recovered from brain surgery for a rare condition known as Chiari malformation. She also went through a heart wrenching divorce just shortly after her operation.
But in an odd way, these prior events helped to save her life on that fateful day. Because she had already endured so much and had since gotten remarried to the love of her life, Sean Alexander, there was no way in hell she was going to give up.

“It was just a matter of what do I need to do to live. I fought really hard to scream and yell. I was an EMT years ago, so I knew if I let myself go unconscious, the chances of resuscitation were not very high. I screamed repeatedly that I would continue to be a wife and a mom someday,” says Colleen. “Sean and I were only married a year then and trying to have a family. I thought, ‘I will be damned if I finally get reconnected with my soul mate from high school and move here for a great job, to get taken out by some guy not paying attention on the roadways while doing the thing I love the most, which is biking.'”

After arriving at Yale New Haven Hospital, Colleen flat lined but was resuscitated many times. Later when she was interviewed on the Dr. Oz show about her experience of dying and coming back, she described “an overwhelming sense of love and peace directly related to God and a feeling of euphoria like being wrapped in wings.”

IMG_9839Colleen was placed in a medically induced coma for five and a half weeks; and after waking was eventually moved to a rehabilitation  hospital (Gaylord) for two and a half months after which she was able to go home, but not without nursing care seven days a week. Her wounds were deep, extensive, plentiful, and painful. By the time she finished her fifteenth surgery a year and a half later (she has had 29 to date), she was ready to get back on her bike.

“While I was still a patient at Gaylord, I knew my chance of having depression was high, so I knew I had to have a purpose and some drive. My work in the past had been in advocacy, fundraising, and development, so I asked if I could organize a cycling tour through Gaylord to raise money for their adaptive sports program to benefit people needing adaptive bikes to cycle,” says Colleen. “This also became a catalyst for me as a way to try and get back on a bike.”

Colleen raised $14,000, which translated into four new adaptive bicycles. “Now anyone with a disability can utilize that program and be empowered towards health,” she says.

Prior to the accident, which Colleen prefers to call the trauma, as accidents can be avoided, she participated in triathlons but miraculously competes in even more now. So for Colleen, not getting back on a bike was never an option. With courage, perseverance, and the help of her husband, her long and arduous journey towards her own healing and empowerment began.

Since then, Colleen has competed in more than 50 races and completed 30 triathlons, including 4 half Ironmans. Every time she wins a medal, she gives it to a hero including a recent one that went to Dave Smith.

“I participate in races not to place, but to show the potential and strength of the human spirit,” she says.

Colleen is invited to many of these outings not only as a participant, but also as a motivational and inspirational speaker, although she also speaks to schools groups, at various community events, and at medical related functions. She is also on the Board of Directors for Bike Walk Connecticut and the American Red Cross as well as being their official spokesperson and an advocate for bicycle safety.

“There are very few penalties for drivers who hit, run over, or kill cyclists. The policies and rules need to change,” she says.

Colleen has successfully used this trauma as a means for transformation. While she was already on this path, having built a youth center in Vermont, and worked with PeaceJam, a non-profit organization that mentors young adults worldwide with the help of Nobel Peace Laureates, it was this experience that focused her further in her  desire to create justice and social change.

“I learned I had been given over 78 units of blood including platelets of plasma. That meant several hundred people had to roll up their sleeves for me to be alive. I am living and breathing because of these countless blood donors who could be Muslim, Christian, Hindu, black, white, Asian, straight, or gay. My heart is literally beating because of these human beings who were willing to be heroes,” she says.
“Sharing what happened to me with the public is not just about me being a survivor. There is a much bigger vision than the confines of my own pain and suffering. We all have that beautiful opportunity to be heroes to each other and as human beings coming together on a mutual level of respect to break down these societal barriers.”

As Colleen likes to communicate, we all bleed the same color; and we all belong to the same human family regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual preference. When we dare to put that aside and work together, we are powerful and capable of so much.
“I hold tightly onto Nobel Peace Laureate, Jody Williams’ words, ‘Emotion without action is irrelevant.’ We all have the incredible strength and power to change ourselves and the world. We are all fighters, athletes, and advocates. We all have the ability to affect positive change, to make a difference. We only need find our inspiration. And after we find it? It is time to act and never stop,” says Colleen.
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