Imagine waking up in the emergency room in pain, unable to move, and with no idea why you were there. That’s where Todd Barcelona, 53, found himself four years ago. In a split second, another car cut in front of him and changed the trajectory of his life.
Among his many injuries were a broken neck, a slashed artery, severed tendons, a broken leg, a crushed heel, and severe head trauma. After 10 days and multiple surgeries performed by Campbell Clinic specialists, his wife, Allison, was able to take him home.
Prior to the accident, the Barcelonas were training for the St. Jude Marathon. The couple has been married for 32 years and has three children and a grandchild. They enjoyed church, family, and an active lifestyle. After the accident, Todd could barely stand with a walker.
“I woke up in the hospital and my wife was by my side,” Todd recalls. “She stayed with me through all of this. On our first follow-up visit with the ortho surgeon, he told us I would never run again.”
“He had to learn to re-use his legs,” Allison recalls. “Every step he took was painful.”
After months of hard work and many hours on a stationary bike, Todd returned to his job as a line mechanic for Cadillac. However, the effects of his head injury and PTSD from the accident began to surface in dramatic ways. Once easygoing and agreeable, Todd became volatile, angry, and severely depressed. This radical personality change was hard for his family to bear.
“I didn’t know how we could live the rest of our days like that,” Allison recalls. “But there was no way I was going to bail out.”
One day, she received a letter from Regional One Health inviting them to participate in counseling for families of head trauma victims. “I believe that was God’s answer to my prayers about all the trials we were going through,” she says.
Counseling led Allison to start doing research on her own. She changed their diets by removing certain foods and sought activities that would create feelings of accomplishment and joy. Though she had learned about the mental and emotional benefits of running, she didn’t know whether or not it could ever be a possibility for Todd. With the help of coach Kevin Leathers, she decided to return to the sport herself.
“I didn’t know what else do to,” she says. “Going back to running was a matter of survival for me. Todd was in a state of anger and frustration. I had to stay strong and find a way to help him.”
After seeing Allison run, Todd decided to try. Both still remember that day. “It was very painful, but I wanted to see what I could do,” Todd says. At the end of a quarter mile of slow steps, he felt tears streaming down his face. Despite excruciating pain, he continued and built up more stamina with each session. He was determined to succeed, and his wife and running coach were behind him. As Todd’s body healed, his mental and emotional state improved.
Before the accident, Todd and Allison ran separately because Todd ran much faster. Since the accident, they’ve stuck to running together. Under the direction of their coach, they ran their first 50K (31.7 miles) less than two years after the accident. Soon after, they completed a 50-miler. Now they run 100-milers together.
Under their current training regimen, they run about 50 miles per week. Allison says that running together for hours has given them more opportunity to talk. That level of communication has made them grow closer. She also says they both love the new friends they have made among ultrarunners.
“It’s a small group,” she explains. “You see the same people at the races. Ultrarunners are very positive, and the energy is contagious. In marathons, everyone is looking to cross the finish line faster. In ultrarunning, you’re side by side. You’re a team. You’re a family. We want everyone to cross that finish line.”
Todd’s gait and body have been permanently impacted by the accident, but those challenges haven’t kept him from completing a race.
“The pain is still there, and I still deal with it,” he says, then adds, “The accident changed my perspective. I know now that we take things for granted. We take getting up every morning for granted. The reality is that anything can happen at any second.”
Allison adds, “If anyone has a goal, they should go for it. Don’t say, ‘I want to climb a mountain.’ Start training!”
Both of the Barcelonas say they never could have made this successful journey without faith.
“God guides us, but we’re the ones who have to take the steps,” Todd says. “My Lord gets all the credit. I was a willing participant. His healing power put me back on my feet.”
By Caroline Sposto. Photo by Philip Murphy.