April 4th, 2006. A 23-year old American up-and-comer named Saul Raisin is starting the Circuit de la Sarthe in France for the Credit Agricole team. With just two kilometers to go of the 193km stage between Mouilleron Le Captif and Saint Mars La Jaille, Raisin clips a wheel and smashes into the tarmac.
Broken hip, broken collarbone … fixable damage for a cyclist. At first, it didn’t seem like a disaster, … but it was. Suffering a brain hemorrhage, Raisin underwent major brain surgery and spent almost a week in a coma. The road back was long, painful, frustrating.
Raisin’s recovery was, and is, astonishing, yet to protect his well being, his Credit Agricole team – who’d honored his contract and supported him through the dark days – decided they couldn’t risk another potentially fatal fall. 18 months after his accident, his top-flight racing career was over at 24 years old.
That finish was just a beginning. The 2010 Saul Raisin is fit, competitive and driven, with new challenges and new dreams to follow. Here’s the next chapter of Saul’s Tour de Life.
PEZ: Tell us a little about your mindset today, nearly four years on from your crash?
Saul: My mindset today is clear. For the last four years, my mind has been awaking and connections have been coming back. I see things now that I could not see four years ago.
My whole life I have worked and trained my body and it is the first time in my life I feel like I need to work my mind. That is why I have started school. I am going to Dalton State College here in Dalton, Georgia. I am only taking one class for the moment, starting off slow.
Saul at the Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride.
PEZ: How do you feel physically and mentally at this stage of your life?
Saul: Physically, I feel stronger now than when I was a pro cyclist and more of a complete athlete. Triathlon training has strengthened my body and has my bones screaming for joy because they now have some impact from running.
As a cyclist I tried to be as skinny as possible, I am 6’1” and was 145lbs at race weight. It feels good to now have some upper body muscle. Mentally, my mind has come an unimaginable distance since my accident. School is going to be the best thing to help me in the next step in my recovery.
PEZ: How are plans for your charity ride, the Raisin Hope Ride 2010, coming along, and how can people get involved?
Saul: Because of the economy we are still trying to nail down a date for a Raisin Hope ride in 2010, so keep a look out on RaisinHope.org for announcements and updates. Each year, we have an online auction with cycling memorabilia. For 2010, Thor Hushovd has donated a signed Green Jersey from last year’s Tour de France.
PEZ: You’re going to run the ING Georgia Marathon – how are you finding the training?
Saul: Training is going well. I am up to running over 30 miles a week and really enjoy doing it. It has taken a long, long time, but I now enjoy leaving home for a one-hour run.
The Raisin Hope Foundation is an official affiliate for the ING Georgia Marathon, which takes place on March 21st. I would like to invite people to sign up with me on Team Raisin Hope.
It is a wonderful way to raise money for Brain and Spinal Cord injuries as it gives back hope to the people that need it the most. When you sign up, mark that you will be running with the Team Raisin Hope. You’ll get $5 dollars off running the Ѕ Marathon and $10 off for the full distance. The discount code for the half marathon is RAISINHALF10 and for the full marathon, it’s RAISINMAR10.
The deadline is February 21st to sign up with Team Raisin Hope. There’s lots more information about the event on the official ING Georgia Marathon website.
It was a long road to becoming a runner, but Saul has done it.
PEZ: The focus of your Foundation is to raise awareness of Traumatic Brain Injury / Spinal Cord Injury – is there still a lot of work to do to publicise the difficulties facing those who’ve suffered a TBI?
Saul: There is so much that needs to be done for raising awareness for Traumatic Brain Injury / Spinal Cord Injuries. When you consider how life changing and devastating a Brain or Spinal Cord Injury is, not only for the patient but for their families, it is horrific to know that there is not much out there for them.
I feel like I am panicking because there are now over 50,000 Wounded American veterans that have been diagnosed with just a Brain Injury. That is not counting Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Spinal Cord Injuries, or amputees. Statistically, 70% of people with a Brain Injury will have their spouse or significant other leave them.
50% of people that get a Brain Injury that affects their cognitive or thinking ability will get another Brain Injury. If that person is a minority and does not get the care that they need for them and their family, the second Brain Injury will most likely kill them. I am panicking because if there is not something done now to help raise awareness for Brain Injuries this war is going to rip apart the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
PEZ: It’s fair to say that your family have been incredibly supportive of both you and your Foundation.
Saul: I would not be here today without the support of my family. They have stuck with me through the hardest times of my life. I am truly blessed to have such a supportive family.
They are just as passionate about helping others with Brain Injuries as me. They know that there are so many people out there that have a loved one like I was with a Brain Injury and no resources. I have heard them on many occasions call a family that has someone in the hospital just to give them words of encouragement.
PEZ: Are you still in touch with anyone from the Credit Agricole team, which supported you after your accident?
Saul: I still talk to some of my former teammates. I made some lifelong friends while on the team and I was lucky to race with so many good guys. Thor (Hushovd) sent me a text on my birthday wishing me a “Happy Birthday, old man!” The Credit Agricole team was a huge part of my recovery.
Taking a break in familiar kit: Raisin Hope jersey and Credit Agricole shorts.
PEZ: Your Twitter feed says you watch French TV at home … keeping up the language skills?
Saul: Oui! Yes, I watch French TV to keep up my language skills. I still speak good French and never want to lose it. My goal is to return to France at least once a year.
PEZ: After spending so much time there, do you miss European life and culture?
Saul: I miss the simplicity of Europe. I miss walking to the grocery store and how easy it is to get around. Most of all, I miss my friends. Some of my best friends are from Europe.
North Georgia: an amazing place to ride bikes.
PEZ: Now that you’re back home, how is training in Georgia?
Saul: I have ridden a bike around the world and north Georgia is the best place on earth to ride a bike. Here, we have mild winters and the roads are perfectly paved. I can ride in any direction and not see one traffic light or even a car for hours. In north Georgia, we have rolling roads, flat roads and mountains.
PEZ: How difficult was it to make the switch to long-distance running from cycling?
Saul: Very difficult. I have lost almost all of my toe nails at one time or another! Running will bring weakness out of someone and it hurts like hell. That is why I love it, I love the challenge and to test my limits as a person.
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
PEZ: You’ve also competed in triathlons – how many events will you be looking at this season?
Saul: I’m not sure for the moment. I am focusing on school and motivational speaking – that is keeping me very busy.
PEZ: Who do you primarily deliver talks to, and what sort of impact does your story have?
Saul: I have spoken to over 1,200 cyclists at the Bike Ride across Georgia. I gave a speech last year to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. At that speech they took me up in a high altitude glider. So amazing!!!
My speeches normally make people cry and laugh. I tell my story the way it was before and after my accident and give a message of hope telling people to never give up no matter how hard times might be. After my speeches I always sell and sign copies of my book Tour de Life.
It’s a lesson to us all, when we see the images of misery on the news from Haiti, from the war zones of the world … don’t give up, appreciate what we’ve got. Thanks to Saul for his time, and for supplying us with the pictures, and best of luck to him in his sports, studies and charity works.
Saul’s road back to recovery is chronicled in his book Tour de Life, still available from all good book stores and retailers.
To keep up to date with Saul’s activities check out his personal website and follow him on Twitter.
You’ll find lots more on the Raisin Hope Foundation site.
And remember … you’ve got until 21st February to sign up to join Saul’s Team Raisin Hope at the Georgia Marathon!