Second Chances

by | Dec 18, 2020 | 0 comments

Second Chances

Have you ever had an event in your life that changed your trajectory and gave you a second chance? If you have a few minutes, I’ll share with you my second chance event story about a farm accident I was in. Strange, I know, but stick with me here and it’ll come full circle with why I love giving back and working with hikers.

I haven’t shared this story much in the past because I was embarrassed and ashamed that it even happened at all. As I’ve gotten older, I see this event’s lesson and lasting imprint, and I’ve let go of that embarrassment and shame. And with that said, it’s storytime!

This singular event has served as my foundation for how I live my life and has influenced my career choices and spirit of giving in the 9000+ days since the accident.

Some quick backstory

I grew up in a small farming community in southwest Michigan, and I spent years working for a local black Angus beef farm. I’d actually leave school early with a work-study program and head to the farm to do the evening feeding chores tending to the sheep, goats, and pastured cows.

trailside fitness

Taken from my childhood home; this was my backyard growing up!

The pastures at this particular farm are simple: fenced in, featureless, and essentially large acred rectangles. Most of these pastures had a few cast iron tubs to dump the grain feed into, a watering station, and a 3 sided barn that offered some wind & weather protection for the cows. My job was to dump in a couple of buckets of grain feed into the tubs, check the watering station, and give the cows some hay by spreading it out in the pasture. Spreading the hay out was an important task and the most time-consuming part of feeding.

Generally, I’d work alone, but if, by chance, there were two of us doing the evening feeding, spreading out the hay went much smoother. With two of us, one person would drive the tractor, and the second would ride on the wagon, kicking out sections of hay as we drove through the pasture. This method disperses the hay to encourage the cows to eat it and discourage them from laying on it for bedding.

If you are a one-man operation, which I often was, you look for ways to be more efficient and limit your exposure to the windy and frigid Michigan winters. I knew that placing the tractor in the slowest gear would essentially crawl along at around 2mph. Since there was nothing to hit and the speed was slow, this seemed like the perfect “autopilot” to help spread out the hay.

The slow speed would allow me to confidently get out of the driver’s seat, climb off the slow-moving tractor, and climb up on the wagon to kick out hay as the tractor drove itself. Brilliant! Once done kicking out the hay from the wagon, I’d climb off the wagon and get back onto the tractor to move onto the next pasture. 

Where things went wrong

As I’d done many times before, I put the tractor in gear and reached my right foot for the step to dismount from the tractor. However, my brand new canvas coverall pant leg caught on a part of the tractor near the step as I went to get off the tractor. I am still unsure where or how the pant leg caught, but I assure you it did.

Instantly, I found myself face-first on the ground with my right leg caught up near the step and the tractor moving steadily forward. Tipping the scales at nearly 10,000lbs, the John Deere 4020 was continuing its path onward, with me now directly in the path of the rear tire.

Reflexively, I started to do an army crawl. Had I not acted immediately, I would have been run over lengthwise from my feet right over my head with zero chance of survival. The sum of things was still quite grim, even though I was crawling forward. 

With my right leg still caught near the step, my left leg was working desperately and unsuccessfully to find some way to help. One of my many concerns is that my left leg would be caught by the tire tread, and I’d be pulled helplessly under the tire. I was trying my damnedest to avoid what seemed an inevitable fate. Every scenario I played out ended the same way, and I wasn’t too keen on any outcomes. Honestly, I didn’t see any way for this to end with me still alive; a crushing finish seemed all but imminent.

You’ll find the step where my pantleg caught by looking in between the front and rear tires; the step is the small, flat plate about the height of the front tire.

The massive rear tire is nearly 6 feet tall and runs about 18” wide on this tractor. The tire was directly behind me and essentially positioned between my legs as I crawled forward. I was trying to angle my body to be outside the tire path as I crawled, but I was pretty limited since my leg was caught on the step.

The tractor wasn’t going to stop on its own accord now that I had put it in gear, so I just had to keep crawling along until something happened. Nearly 10 yards later, something did finally happen.

While frantically trying to think of any plan as I crawled along, my right pant leg ripped loose. What happened next went by in an instant. I’m still not sure just how, but I managed to pull myself (mostly) out of the path of the giant left rear tractor tire, rolling onto my back as I did so. During this maneuver, my legs crossed over each other, right over left.

I knew at that very moment that I wouldn’t be crushed to death, as I was now out to the side of the tire; however, I was far from being out of the woods.

Time now stood still. You can probably relate to this sensation if you’ve been in a car accident before. Unable to react or get further out of the way, I lay there on the semi-frozen ground, and I watched helplessly as the tractor tire rolled slowly and unfazed over my lower legs.

[Moving the story forward a bit: I had to get out of the way before the wagon came, and I also had to steel myself quickly to catch up to the tractor and climb back on to bring it under control. Ultimately, I had to get right back in front of the same tire that just ran me over, but it was the only way to regain control of the tractor.]

My legs were in excruciating pain after finally managing to get back on the tractor. In fact, I was in enough pain that I wasn’t even able to depress the clutch pedal. Instead, I steered the tractor and wagon back to the pasture entrance, where I turned the key off to stop the tractor. After gathering myself a bit and climbing back off the tractor in a less-than-graceful manner, I began to crawl for help.

Amazingly, the tractor tire mostly ran over my lower leg bones. My lower legs proved to be nearly a perfect fit for the width of the tire, and my ankles and knees were largely spared the crushing weight. One could not have planned a more perfect tire path than what I was given.

Aside from tractor tire tread bruises, deep bone bruises, and accompanying pain, the X-rays were negative. I would battle sore knees and ankles for a long time after that day, and my right ankle still isn’t quite right (with no help from other injuries since).

This year marks the 25th anniversary of that accident, and I think about that day more often than I’d care to admit. I take time each year to reflect on December 18th, and it’s since become a bit of a second birthday for me. That event was a clear sign that my purpose hadn’t been done; my job here on earth was not yet complete.

A meaningful second chance

I firmly believe that the best way to use my second chance is by giving back and serving my community. By giving back and having an impact on those around me, I hope to fulfill my unknown and unknowable purpose. 

I spent 5 years volunteering as a firefighter and EMT and while I never pulled anyone out of a burning building or gave life-saving CPR, I was able to directly impact a lot of my community members in a very meaningful way. I have volunteered for years helping disabled horseback riders and even with a wheelchair rugby team. My work as a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer allows me to return community members to the sports and activities they love.

What gives me the most joy is helping my community. For me, a community defines who we are, it shapes us and allows us to experience new things. The hiking community has shown me time and time again how altruistic and genuine the cast of characters is.

Trailside Fitness is my way of giving back to the hiking community. Before thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018, I learned that most hikers abandon their thru-hike due to injury. With my education and skill set, I knew I was uniquely positioned to share with my community how to properly train, prepare for a long-distance hike, and reduce injury risk.

While on my PCT hike, I committed to giving back more to hikers to pay forward the experiences and knowledge I have gained.

I want to help hikers train better and take care of their hard-working bodies so they can complete their hike. There are so many perspective-shifting experiences on a thru-hike, and no one should be forced to leave before they are ready.

If you are planning an adventure and would like some professional guidance with a training program or learning how to manage pain while hiking, I’m here for you. Drop me a message at any time. I’ll be here until the cows come home.

author avatar
Lee Welton Owner
Lee has been helping hikers feel strong and confident so they can enjoy their adventures, not endure them since 2017. He's hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, scaled Mount Rainier, and hiked through the Dolomites in Italy.