This is the 16th profile on runners competing in the 2015 Emera Marathon by the Sea.
Andrew Estey estimates he blacked out for 30 seconds.
Then, in the aftermath of a severe mountain biking accident, he dusted himself off and attempted to finish his Canada Day 2013 journey from Fredericton to Mactaquac and back.
About another three kilometres down the road, however, the pain from a broken bone in his neck and three crushed vertebrae in his back proved too intense. His riding partner sped ahead to get help and through swift efforts, Andrew got the treatment he urgently required.
As bad as it seemed, he was lucky – thanks to his fitness and strength.
What followed was fourth months of recovery, aided by a soft neck brace and plenty of emotional support from his wife Erica and family in Quispamsis, all knowing that had he not been in good shape – thanks in part to losing 100 pounds through the Simply For Life program a year prior – he may have become a quadriplegic in an instant.
In the lead up to this year’s race, we also have profiled Corinne Fournier, Kevin McEachern, Sherri Colwell-McCavour, Jesse Davidson, Jason Kaulbach, Jacqueline Boucher, Jen Payne, Mark Clinton, Patty MacMillan, Haley Adams-Green, Dean Mercer, Caitlin Stevens-Kelly, Carla Harris, Dave Horgan, and Krista Sutton.
Those were just some of the thoughts bubbling to the surface as he neared the finish line in the 2014 Marathon by the Sea half marathon.
It was shortly after 10 am, the sun was shining brilliantly in Rockwood Park and he could sense the anticipation of the finish area of an event he had been training for a year earlier.
“I couldn’t see the finish line but I could feel it,” Andrew said of the final stages before the home stretch. “I am not a real emotional person but I will admit, as the thought of finishing crossed my mind, I did choke up a bit.”
Waiting at the end of his journey were the people who were there throughout – his wife and two children – proudly displaying banners of congratulations and support for Andrew, a St. Stephen native who realized an aspiration that in 2011, when he weighed approximately 300 pounds, represented the most distant of thoughts.
“I had set a goal, realized it and with my family there at the end, it was pretty awesome,” he said.
Using that platform as a base, Andrew shot for something even higher and on Aug. 9, is scheduled to run his first full marathon at Marathon by the Sea.
It is another in a remarkable transformation as it wasn’t that long ago that Andrew decided to deal with concerns about his weight and signed up for the Simply for Life lifestyle plan with Erica (who lost 30 pounds).
Andrew, a chemical engineer at Point Lepreau, was running a bit at the time but was excited to see how weight loss would impact his energy and fitness levels. Inspired early on, he ultimately took on another big challenge – the half marathon at the 2013 MBTS.
“I was running but I was about 300 pounds, so you can imagine what it was like,” he says. “When I lost the weight, I started stepping up my distance.”
He ran three or four times a week, worked in several gym sessions as well and continued to apply the lessons learned as he lost his weight.
Over time, he was gaining confidence and fitness.
On July 1, 2013, Andrew and a buddy took advantage of the holiday and that refreshing perspective with a mountain bike trip from Fredericton to Mactaquac and back.
That’s when he travelled down a side trail he was not familiar with, hit a jump and crashed, flying through the air and landing head first, some 10-15 feet from his bicycle.
For a brief time, he did not move, unconscious from the fall.
“I blacked out for 30 seconds or so and after, learned I had suffered a Level 2 concussion,” he said before explaining his injury.
“There is a bone that has two joints that fit into the top vertebrae in your neck that gives you your mobility,” he explained. “I broke one of those. Typically, when you break one, you break two. The skull plate then slips down and actually severs your spinal cord, leaving you a quadriplegic. Luckily, I was fit enough that my muscles kept it all in place.”
He attempted to keep going when he regained consciousness but had to send his friend forward to gain assistance and transpiration to the hospital.
As it turned out, he did not require surgery but went through four months of recovery with the soft neck brace. Quickly, he was encouraged throughout the process, as he felt strong enough to take long walks or attempt some chin-ups in his garage.
In November, 2013, he was ultimately given clearance to resume activity without the brace and he did just that because “I am a go big or go home kind of guy.”
“The biggest thing to learn, because of my back issue, was to run with proper posture – shoulders up, back straight,” he said. “As long as I do that, then I do not feel any discomfort.”
He added: “I was fairly active before the accident, the best shape of my life. I am to the point when I am comfortable, almost back to where I was before.”
It’s led him now to the final stages of marathon training, which involve dedicated 4:30 a.m. runs through the week and a weekend long outing, through the at-times challenging hills near his home.
He also adjusted his plan for three weeks because he was away for work commitments. On the eve of MBTS, he has a time in mind for next month, it is an internal clocking he is keeping to himself.
Like many, he is slightly nervous as the big day approaches.
“I do not think you ever truly know if you are ready, especially for the first one, until you go out and do it,” he said. “I have done the prep. Could I have done things differently? Could I have done things better? Probably but you do not really know that until you try it.”
Through all the barriers he has cleared, he’s been able to assess the reason why he runs, which includes everything from peace of mind to the impact it has on his children.
“My wife and I are both pretty active and running promotes the right types of behaviors for our kids,” he says. “We like to set a good example for them.
“Also, it is mentally relaxing to me; it is the only time I get to myself in the course of a day or a week. It allows me to be introspective. There is the feeling of accomplishment when you hit a new goal and I like how it helps with the waist line.”