After a bike crash left one North Carolina marathon runner with a broken back, pelvis, tailbone, leg, and several broken ribs, his doctor was sure he would never walk again.
“His spine was torn apart,” said Dr. Matt McGirt, who first laid eyes on 52-year-old Dean Otto last September in the emergency room of Carolinas HealthCare Systems in Charlotte, N.C. “His injuries were catastrophic.” Earlier that morning, Otto was thrown from his bike after a young driver accidentally hit him because his windshield fogged up.
“I pretty much forgave him on the spot. I knew resentment would eat me alive. I’ve never had problems putting things in God’s hands,” Otto said about forgiving the young man, who has since become a friend. “He’s a good kid.” Otto was rushed to the hospital, and even though his spine was literally in pieces, Otto was still confident he’d recover.
“I’ll run a half marathon with you and I’ll whip ya,” Otto said to McGirt just before surgery. McGirt did his best to put Otto’s spine back together with two titanium rods. “He asked me the critical question: Can you move your toes?” Otto said. Miraculously, he could.
For the next few months, Otto went to physical therapy to learn to walk again. Eventually, Otto was running and even biking again. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It hurt like s**t. My hair hurt. Everything hurt. It was so hard to do. I had to concentrate so hard to get anything to move. All the things you take for granted, like being able to walk or go to the bathroom.”
Now Otto and McGirt are training to run the Napa Half Marathon together. “Everything I had before, I can do now. I just don’t run as fast. But I’m not going to the Olympics,” Otto said. “His story is really inspiring. I’ve seen really bad things happen to really good people. That’s why it’s so great to see something like this happen to Dean,” said McGirt, who hoped Otto will beat him. “I hope he does. That would make me so happy.”