Cory Sarich recounts life-threatening cycling accident: ‘I’m not going to die here right now ...’
Former Flames defenceman suffered five cracked vertebrae and other injuries after having a truck drive over his back last month near Windermere, B.C.
Mowing the lawn and driving the boat at their family's summer home in Windermere, B.C., Cory Sarich, by all accounts, is leading a pretty normal life.
Sarich had gone out for a morning ride on July 21, taking his hybrid bike along Windermere Loop Road — a challenging, 40-minute training session on a quiet road.
He approached a descent and spotted an oncoming grey Ford F-350 Ford truck. The driver made a left-hand turn in front of him without signalling. Sarich used his brakes and tried to stay in control of his bike but skidded and ended up sliding underneath the vehicle on his stomach.
The driver’s right rear tire had driven over his back, nearly crushing his body. Sarich suffered five cracked vertebrae, burns on his shoulder and wrist from the truck’s muffler, a swollen left arm and leg, a large laceration on his head, and a serious case of road rash.
Shaken, shocked, and bleeding extensively, Sarich still managed to stand up and called for help.
“The first thing in my mind was, ‘I’m not going to die here right now, so let’s get this thing moving,’ ” recalled the Saskatoon native who was drafted 27th overall in the 1996 NHL entry draft. “I wasn’t sure the severity of my injuries. I’d worn all the ends of my fingertips off. I was bleeding from everywhere, I had so much road rash.
“My helmet was busted up in probably seven or more pieces. It was just in pieces hanging by the chinstrap and was actually choking me, so good thing I had that on because it helped in saving my life.”
Luckily, a jeep carrying four people approached who were able assist and called his wife Reagan.
After being carted away on a stretcher to the hospital in Invermere, Sarich was airlifted by STARS Air Ambulance to Calgary.
It is unclear whether the RCMP will press charges against the driver. Following the accident, the Invermere Valley Echo reported the RCMP said alcohol was not a factor and the investigation was still ongoing.
Right now, Sarich has other priorities.
“My diagnosis was, pretty much, as good as it gets (for a situation like that) . . . a bit of a mess, but I’m doing well now,” he said. “It’s been four-and-a-half weeks and it’s been a slow recovery.”
His condition is improving although he has a lingering knee issue and suffered a staph infection in his elbow, requiring more hospital time for Intravenous therapy.
He gets sore often and sleeping at night is difficult as the compression is painful when he lies on his chest, back, or sides.
When the on-scene police officer called to return Sarich his bike, shoes, sunglasses, heart rate monitor — anything else on him that day — he told him to get rid of it all.
Sarich’s cycling career is officially over.
“I just said take it all to the dump and I’ll keep my helmet as a teaching aid,” Sarich said. “Other than that, I don’t think you’ll ever see me on a bike again. I was reluctant to even start (cycling) and I had kind of gotten comfortable because I was riding in Denver on the trails with no vehicles involved. It’s just one guy’s opinion, but I always thought cyclists were nuts. I enjoyed the workout . . . and I just let my own personal guard down.”
As for resuming normalcy in his on-ice life, Sarich, who had been traded last summer to the Colorado Avalanche along with Alex Tanguay for David Jones and Shane O’Brien, had already behind in his training schedule after undergoing back surgery in Denver and a knee scope.
After a quiet free agency period (his two-year, $4-million deal had expired at the end of the season), the 36-year-old had been preparing for the start of the 2014-15 campaign in hopes of picking up a job.
Then the accident happened.
“Something like that kind of makes you rearrange your priorities,” said Sarich, a father of three. “My agent obviously had made some calls and I was busy living a normal life again. I was just starting to golf again, working out, riding the bike, running, all that stuff.
“This has thrown a big wrinkle into it and I don’t know what’s going to happen. But right now, my priority is to get healthy. I want to get myself back in shape regardless if hockey is an option moving forward. I’m just going to play it by ear from here.”
When the accident happened, Sarich received an outpouring of support from friends and family including the NHL. Flames captain Mark Giordano and forward Matt Stajan passed along their messages of concern.
“My family has been unbelievable,” Sarich said. “My wife, it was pretty shocking for her obviously. She had to do a lot of the dirty work . . . it was incredible the amount of phone calls and texts I received. Way back to my coaches and GM in Tampa, the guys in Calgary, guys from Denver, teammates, it was pretty crazy . . . it’s neat how tight the hockey community is when things like that happen.”
A veteran of nearly 1,000 NHL games (and 377 of those during his six seasons with Calgary), Sarich had 21 goals and 137 assists in his career between the Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Flames, and Avalanche.
Doctors told him that if he’d gone under the truck on his back and his front-body had been run over, the outcome could have been different. And should he not have been wearing a helmet . . .
Sarich feels lucky to be still standing.
“That’s all that matters,” he said. “I’m definitely not losing focus of that — I’m here.
“I’m extremely fortunate, I definitely realize that.”
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