BOULDER – It wasn’t the most romantic marriage proposal. Adelaide Perr doesn’t even remember the moment, but the setting was unusually poignant.
Perr was half conscious in the intensive care unit of a Longmont hospital when Kennett Peterson proposed to her on October 18, 2014. Hours earlier, while training for an Ironman triathlon on her bike, she had been seriously injured when a car drove in front of her while traveling at an estimated 30-35 mph at US 36 near Lyon. She tried to stop, hit the brakes, leaving 50 feet of ski brands, but slipped onto the driver’s side of the car. The left side of her face hit the window and shattered it.
“That night after the first operation, we all stood around,” Peterson recently recalled. “Her eyes were closed. Her face was huge from the swelling, the huge black stitches, and the blood everywhere. Someone asked her, “Do you want a Vitamix?” She squeezed my hand and it was like, “Whoa, she actually kind of reacts.” I asked if she would marry me. She squeezed my hand much tighter, with a nod, a tiny nod. She doesn’t remember it, but I’m not doing it. ”
The Boulder couple, both elite triathletes, were married the following February. She was still in a long recovery that was just as emotional – complicated by bipolar disorder that preceded the accident and post-traumatic stress disorder that followed – as well as physical. They have since returned to the competition.
Boulder elite triathlete Adelaide Perr is shown here a week after she was hospitalized in 2014 after being seriously injured when a rider pulled up in front of her during a training ride near Lyon. She later helped pass Colorado law that tightened penalties for driver accidents like hers. (Provided by Adelaide Perr)
Perr still has scars on his face and psyche, but her ordeal has a legacy. She was involved in passing a Colorado bill that tightened penalties for drivers who cause accidents like her. She testified in the House and Senate on a bill that Governor Jared Polis signed in 2019, and published a book in October that came out on the six-year anniversary of the accident.
“There is mental recovery that is only part of the adventure we call life that is not often talked about,” Perr said recently at a North Boulder coffee shop. “It’s different from physical recovery. It has a different timeline, it’s a lot worse, and a lot of people don’t talk about it. I mean it’s my story, but Kennett was struck. The policeman who was there was affected. When something happens to one person, other people need support too. ”
One of the few things she remembers at the scene of the accident was an ambulance that said, “Her face is peeled off” when she was loaded into the ambulance.
Peterson, who was on her own drive that day, rode onto the scene after she was taken away. He noticed her water bottle in a ditch, panicked, and heard someone say, “I think her name was Adelaide.” When a police officer said he was not sure she was alive, Peterson rode his bike to the hospital as fast as he could.
“Crying and screaming all the time,” said Peterson.
Perr went home after 11 days in intensive care, earlier than the doctors wanted her to leave. For weeks, parts of the driver’s side window buried in her face worked their way to the surface, and she had to be fed through a stomach tube for more than a month. It would be five to six months before she felt a little normal.
The emotional recovery took much longer. She had been diagnosed as bipolar two years earlier, and after the accident, she became concerned about how pain medication might affect her brain.
“She was panicking that bipolar depression was about to set in, and she did that back and forth for months,” Peterson said. “She would lie in bed all day and cry.”
The stress of litigation against the 52-year-old man who caused the accident made matters worse. He was charged with negligent misconduct that resulted in injuries and was sentenced in May 2015 to 200 hours of community service and a US $ 1,000 fine.
“Stress creates bipolar symptoms,” said Perr. “It increases the likelihood that you will have episodes. Plus, exercise is a great coping mechanism for me and suddenly I couldn’t ride a bike anymore. I couldn’t do anything. ”
Perr and Peterson both say they experienced PTSD, which sometimes manifests itself in increased anxiety on their motorcycles. When she fell and broke an elbow in 2017, the emotional impact triggered her for three or four months, Peterson said.
“When I crashed alone, breaking an elbow on a grand scheme isn’t that big of a deal,” said Perr. “I didn’t have an operation. But the trauma therapist told me I had only had one accident before and it was life threatening. When I crashed again, my body responded to the “You are going to die” answer. ”
The driver who caused the first accident only got four points on his driver’s license, which was the legal penalty at the time. According to the Perr Endangered Road User Act, the penalty is now 12 points – which leads to the suspension of driving authorization for one year – if the driver is accused of negligent driving, which leads to serious bodily harm to a vulnerable road user.
“She was a passionate attorney who testified very well on the committees,” said Perr’s attorney Brad Tucker, president of the Bicycle Colorado board of directors. “This was a real breakthrough. The problem we’ve had as vulnerable road users is that the same careless driving behavior that can otherwise be pretty harmless – a driver who could hit another car and just cause a fender bender – if he hits you or me, while we’re on our road bikes can be terribly bad. ”
Perr shares her story to help others who are experiencing trauma like hers.
“That’s the hope that other people will find it a little easier,” said Perr. “The emotional recovery is still ongoing. Some days everything is better. Some days you take a ride, have a really traumatic experience again and are back in first place. ”