A motorcycle accident nearly killed Christy Belsom, breaking her back, shattering her pelvis, rupturing her bladder, burning her leg and causing a nasty head wound.
But the personal trainer is determined to become strong again and help others who are injured or disabled.
Friends and family think she can do it. Christy, 40, of Belleville, already is light years ahead of where many people would be five months into recovery.
“She is the atypical patient,” said her physical therapist, Brian Buescher, 42, of Belleville. “When you go into an accident in the shape she was in, you come out a whole lot better.”
Christy had more than fitness going for her. Motivation also was key.
While in the hospital for 10 days, Christy asked staff for a resistance band so she could exercise her arms in bed. While in a wheelchair for three months, she wheeled herself up to 6 miles a day on a bike trail near her home.
“I had to keep my upper body strength to be able to perform the activities of daily living,” Christy said. “But mainly it was for my emotional health. It was a way to fight depression.
“My whole life had changed. I had been a triathlete. I had gone from running races and training every day to being stuck in a wheelchair.”
Road to recovery
Doctors eventually removed a clamp-like metal device, called a fixator, that held Christy’s pelvis together. Now she is walking independently, albeit with a limp.
Her sessions with Brian occur three times a week at Phoenix Physical Therapy in Swansea.
On a recent morning, Christy was sore from a boxing lesson and Saturday night dancing. Brian applied a heating pad to her lower back and did some massaging and stretching before moving on to the tough stuff.
“It’s a blast working with her,” he said. “I get to throw things at her that I don’t get to throw at other people.”
The pair worked on strength, flexibility and balance. One exercise had Christy sliding one leg back on a furniture slider and holding that position while throwing and catching a ball.
“Nothing like working out to a little Iron Maiden, right?” Brian asked as music played on the stereo.
Christy reacted with a half smile, half grimace that lasted only a couple of seconds before she returned to deep concentration.
Her rapid progress doesn’t surprise Ruth Riley, 36, of Swansea, a friend and personal trainer with Focused Intrinsic Training.
“She’s probably one of the most motivated and driven people I’ve ever known,” Ruth said. “If she has a goal, nothing is going to stop her.”
Early spring ride
Christy is a Kentucky native who moved to the metro-east 11 years ago with her husband, George, an Air Force retiree who works for a government contractor. They have a blended family with three grown children and one granddaughter.
On March 15, the couple decided to take advantage of a warm day and go for their first motorcycle ride of the season.
They were stopped at a stop sign in Bartelso when a car crashed into them from behind. The young female driver later was ticketed with excessive speed and causing an accident.
“(George and I) were both ejected from the motorcycle,” Christy said. “We slammed onto her hood and then flew onto the road.”
George suffered fractures in his neck and back, which were minor compared to his wife’s injuries. Both were wearing helmets, but hers popped off, causing “road rash” on the back of her head.
A local resident called 911. Eventually, Christy was helicoptered to St. Louis University Hospital.
“The investigators left the case open for a week,” she said. “They didn’t know if we were going to make it or not. According to them it was pretty messy. It was pretty bad.”
Time in the hospital and St. Elizabeth’s rehab was surreal for Christy, who had competed in about 10 half-marathons, one full marathon, five biathlons and one triathlon.
Her swollen face and bandaged head were upsetting to her mother, Kathy Robison, 60, who drove from her home in Latonia, Ky., the day of the accident.
“I held back the tears because that’s what April (Christy’s sister) told me to do,” Kathy said.
Christy has learned a couple of lessons from the motorcycle accident. First, she was right to wear a helmet, boots, jacket and pants. It probably saved her life.
“I see people without helmets,” she said. “I see people wearing tanks and even shorts. That’s a no-no.”
Second, Christy has come to realize that she can live a perfectly fulfilling life, despite a few scars on her back, abdomen and knee resulting from the accident and related surgeries.
Her stylist gave her a short, snappy haircut to take attention away from a bare spot on her head.
“I’ll be honest, I was vain,” Christy said. “I did fitness modeling before this. And I’ve learned that there are more important things than outward appearance.”
At Phoenix last week, Christy wore a fluorescent-green tank top that read “I love squats” with pink-trimmed running shorts. The outfit showed off her muscles, suntan and colorful tattoos, ranging from a sunflower to a black widow.
The accident dealt a blow to Christy’s business, Fit STL Personal Training, but she feels it has helped reveal her true calling.
“My goal is to start training people who have come out of rehab and/or have disabilities,” she said.
Christy already is certified as a personal trainer, group exercise leader and health coach. She recently took an online course toward certification in inclusive fitness training.
Even before the accident, Christy was working with a double amputee at no charge to show her appreciation for his military service in Afghanistan.
“She did a good job,” her mother said. “I saw a picture of him, and you didn’t even notice his (missing) legs. All you saw was his beautiful, muscular chest. He looked just really fit and happy.”