The Pueblo Chieftan

Scars just add life to cyclist

Every scar is a story.

Pueblo West resident Austin Clark, 63, has plenty of scars.

There’s the one on his shoulder, which tells the story of a white water kayaking accident. There’s another on his thigh, which spins the yarn of an accidental firearm discharge. The bullet would have shattered his femur, but it ricocheted off a bolt in his leg.

How did the bolt end up in his leg? That’s yet another story.

It happened in 1995. Clark was riding his bike with his nephew and two others on a trail in the Lake Pueblo State Park.

He dropped down into a washed-out ditch, and his front tire stuck.

He flipped over his handlebars and landed on a rock.

“It sounded like a two-by-four breaking,” he said.

Clark had broken his hip in five places.

“It just shattered, and I passed out.”

The path that Clark was biking on is now known as “Broken Hip Trail.”

“I left blood out there,” he said. “I got carried out of there, so I get to name the trail.”

After the injury, doctors didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk again without support.

Clark proved them wrong.

“It was very hard. I got in this mindset, I tell myself I’m gonna get better than this,” he said of the rehabilitation process.

Clark believes that his love of cycling and insistence on returning to his bike as soon as possible were essential to his rehabilitation.

It wasn’t the first time he’d overcome a grim prognosis.

In 1991, Clark underwent an experimental surgery called a tibial osteotomy to repair uneven wear in his left knee caused years of skiing.

The procedure caused nerve damage that paralyzed his left foot.

Despite the limitation, Clark hopped back on his bike, taping his limp foot to the pedal.

“It’s like a lifeline, it’s all I have left,” Clark said. “Being able to go out and push myself keeps me mentally sane and physically healthy.”

After 18 months without any movement in his foot, Clark’s doctors believed that they would have to amputate the inert limb.

But after months of fruitless attempts, Clark finally managed to wiggle his toes.

Today, his left leg functions at about 90 percent, he said.

Currently, Clark is working as a member of the Southern Colorado Cycling Club to establish a foothold for the sport at the Lake Pueblo State Park.

The cycling club got its start as a trail-building club in 2002, and since then has been fighting an uphill battle through miles of bureaucratic red tape to get its trails approved and recognized by the Department of Wildlife, Colorado State Parks and the Bureau of Reclamation.

“My goal is just to stay in there, get it approved, then step down,” he said of his involvement with the club.

The cycling club, working in conjunction with the equestrian trail builders, has helped to build about 45 miles of trails in the Lake Pueblo State Park.

The trails have proved economically valuable during the slow winter season, attracting cycling enthusiasts looking for the few trails in the state that aren’t snowed in.

The SCCC hopes to add another 15 miles of trails in the next year.

In the meantime, Clark plans to keep pedaling.

“It’s a lifelong sport,” he said.

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