In 2017, Trevor Coey became a regular on Vancouver Island’s running scene.
He ran roads, trails and mountains, whatever was in front of him, and he had great success doing it considering he started at 39.
Coey, of Central Saanich, entered the 2017 Vancouver Island Trail Running Series and finished on the podium for six of the series’ short-course races, first in the overall short-course standings for the year. He was first in the Mount Washington and Burgoyne Bay (Salt Spring) races, second in Ladysmith and Mt. Tzouhalem and third at Royal Roads and Cobble Hill.
That September, he finished ninth out of 115 finishers in the Finlayson Arm 50-kilometre ultra marathon. It was his first ultra long-distance event. In early February 2018, Coey ran his second ultra-marathon distance, the Orcas Island 50km.
In short, the guy was flying.
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“I had dove big into big distance. After the second 50 km race I had every intention to step it up to a 50 miler (80 km), and had no question that I would be doing a 100km soon after that,” said Coey, now 44. “Time stands still when I run and everything else just disappears.”
But the Orcas Island was the last organized race for Coey.
Late in February 2018, he spent a day off in Ladysmith helping a friend when he suffered a catastrophic accident. He escaped death but lost his right leg below the knee. In total, he underwent 13 surgeries, nine of them within the first eight weeks.
“My (right) leg was crushed, pelvis shattered, and part of the surgery involved numerous steel bolts and plates, to put it back together,” Coey said.
In addition to the physical challenges there were mental challenges, too. Running became a hole his life that he’s had to live without, a daily ritual that he longs to return to. He even met his wife through running. They live together with four boys, aged 6, 8, 14 and 16. And even though he can’t run these days, it remains a priority in his life.
It was 10 months before Coey could work again. He leaned hard on a successful Gofundme fundraiser of $40,000 organized by friends.
Despite the downtimes that Coey has endured, he’s had many to thank since the incident, he says.
“During the two months in hospital the nurses would comment to my wife that we’re having too much fun, that I wasn’t like other patients. I had some down moments, but I don’t think, compared to others, I was that down,” Coey said.
Eventually, he tried enough ‘test sockets’ until he found the prosthesis that he uses for day-to-day use, but it’s not perfect. The shape of his amputated leg continues to change, making it difficult.
All the while, running again has remained his ultimate goal.
“I wouldn’t care if it was road, trail, or anything,” Coey said.
Coey approached some big charities and they’ve helped. The Challenged Athletes Foundation awarded Coey with a high-performance running blade. But right from the start Coey knew it was only a piece of the puzzle.
“I tried it and I felt I like I was running, it was amazing,” Coey said. “Unfortunately, the fit of the socket was not right. But the feeling [of running] was there.”
Another non-profit, Team Catapult, provided a specialty liner that Coey can use in the blade or for everyday use.
Again, it’s another piece of the puzzle, but he still can’t run consistently on the blade.
“It’s genius, such a simple modification,” Coey said.
In the meantime Coey’s tried lifting weights, he’s been cycling (with big thanks to CanAssist for modifying his mountain bike), and he’s spent time on the rowing machine.
But he’s limited on the bike, like the running blade, by the amount of time and distance his right leg can endure in a prosthesis socket.
“With that comes sores and problems, so it’s almost like I can go mountain biking for the exercise and thrill [but] I pay for it afterward, sometimes for months.”
Funding for prostheses is just as complicated. In B.C. you’re funded for basic mobility, Coey said, arguing that PharmaCare can’t dictate what his basic level of mobility is.
For now, Coey is grateful to have escaped the accident with what he did, and believes he might not have made it this far if not for a positive outlook on life that predates the accident.
“When I was in the hospital, this doctor said, ‘All that training you did for ultra running, all that you put yourself through, that mental anguish, that was training for what you’re going to go through,’ that I was about to run the toughest race I’ve ever done, and he was right,” Coey said. “The whole thing has been a race since the accident. I hit walls every day. It’s about adapting and finding new and different ways to do things.”
But Coey dreams of running again.
“I miss that freedom, that rhythm my whole body would get into. My heartbeat, the breathing, the sound of my feet hitting trail and pavement. I’m so happy to be able to have experienced it.”