A recent article about sports medicine in a national magazine inadvertently shines new light on the mysterious motorcycle crash of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley in Alaska.
The Sports Illustrated article, "The Truth About Pain: It's In Your Head," is part of a series about medical advances that help athletes recover from injury. Reporter Davd Epstein tells us about several world-class athletes and their efforts to cope with pain. In the process, Epstein adds to the body of evidence that indicates something is fishy about the official story of Riley's motorcycle crash.
Riley used his long-planned motorcycle trek to Alaska as an excuse to get out of testifying in the federal electronic-bingo prosecution in Alabama. So it was more than a little newsworthy when reports came that he had crashed his bike on a gravel road north of Fairbanks. According to news reports of June 28, Riley suffered seven broken ribs, a broken clavicle, and a punctured lung.
About nine days later, the man who rescued Riley and took him to a Fairbanks hospital was quoted as saying he at first did not realize the former Alabama governor was even hurt. Here is how we reported it in a post dated July 7, 2011:
Steve DeMolen, a sales representative for Caterpillar, and his friend, Delany Smith, came upon the site of Riley's crash on a remote highway north of Fairbanks. During a two-hour drive to the nearest hospital, the only injury DeMolen noticed on Riley was a cut hand.
The Steve DeMolen story has left this question in our head: How do you come upon a 66-year-old man who later is discovered to have injuries that put him in critical condition and not realize that he is hurt?
A close read of Sports Illustrated's article on pain in athletes provides one possible answer: Maybe Bob Riley really wasn't hurt, or at least not as badly as it was portrayed in the official family statement that was orchestrated by son Rob Riley.
The SI article focuses on Petra Majdic, a 31-year-old cross-country skier who was one of the favorites to win a medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. During a warmup for the women's individual sprint, Majdic crashed and screamed in pain. An ultrasound showed that nothing appeared to be broken, so Majdic continued to compete for five hours, despite pain that she later described as "like when somebody would all the time give you a knife" in your chest.
In the final, Majdic wound up third, earning the first cross-country skiing medal in Slovenia's history. Her coaches could only wonder how she did it when doctors later gave her a more detailed physical examination. Reports Epstein:
Later that evening at Vancouver General Hospital, doctors finally saw that five of Majdič's ribs were in fact broken. And the severe pain she had experienced before the final? During the semi, one of the cracked ribs had become dislodged, and a jagged end had pierced her lung, causing it to collapse.
Notice that Majdic's injuries, though serious, apparently were not as severe as those described for Riley. He had two more broken ribs than she did, plus a broken clavicle, which she did not have.
Majdic is a world-class performer in perhaps the most grueling sport of all, one that forces its participants to develop a tolerance for pain. Writes Epstein:
The excruciating pain from snapped ribs can stop even the toughest athletes, and perhaps no sport puts more strain on the body's core than cross-country skiing. If it was only pain, though, maybe Majdič could go. For the last two decades she had spent hour after hour trudging through snowy woods, her legs and lungs burning, forging a relationship with pain. "The beauteous things in life are born from pain," she says. "For example, a child is born from great pain. In summer, in autumn, in winter, I struggle with pain, so my pain level is really [high]."
How severe was Majdic's pain? She was "ashen and hunched" and told a coach at one point that she couldn't go on. The coach said, "She could not sit, so she was lying down, and when she stood up she was [hunched over]." Majdic later described a clicking sound in her chest, which was her ribs moving.
Epstein describes it as "pain that, for the next four days, would make it nearly unbearable for her to cry (which she did anyway because she had to miss her other events) and, for nearly a week afterward, impossible to walk."
This is the pain experienced by an Olympian, in the prime shape of her life. But the man who found Bob Riley, with injuries that sound worse than Majdic's, did not notice that the former governor was hurt. In fact, DeMolen describes carrying on a relatively pleasant conversation with Riley on the trip to the hospital.
How is that possible? It probably isn't if someone actually has the injuries that were described in Bob Riley's case.
Riley must have otherworldly recuperative powers. Our research indicates that the recovery time from a punctured lung is anywhere from eight weeks to three months. But recent news reports show that Riley has registered as a lobbyist and began representing three clients in July.
Was Bob Riley really able to work as a lobbyist in July, less than one month after a motorcycle crash that left him with a punctured lung and multiple fractures?
It would be interesting to contact Petra Majdic and describe the Bob Riley story to her. Would she believe it?
We suspect her response would be, "No way in hell!"
Here is a video from Mobile's WKRG about Riley's experience. The reporter seems to be skeptical about the Riley tale. The blog Vincent Alabama Confidential has an intriguing take on the Riley video:
Here is a video about Majdic's injury and the aftermath. You can decide for yourself whether Riley's story makes sense: