GREENWICH, Conn. – Dr. Andrew Haas of Armonk, N.Y., has fought back from a near-fatal cycling accident in 2005 to race in Saturday’s Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Every painful step on the seven-year journey helped make his dream a reality.
“It has more meaning to me now than just going to the greatest one-day endurance event on the planet,’’ said Haas, a member of the Greenwich Triathlon Club and a physician for Orthopaedic Associates of Stamford.
Haas, 43, was training for the same race July 23, 2005, when he was hit by an elderly drive on Riversville Road in the Glenville section of Greenwich. “I only know what happened from police reports,’’ Haas said. “I remember nothing from the time I left my house to ride until eight weeks later. Two months of my life is gone.”
The accident scene was grim. Police closed the street, treating it like a vehicular manslaughter investigation. Haas’ identification, a driver’s license in a pouch, was initially missing but found in nearby bushes. His bike was shattered.
Haas slipped into a coma for two weeks, and his condition was not stabilized until after six surgeries. He suffered a massive pelvic fracture, 15 spine fractures, ruptured and blood-filled lungs, cuts and the left side of his face was fractured. “The doctors at Westchester Medical Center saved my life,’’ Haas said. “I had a fantastic team that saved me.”
He stayed at Westchester Medical for six weeks, followed by six weeks of inpatient physical therapy at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. Haas then had outpatient physical therapy for a year. He did not return to work for nearly a year.
“I never gave up the dream of Ironman,’’ Haas said. “I was just incredibly fortunate. I had great support from family and friends. Even when I was in a coma, my room was wall-papered by my family of things I love to do. I was in this shrine of triathlons.”
He returned to competing in triathlons in 2007, hoping to do the Hawaii Ironman, where officials said Haas could defer his 2005 entry for as long as he wanted. Haas did sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, half marathons, duathlons (biking and running), and road races as stages on his comeback trail. He returned to the half Ironman, 70.3 miles, racing in October 2010 in Miami.
After completing the 70.3 half Ironman race in New Hampshire last August, Haas was convinced that he was ready to go for a full Ironman, with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. In a few days, his big race will finally be here.
“I never wanted to think that it was an event I couldn’t return to,’’ Haas said. “No one thought it would happen. Now after years of hard work and support from a lot of people, I finally made it back.”
Besides his family and friends, the triathlon community and the Greenwich club have been helped Haas in his comeback. He is also the team physician for the club. “Triathletes are a population that I love to work with,’’ Haas said. “I understand what their drive is, I understand their passion. I think it’s easier for patients when they understand where the doctor is coming from.”
Even with the triathlon layoff after the accident, Haas has been competing in the sport for nearly 25 years, starting as a teenager. “I loved it,’’ said Haas, who also played tennis and soccer into college. “I lived in Florida after completing orthopedic training and really started to get into triathlons more seriously.”
His wife, Susan, and young sons Charlie and Sam have been supportive of the training grind it takes to race in an Ironman. He has raced in Westchester and Fairfield counties frequently over the past few years. Before the accident, Haas ran marathons in Boston and New York City. But none of his previous athletic competitions figure to be as emotionally rewarding as reaching the starting line in Hawaii.
“It’s going to be surreal,’’ Haas said. “I don’t think I’ll truly appreciate it until I’m treading water in the ocean in Hawaii. Every single race I’ve done has been wrapped up in its own intense emotions. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to do this. Every single race I go to, there’s a long pause before the gun goes off and I think about how fortunate I am and how lucky I’ve been.”