Chuck Ambrose, on the road to recovery


Written by Muleskinner Staff

Features Editor

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Hunkered down under the shade of a tree, President Chuck Ambrose knew he was in trouble.

“I’ve always had this deal that any time I wreck, if I can stand up I’m OK,” Ambrose said. “But this time when I hit I was like, ‘Oh God did that hurt.’”

Ambrose was riding home on a bike trail Wednesday, June 29, in Tabernash, Colorado, when he came across a steep descent in the trail. His Garmin calculated his speed at about 27 or 28 mph. Looking ahead at the loose sand and gravel on the route, he decided to slow down and prepare for a wide turn.

“When I hit that turn the sand was just so loose and dry that I kind of tacoed my front wheel. . . I’ve got hydraulic disk brakes and I just feathered them a little bit,” Ambrose said. “I didn’t even think I was going to fall off. I just thought I was going to slide a little bit and pull it back, and it slapped me down like a snowboarder.”

A good-sized rock lay squarely in the middle of the trail. It was that rock that did the damage.

“The only thing that hit – it didn’t hit my head, scraped my elbow a little bit, but the only thing that it hit was my hip on that rock,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose said he always tries to get back on his bike after an accident. In this case, he knew he couldn’t.

“When I stood up, I thought ‘Well if I can just slide my leg back over my bike seat I’ll coast home,’” he said. “The pain was a lot worse than I had anticipated and I knew something was up. I got really hot and dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out and kind of knew something was up that was a lot worse than just being unable to walk.”

Ambrose said the sun was intense, so he crawled under the shade of a small tree and waited for his wife and daughter, who weren’t too far behind him on the trail. He found a way to rest his leg at an angle in front of him that seemed to ease the pain. He was hopeful that he had only dislocated his hip, but the pain he felt when he moved made him think it was something more significant.  As he waited, a man who was coming up the trail approached and asked if he was OK.

“He says, ‘Oh, are you all right?’ And I said, ‘Yeah I’m fine, I’m good,’” Ambrose said.

After around 10 to 15 minutes, his wife, Kris, and daughter, Kathryn, appeared on the trail.

“My wife, who has ridden a lot of bicycles with me and knows me too well, she and Kathryn came down the trail. And being a very wise spouse, the first words out of her mouth were ‘You were going too fast.’ And I was like, ‘Well, maybe.’”

Ambrose looked at Kris and told her he didn’t think he could make it off the trail.

“I was about maybe 500 to 750 yards off the road down a trail on a pretty steep embankment,” he said.

Ambrose said they called 911 and Kris waited with him while Kathryn went ahead to get her friends and bring the car back. Kris would need the car to drive back up the road and flag down the ambulance.

It took another 10 to 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.

“They load you in the stretcher and then they get people all the way around that gurney. Then they wheel you out because, again, it’s so steep,” Ambrose said. “Paramedics took me to a local hospital with an (emergency room). They consulted with the trauma one hospital in Denver, and they knew I was most likely headed to surgery.”

Ambrose learned that his hip joint smacked into his pelvis like a hammer, fracturing it in three places.

“So the ambulance ride for 70 miles was not a lot of fun with a broken pelvis. But they took me to St. Anthony’s and I got down there late Wednesday afternoon.”

Ambrose was put in traction because of the pain and impending surgery. Fifteen minutes before his scheduled surgery Thursday morning, the doctor came in wearing civilian clothes. He told Ambrose that he couldn’t promise him any better results with surgery than without it and suggested they not go through with it.

“I had a little kind of twinge of ‘Well that’s good news,’ because I was all geared up for anesthesia and how extensive it was going to be and what I’d feel like when I came out, but that was like way overshadowed by this just tide of feelings just saying – ‘Whoa. That’s good, but how the heck am I going to get out of bed?’”

Ambrose said his doctor gave him a course of treatment that called for a minimum of 12 weeks without any weight bearing.  Doctors promised him he’d be back on his bike sooner than later.

“It’s actually pretty good exercise for rehab and a broken pelvis,” Ambrose said. “I’m hoping to start putting weight on it and get back walking sometime mid-to-late September.”

Ambrose credits the support he received from his staff and technology for helping him get back into the swing of things while he continues to recover.

“I kind of went back to work between conference calls and video calls,” Ambrose said. “I Skyped into a doctoral class at the University of Maryland for a friend. . . And with the board (of governors) and some project stuff that we had scheduled for July, I just decided to plug in via teleconference or video conference any chance,” Ambrose said. “There were some times that you didn’t necessarily feel like that was something you felt like doing but it was easy to stay in touch.”

Although Ambrose said he had to dial his schedule back a little for August, he still attended the UCM Experience Kickoff and spoke to incoming freshmen at convocation.

“I mean I’ve just kind of been able to do what I can do, and probably with kickoff and UCM Experience and welcoming new students, the biggest frustration is not being out there getting school started like I usually do,” Ambrose said. “Driving around Mule Haul in a golf cart is not a lot of fun, but I also get that I’m going to do what the doctors tell me and kind of take my time and get back.”

And as for the handicap access on campus, Ambrose said it’s not bad.

“I have certainly used a much more critical eye thinking about students with physical challenges that are doing this every day, and some much more challenging than mine,” Ambrose said. “And there are a couple things, you think, ‘Well, we can certainly do a lot better,’ and there’s some access that is just not there at the level we need to have it. And, of course, we’re addressing a lot of that through the (strategic resource allocation model) and some of our capital projects. All of these renovations include really increasing accessibility in all of our buildings.”

Ambrose said he will continue to assess where UCM’s strengths and weaknesses are in terms of accessibility on campus over the next few weeks.

He also plans on taking advantage of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

“You may see me in a yoga class or two because, given a few miles and years, I think my flexibility and stuff I could really pay more attention to,” he said. “The goal is to come back stronger.”

Ambrose said he looks forward to rehabilitation because he wants to get back on his bike.

“I was kidding the doctor. I said, ‘99 days until Winter Park opens (for) the season.’ He looked at me and said ‘Not for you.’”

All jokes aside, Ambrose does worry about the challenges ahead.

“When we start talking about what-ifs and how-longs and what does it mean if it doesn’t heal very well, when I start talking like that, twice I have almost fainted. I just have this, as they say, a vagal response and the room starts getting really dark and I start feeling real hot and so my mind takes over.”

Fortunately for Ambrose, his bike came out of the accident injury-free.

“Literally the only thing that hit when I fell was me,” Ambrose said. “And it’s a good thing ‘cause I love my bike. But it was fine and came out of it without any need of any help.”