“Beloved LSU professor killed in biking accident.” I couldn’t believe it. In an attempt to reconnect with my favorite professor from college, I found myself reading her obituary instead. In June 2015, she was hit by a truck while cycling north of Baton Rouge. She had been dead for months and I didn’t have a clue. After the shock wore off, I had a lump in my throat for days. So, when I recently heard that my childhood neighbor, Trent Wierick, had also been hit by a truck while biking and survived, I had to get the story.
To begin, Trent is no ordinary athlete. As he put it, “Exercise is my drug of choice.” Besides having the knowledge and training for it as a physical therapist, Trent has the drive and dedication to compete in one of the most challenging athletic events in the world—an Ironman triathlon. This grueling athletic event covers 140.6 miles: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile marathon. Participants must complete the entire race in less than 17 hours. Trent completed his with six hours to spare.
One day during a training season, to work off the stress of some personal issues (to which we’ll return), Trent joined a group of cyclists on a route just south of Shreveport in Frierson, LA. At one point in the ride, there was some unexpected roadwork, which changed the cyclists’ path for a moment. In that moment, the group had to make a sharp turn, something for which his particular bike was not designed. Making a wider turn than the rest of the group, Trent found himself swung out into the outside lane, “I looked up and saw a truck heading my direction.”
In the words of Jason Wienland, a close cyclist friend, “I heard that sound that every avid cyclist knows—carbon crunching against metal—and I knew what happened. Without even looking back I knew what happened.” The crunch Jason heard was Trent’s bike and body colliding with a 4000-pound truck going 45 mph.
“The next thing I remember is laying on the ground,” Trent says. “And I did a systems check at that point and noticed that I couldn’t breathe at all. I waited for a second thinking maybe I just got the wind knocked out of me, and the air would come back.” Jason Wienland, who was by his side, saw bubbles start to come out of his mouth and grew even more concerned, “I knew he was going into some kind of respiratory distress…I thought he was going to die”
Trent vividly remembers those moments on the edge of life and death, saying “I couldn’t feel any air in my lungs. I felt this gurgling in my chest. Then I had this conversation with God and asked, ‘Is this it? Am I going to die here? If so, that’s fine, I’m prepared to die and spend eternity with you.’ Then I felt God wrap his arms around me and comfort me and say, ‘I’ve got something more I want you to experience in this life.’ And after that, I was calm. I was at peace. And from that point on I knew I was going to be all right.”
After that short moment, Trent says, “I felt air begin to trickle back into one of my lungs.” Over the next few days in the hospital, Trent went through multiple operations, some of which were risky and rare. All twelve ribs were broken on the left side, many of them in multiple places on the front and back of his rib cage. The doctors gave him a “9” on a scale of 1-10 for severity of injuries. In addition to the ribs, he had a collapsed lung, a flail chest, a fractured left scapula, bruised kidneys, and a fractured vertebra. The doctors actually said that they typically only see these kinds of injuries on people who are already dead, but because of how good of shape he was in physically, his body was able to sustain the injuries and keep him alive and breathing.
He went through major surgery in which his rib cage was put back together with metal plates and screws. Despite the dire situation, Trent says that throughout his stay in the hospital, “I never worried about anything else in the hospital because of that experience [with God]. I knew I was going to be all right.” And indeed, the surgery went well and his condition improved. Two weeks after the surgery, he was discharged from the hospital, after which he underwent months of intense physical therapy. Defying all expectations (both the doctors and his own), Trent not only learned to walk and move normally, but fourteen months later he did another triathlon event, placing 89th out of 1200. Being a patient instead of the physical therapist providing the treatment, Trent learned the value of empathy in his own work as a PT at The Edge Physical Therapy in Shreveport, a practice he co-owns with long time friend and training partner, Anna Moore.
On its own, that is quite a story. A near-death experience. Major surgery. Two weeks in the hospital. Months of physical therapy ending in a return to his beloved sport. That is quite a story of survival and victory and willpower. But there is actually a second story interwoven throughout his cycling accident that is quite different in nature. In Trent’s words, “The wreck is a big part of the story, but the biggest part of the story is that we had gone through four years of infertility before.”
Up to that point in his life, things had come fairly easily for him. When they weren’t easy, with hard work he was able to get what he wanted. But this was not the case for him and his wife Molly in their desire for children. For once in his life, there was something that he couldn’t do on his own. Looking back on that season he says, “I had never had to completely rely on God. During that infertility period, I was helpless. There was nothing I could do. I learned what it was to be totally dependent and reliant on God during that period.” Trent found his Ironman training a healthy place to vent his frustration about their struggle.
During those four years, he and his wife Molly had gone through nine IUIs, three IVFs, and two miscarriages. About a month before the accident, they realized that their most recent procedure didn’t work when Molly miscarried again. Frustrated and angry one day about the miscarriage, Trent went cycling to vent some emotions. That day was June 14, 2012—the day of the wreck. After hearing how life-threatening his injuries were on the way to the hospital, Molly prayed, “God, I’ve got nothing to offer you. But if you save my husband, I’ll never ask for a child ever again.” She was willing to give up anything for her husband’s life, even her deep desire for children.
A few days later, when Trent was waking up from his rib-plating surgery, he looked over and saw his wife with a big grin on her face. Confused by her renewed spirit, he asked what was going on. She leaned over and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but we’re pregnant.” The two of them celebrated quietly together in the ICU room. Little did Molly know that just a few days before when she had tried to bargain with God for Trent’s life, she was already pregnant. True, they’d had miscarriages before, but this time something was different, and they both felt it. In a confidence Trent attributes to “God’s grace and faithfulness,” they knew they were about to be parents for the first time.
When asked about the timing of the news of the pregnancy, Trent said, “God knew exactly what we needed and when we needed it. He gave us that child at just the right moment.” With the news, God’s plan for those nearly five years of infertility became much clearer to him. As he was pouring his emotions into his Ironman training, God had been preparing his body to survive a head-on collision with a truck. And in God’s timing, he was given the news of the pregnancy the day he came out of surgery, so that he could have something to fight for (the upcoming baby) in the grueling months of physical therapy.
But why couldn’t God just have given them a baby in the first place? Or kept him from getting in a wreck? Because according to Trent, apart from those things, he would not have learned what it was to be totally dependent on God. As he lay on the hospital bed, alive by a miracle of God, hearing the news of his wife, who had conceived by a miracle of God, it couldn’t have been clearer to him how dependent he was on God for all things. The pregnancy came exactly when they needed it most. According to Trent, this was that “ah ha” moment, when he was able to look back on over four years of pain and say, “Now I get it.” And he was able to look back and say, “I know what that ‘something more’ was that God kept me alive to experience. I was going to be a father.” Indeed, on February 26th, 2013, Molly gave birth to a little girl, Mary Caroline.
Now, as a counselor who often meets with people in the midst of suffering, I am well aware that there are many stories that do not end the same way. Some couples have a lifetime of infertility. Some people don’t survive the bike wreck. What about God’s plan then?
If you would, allow me to answer from the Christian faith that Trent and I share. If we trust God in our pain, like Trent and Molly Wierick, we too will one day have that “ah ha” moment in which all previous sorrow is filled with new meaning and turned to joy, as baffling as that may sound in the midst of that pain. Perhaps, like the Wiericks, we will get a small glimpse of his plan in the here and now. Perhaps not. Either way, what they experienced in part, all who trust God in their pain will one day experience in full.