Dan Grande knows how quickly runners can go from incredibly fit to flat on their backs. He was an occasional training partner with Ted Paget, the Canadian lawyer still recovering from a badly broken leg after he was hit by a car during last summer's Juneteenth Race.
But that didn't make Grande any less surprised a week ago when he also severely broke his leg while running. It was a freak sort of thing that could have happened to any of us.
On the day of his fall, Grande, 32, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Martin's School in South Buffalo and one of the better runners in Western New York, had finished classes and was running near his home at the Marine Drive apartments.
The weather was a little dicey -- it was that bad storm a week ago last Wednesday -- but he figured he could get in a short run close to home.
As he ran along Lakefront Boulevard near Erie Street, in the area near the waterfront condos, he hit a patch of rough footing and stepped into a six-to-seven inch pothole almost custom designed for his foot. The rest of his body still had all that motion going; the pothole held his foot like a bear trap.
"When I went down, it was nasty," Grande said. "I heard the leg break. I knew I broke it. For two to three minutes, I didn't feel anything from the leg down."
An orthopedic surgeon later found that Grande had four separate breaks in the fibula, the outer and smaller of the two bones that run from the ankle to the knee. But at that very moment, Grande was trying to keep his head clear and figure how to get home, no matter how tantalizingly close he was.
"You wouldn't believe how many people drove by me," he said, "just looking at me lying there."
Finally, a woman asked if he needed help and used her cell phone to call an ambulance. Twenty minutes after he first went down, Grande was finally loaded into the back of the ambulance. By that time, the shock and numbness had worn off and he was in severe pain and freezing from lying on the icy pavement.
The mishap could not have come at a worse time for his running. Grande came to competitive running somewhat late -- he did not run in high school at South Park but joined the cross-country team at Erie Community College and then won a scholarship to Pace University.
He took another six years or so off from competitive running while in the Navy and moving back home, and only returned to it this past year. He was just returning to racing form.
"I got back into the 15:30s for 5K," Grande said of his return to a very quick pace of 5 minutes a mile.
Now Grande is in a non-weight bearing cast for the next six weeks, followed by another two to three months of rehabilitation and a slow return to running.
If there's a lesson to be learned from a freak accident, it's this. As he was lying unable to move on the ice, Grande recalled all those hundreds of solitary runs he's taken, the kind most of us have taken. He never once gave a moment's thought about how he would be able to get help if he ever went down.
Keeping that in mind, it wouldn't hurt if we all take something away from his misfortune. When you go for a run by yourself, leave a note or tell someone where you plan to run and what time you expect to be back. And always run with identification on you. If the unthinkable happens and you're knocked unconscious, at least an ambulance crew can notify friends or relatives that you're in the hospital.
There's no need to get paranoid or stop running whenever the conditions are less than dry bare pavement on a nice warm sunny day.
As for Grande, he vows to return to running, and although frustrated at his predicament, says he's as optimistic as he can be.
"You've got to be," he said. "I broke my leg; it's not the end of the world. You'll definitely see me back."
We can't take a lot of credit, but Susan Kalish, executive director of the American Running and Fitness Association, lived in Snyder until the second grade. Kalish puts out the well-regarded Running and FitNews and claims a membership of 18,000, nearly all runners. On a good week, Kalish, nearly 40, still runs 30 miles.
Don't forget Owen Anderson's free training clinic next month as the kick-off to the May 3 Ford Buffalo Marathon. Anderson, who holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, is a columnist for Runner's World and publishes Running Research News. He's one of the top authorities in the field and will be speaking at 10 a.m. on Jan. 10 at the Burt Flickinger Center on the ECC City Campus.
Race directors take heed. If you have only a 70-and-over category, you're excluding a growing number of male runners who are 75 and over, at least six in the coming season. There's another dozen or so in the 70-74 age group, but some of those complain about being lumped in with the older guys because Mr. Fleet of Foot himself, Tony Napoli, is 77 but beats everyone 70-and-over whenever he runs. The women's 75-plus club is still pretty thin.
For the record, Steven Woodard won last year's Resolution Run, not David O'Keeffe as reported here last week.
Last Race of the Year, 3.6 miles, Delaware Park, 11 a.m., Sat., 839-3049; Gordon's Gallop, one lap of Delaware Park, 11:45 p.m., New Year's Eve, 837-3031; Resolution Run and Wellness Walk, 5K, noon, New Year's Day, Williamsville, 633-1635.