Para-cyclist Kevin Korenthal considers virtual cycling a life-saver that gave him the strength to overcome a near-fatal accident.
A phantom is an entity apparent to sense but with no substantial existence, with artistic allusions as apparitions resembling their mortal form that seek revenge in the afterlife. Haunted by the sensation, often painful and highly unpleasant at first, the phenomenon is known as “phantom limb,” the feeling of an amputated appendage as if still attached to the body.
In literature and film, the evil misdeeds of these protagonists are vanquished or fade away, almost to be forgotten. For an amputee, this and many other physical and emotional transgressions must be dealt with until ultimately it is as if they didn’t lose the limb at all. The positives of a well-lived post-trauma life fill the void.
The amputee then has exacted their revenge in that the only thing phantom is the thought that the limb ever existed at all.
The Conversation at the Coffee Stop
In October of 2013, Kevin Korenthal was one of 100 cyclists to complete the “Million Dollar Challenge,” a 620-mile multi-day ride along the California coastline from San Francisco to San Diego.
While a significant achievement in its own right, such undertakings are commonplace in the experience of many avid cyclists and not necessarily one worthy of much more than polite acknowledgment when comparing ride notes over coffee at the group ride turnaround.
The conversation chronicling the magnitude of the adverse situations Kevin overcame, and the transformation of his body and soul that resulted, is one worthy of telling in a more auspicious setting and will require more than one espresso to do so. So you may want to choose a more potent potable to get through this one.
A Few of the Things Kevin Loves About Virtual Cycling
The Accident That Changed His Life...For the Worse
A Varsity swimmer and cyclist in high school, Kevin was three weeks from departing for Navy boot camp following graduation in 1991, when a traffic accident, the dreadful outcome of a regretful decision, shattered his left femur (the long bone of the thigh).
He was placed in a drug-induced coma and woke 30 days later to discover he had lost the function of his lower leg. The compound fracture allowed bone marrow to seep into his bloodstream, causing irreversible nerve damage and “drop foot.”
The accident and its life-altering aftermath were too much for the 20-year-old to process emotionally. Kevin’s depression manifested in a chain reaction of poor decisions involving drinking and unhealthy relationships. During which time complications of his injury and the progression of the deformity left him no choice but to undergo a below-knee amputation in 2005.
Kevin Hit Rock Bottom During His “Lost Twenties”
During this dark period of his life, described by Kevin as “my lost twenties,” he reached rock bottom following a short time spent in jail for DUI.
Difficult Decisions Provide Clarity for Tough Choices
The decision to amputate his left lower leg provided him with clarity of thought and the opportunity to make some difficult life choices. He chose cycling as one of the ways he would turn his life around.
Shortly after being fitted for his first prosthetic, he began attending spin classes after his rehab sessions. As a result, his strength, fitness, and motivation improved, and he was soon taking two classes per day several times a week.
When a friend invited him on a ‘no drop’ group ride outdoors on the roads of his Santa Clarita, California neighborhood once ridden during the Tour of California, Kevin overcame his apprehension and agreed.
Kevin Adapted His Body and Mind By Cycling
His spin bike experience using SPD pedals on his prosthetic foot made for an easier transition.
By 2012 Kevin was riding 200-300 miles per week, had completed several century rides, and was training for his first triathlon. In addition, he had devoted his professional life to helping others through politics and advocacy.
Kevin was in a ‘good place’ until one day changed everything.
The Accident That Changed His Life...For the Better
In December, while on a training ride, Kevin was struck head-on by a teen driver traveling at over 40mph. The life-threatening accident left him with multiple severe injuries, including a broken right wrist, broken right tibia and fibula (bones of the lower leg), a fractured right scapula (shoulder blade), a fractured spine, three broken ribs, and several fractures to the bones in his neck.
In addition, the metal rod which supported the fracture in his amputated left leg was bent to a nearly 45-degree angle. As a result, Kevin’s surgeon told him he might never walk again.
Kevin went home 29 days after the accident.
Kevin’s Second Accident Changed His Perspective in Many Ways
A Week After Leaving the Hospital Kevin Commits to a Challenge
As a challenge to himself, Kevin committed to the 620-mile multi-day challenge in October soon after leaving the hospital.
Adversity and Calamity Can Serve Two Purposes
Kevin’s wife is also happy that he found perspective and the belief that, according to Kevin, “adversity and calamity can serve one of two purposes. It can be an excuse to give up, or it can be an instrument to overcome one’s weaknesses.
After my first injury in 1991, I chose the former and the amputation 15 years later, and the accident in 2012 motivated me to choose the latter.” Kevin is back on the road following significant improvement in his strength and confidence, stating, “I have Zwift to thank for the fitness that made it possible.”
Kevin would be delighted if his avatar had a prosthetic leg, but he would settle for a few new worlds. Why settle now, Kevin? It seems like you haven’t been doing that for some time now!
Benefits of Cycling for Amputees
While many new amputees are under the mistaken impression that losing their limbs means losing mobility and a sedentary lifestyle, being active is good for the body and mind.
Have you ever found purpose in pain?
Are you a virtual cyclist who has overcome physical challenges? If yes, what changes or improvements do you feel should be made to the virtual cycling platform to enhance the experience?
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!