Mermaid Series is proud to present Ashley Nelson as our April Inspirational Mermaid Athlete. Ashley is more than a survivor, she is a teacher, a mother, a motivator and a tenacious woman who is defined by her abilities, not her disabilities. We are proud and inspired by Ashley's story. She is a representation of strength and fortitude. We asked Ashley a few questions to introduce her to the mermaid community.
Mermaid: How did you hear about the Mermaid Series?
Ashley: Since I started cycling and racing my bike I've always heard about the Mermaid races, however never put much thought into doing an event till recently. I really, really disliked running for the longest time and for no reason at all, I had never tried, it was the idea of running that turned me off. That sounds so silly to me now, I am currently recovering from a sprained big toe (aka turf toe) and not running is making me go a little insane, it has become my release, my antidepressant and the time I spend running is mine, it's “me” time and it's a place where I go to truly feel comfortable in my skin and with myself. When I run I don't have to think. I don't know that I have a cognitive brain injury. I guess that's what cycling was for me till it was taken away in 2009. Maybe 2016 can be my come back year! The Mermaid Golden Gate [Tour de Mermaid] ride could be a great event after the May Ultra I am doing.
I first heard about it [Mermaid Series] from cycling friends who ran for cross training purposes. I also heard about you guys [Mermaid] at a local shop. I believe I had seen a flyer. I've always wanted to do the East Bay or the two SF events. Recently, my running friends, Kate and Christine, both mother runners and great athletes themselves, have been talking to me about doing a few of the mermaid events. I'm flirting with the May 7th event however, I'm not too sure if it's too close to my 50K taper or not. If not May, I would like to treat myself to a birthday gift of the SF run in November.
Mermaid: What would you say to those out there who are reading this story and your article for the first time?
Ashley: I'd like them to take away the understanding that life has many unforeseen obstacles and sometimes they can be life changing ones like mine. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a complex injury, but that doesn't mean that your life is over. You have to pick up the pieces and try to move forward. If you fall down in a race you don't stop and head back to the start line, you still move forward and get to the finish. You might have to find new ways of doing the same old things, but you try till you find something that works. My life, myself, the me inside my head is different then the girl who was hit in 2009. I have accepted this as a new challenge, just like a new race distance. I think I've learned not to take myself to seriously. Running helps me, it helps me greatly. I've had neurologists say that they don't understand how I do it with my physical disabilities (left side weakness/paralysis) but they fear if I stop or don't do it, my life wouldn't be what it is today, that I wouldn't have recovered as well as I have.
Mermaid: If you have shared your story in the local community, how has it affected others?
Ashley: My story was featured on the front of Yahoo when it happened, it was on every Bay Area news station and once we caught the man who hit me, it seems like I was in the front of the local section of the [San Jose] Mercury News almost every week for a few years. If you Google search "Bob Schiro hit and run" or "Ashleigh Jackson highway 9 hit and run,” you’ll get countless reports.
I was also featured as a Ragnar Athlete for the Napa 2015 event and KTVU has interviewed me as a survivor of a drunk driver for a story they were doing on DUIs. Here is a link to the Ragnar blog.
The reactions are mixed. I think a lot of people forget that some disabilities are invisible so I get both ends of the spectrum from people telling me what an inspiration I am to them. To the people who are "haters" and just don't understand, just because I look "OK" doesn't mean I am OK. With people like that I find myself educating them aboutTraumatic Brain Injury. TBI is like being on a roller coaster with a blindfold on. You honestly do not know what your day will be like, mood, emotion, intelligence, energy, motivation and even my physical self. When people only see you on your good days it's hard for them to understand my disability and what limitations I face day to day. Some people get this. They tell me things like, "You are my motivation." Or, "I eat better because of you.” Or, ”I pushed myself a little harder because I thought about you." I think most of my community knows who I am but, not everyone who knows me knows I'm Ashley from highway nine. It's funny to me when people realize I'm "that Ashley”. It's a classic response, "Oh my God, you’re that Ashley. I followed your story." Recently, I just had a fellow runner on my team say that to me out on a long trail run. I hope it motivates them to push harder and kill the workout!
We think you will agree that Ashley is an Inspirational Mermaid Athlete. Here is Ashley’s Story
Hi, my name is Ashley Nelson. I was a competitive cyclist but now I'm a runner because in 2009 I was out riding my bike on a training ride and a drunk driver in a 750li BMW came up behind me, about 60mph, in the bike lane and ran me over. He hit me and ran.
I had major head trauma, had a stroke that caused permanent paralysis, including my left eye and broke many bones including my C1. The hit and run was featured in a Mercury News article.
Instead of going to the Wente Road Race I was training for, I went to the ER, the trauma ICU and the neurological transitional care unit at Valley Medical Center. I never went to the rehab unit because I was given no hope, I couldn't follow basic commands. In2009 we were told I may never walk again, I mightnever do anything again.
Well, here I am in 2016, I am a new mom of two and I am doing 5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons (1:45:00), Fulls (3:57:00) and now I'm registered for a 50K. I just did my second trail half marathon on March 20th at the Whistle Punk Half Marathon and I made podium, 2ND place.
Thanks for the Inspiration Ashley!