ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On the morning of April 10 this year Earl Gage was a promising young bicycle racer with a string of state and national championships to his credit and his sights on the five-day Tour of the Gila race.
By that evening he was fighting for his life, with a broken jaw, ribs, hip and brain trauma after being hit by a car while out on a training ride.
Barely two months later, Gage, 18, is on his way to recovery, working hours each day with a physical therapist and determined to get back on a bike.
“It means so much to me; and it’s part of everything that I’ve done, that I couldn’t stop riding,” Gage said, in an interview last week in his room at Health South Rehab hospital.
Starting at age 14 years, when a friend gave him a bike, Gage quickly showed talent.
“He took to it like a duck to water,” said Jeff Huser, one of his cycling coaches.
Gage was state champion in road racing and mountain bike events in 2013. He also competed in multiple national championships including cyclocross nationals in Boulder, Colo., in January 2014, Junior road Nationals in Madison, Wis., in 2013, cyclocross nationals in Madison in 2012 and 2010.
As his health improves, Gage is anxious to go home, eat some of his favorite food – “a gyro sandwich would be nice” – and for everything to be “all normal again.”
It’s been a harrowing experience for his family. In his hospital room, his mother Claudia Gage struggled to talk about the weeks since police informed her of her son’s accident.
“It’s been very painful. It was really difficult at first,” she said.
Gage was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital but because the cellphone he was carrying was password protected, and he had no contact phone numbers on him, it was several hours before anyone was able to notify his family, according to Huser.
One of the hospital staff recognized Gage’s jersey from his cycling team Scalo Veloce and found a phone number on the team’s website.
“They called someone and that person figured out who it (the injured person) was and that’s ultimately how the family was contacted,” Huser said.
Huser said Gage spent three weeks in the neuro-intensive care unit at UNMH and three more weeks in AMG Specialty Hospital in Downtown Albuquerque before moving to Health South. His team mates, cycling friends, team sponsor Scalo Northern Italian Grill and local bike shops have rallied around to show support and raise funds to help with his medical expenses.
“The cycling community is a small community but very supportive,” said Travis Dixon, the physical therapist (and fellow cyclist) working with Gage.
Gage was a senior at Manzano High School and worked part-time at the REI store in Albuquerque. Some of his fellow employees have donated vacation days toward his hospital stay.
“He is very well respected and liked in the store,” said store manager Bryan Vogel, “We’re really glad to hear that he’s doing well.”
Dixon said Gage’s youth and his dedication to his sport have probably helped the healing process, but his ultimate recovery is a ways off.