It’s been four months since a near-death experience changed the life of Saanich’s Lada Cumpelik and his wife Diane Caetano.
Cumpelik, 37, was cycling to work along West Saanich Road at about 6:40 a.m. when he slid underneath a right turning semi-trailer. Without time to think, and no time to get out from under the moving tractor truck, Cumpelik clung to the undercarriage and hung on while scraping the pavement for 473 metres. Only then did a dramatic turn of events lead to his release.
Locals dubbed it the “Indiana Jones cycling accident” but it was only a matter of survival, Cumpelik said at the time.
“People who called it Indiana Jones then should see the Indiana Jones now,” said Caetano last week. “He’s still in the wheelchair, still struggling to walk.”
Cumpelik is nowhere near ready to return to his job with Saanich parks and recreation, though he hopes to be walking with the help of a cane by summer. He’s healed from shoulder surgery, as well as major road rash to his backside, arms and legs. Following the accident he soon learned walking wasn’t going to come easily. Even playing video games took time to master as he had lost a lot of dexterity, though mostly it’s his legs, which continue to suffer intense spasms.
At home he uses a wheelchair to get around, while in public he uses a walker.
“You notice in public how often other males, younger or similar aged, look at [Cumpelik],” Caetano said, “you can sense their curiosity.”
For now, Cumpelik’s foreseeable future is filled with physiotherapy and rehab. HIs daily workouts include arm exercises using elastics to rebuild strength and dexterity, as well as time spent on a stationary recumbent cycling machine.
“It’s a full-time job and you have to stay positive,” Cumpelik said. “You can’t let the frustration get to you.”
He’ll need additional surgery on his right shoulder as the movement of his right arm is at about half of what it was before his initial surgery following the incident. He can’t raise his arm past his shoulder. It might be that one of the screws installed into the shoulder is too long, but whatever it is, the doctor believes a surgeon might be able to fix it upon opening it up, he said.
Making matters worse, this winter is the first in 18 seasons that Cumpelik hasn’t had a season’s pass to Mount Washington, ironic as it’s the first good ski season in years.
“It’s almost a blessing that the accident came just before winter, a time when it’s dark, you want to stay in a bit more and watch TV anyways,” Caetano said.
When Cumpelik does leave the house, it’s usually to visit the physiotherapist, which he gets to thanks to much relied on support from his father.
The support from friends and family has been tremendous. Cumpelik’s parents, who still live down the road, have been “incredible.” Caetano’s parents live out of town but happened to have been visiting in early September and extended their stay at the time. Longtime friends now call more regularly to check in. Other friends visited to clean the gutters and cut the lawn.
And well wishes from strangers also come in – mostly from run-ins with locals.
“Once people find out what happened to Lada, they remember it, there is a lot of “Oh, you’re that guy,” Caetano said.
Cumpelik said he will likely get back on a bike at some point, though he’ll need a new one. He also looks forward to a possible meet up with the paramedics and firefighters who responded to the scene, and with the witness who tracked down the tractor-trailer and told him to pull over, saving Cumpelik’s life.
And, perhaps most of all, the couple would eventually like to finally take the vacation they never got to take. The two were set to fly to Mexico on Sept. 27, a delayed honeymoon on the first anniversary of their marriage.