Lucky to be Alive

Table of finisher medals
December 13, 2016

Mike Ricci


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When I left home to go to work on December 16, 2004, I had no idea my life would be drastically changed forever, testing my character, determination, willpower, and proverbial "heart." My career as a Police Officer allows me to contribute to the betterment of our world daily. In my profession, we all know there is potential every day when we go to work; we could pay the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, when we walk out the door, that thought is not in the front of our minds.

I grew up an athlete and was taught goal setting by my parents from a very early age; in fact, it's all I can remember. I loved baseball as a kid and had no real natural talent. Like a lot of red-blooded American boys, I dreamed of being a major league baseball player and worked very hard to improve my baseball skills. My hard work paid off when I was selected as a walk-on athlete for the University of Utah baseball team.

After graduating college, my first job required travel, and that meant being without a gym. So, I began running regularly. When I entered the Police Academy in the spring of 1999, I was one of the better runners, and it showed. There is an annual Law Enforcement relay race called the Challenge Cup Relay, or Baker to Vegas. Participating agencies provide a team of twenty runners who each run one leg, averaging a 10k distance, across the California and Nevada desert. The race starts on a two-lane highway approximately 20 miles outside of Baker, California, and extends 120 miles into downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. My Department was consistently one of the top teams in the race, and quality runners were handpicked to be assigned to a specific facility and train for the team. Upon graduation, I was selected for that facility and put on a rigorous training plan. I am a competitor, always have been, and now had a new goal. After running the race my first year, I was hooked and made it a goal to run the race every year of my career. I could write several paragraphs about the race and the character it takes to run by yourself across the desert in every different type of weather and have personally run over mountain passes, across desert flats, and up steep inclines when it was 90 degrees, with ice on the ground, in high winds, and in perfect running conditions. My opinion was that those moments pushing myself to the mental and physical limits were helping me to become stronger and would pay off.

That opinion was affirmed on December 16, 2004. At the time, I was assigned to graveyard patrol. We worked a 12½ hour shift from 6 pm to 6:30 am. My first clear memory of the night is from approximately 10:15 pm when I was startled, as if from a dream, at the feel of metal running up the back of my leg. I opened my eyes to see one of my best friends, Rick, directly over my face and realized his hands were holding my head. The metal I felt was paramedic's scissors cutting my pants off. I asked Rick what was going on. He told me I had been hit by a car, to which I responded that we had just had dinner. Rick will tell you we had that same exchange over and over again as the paramedics worked on me and prepped me for the ambulance ride, which was no picnic because the ambulance was really moving, causing every bump and turn to send waves of intense pain through my body. It was able to go so fast because we had an escort of police cars and a helicopter clearing the way so I could get to the hospital as fast as possible. The arrival at the hospital resulted in a flurry of activity as I was rushed into the trauma room at a teaching hospital. For those of you who have never seen or experienced such a phenomena, the room is filled with what seems like 50 people all doing and saying something.

At some point amidst all of this, my memory flooded back to me: I had been assisting other officers investigating a burglary alarm at a residence when our helicopter spotted a car driving without its lights on through a park nearby. I was on a street to the rear of the residence and officers at the front said I could go check out the suspicious vehicle. At the time, I was unaware the alarm had been false and thought it possible the occupants of the vehicle may have been involved in the burglary. The helicopter crew directed me to where the suspicious vehicle had parked, indicating a male had exited and was crossing the street directly in front of me. The street had two lanes traveling in each direction with a two-way center turn lane in between. I drove in the two-way center turn lane toward the male and illuminated him with the driver's side spotlight on my unit. He immediately turned very quickly toward me while reaching into his right front pants pocket in a manner reminding me of someone reaching for a weapon. My reaction was to quickly park the car, exit, and draw my gun to protect myself. The male was not doing exactly what I told him, but he had stopped moving and not removed a weapon from his pocket. When I had him in a position where I felt comfortable until other officers arrived I moved in the only direction I could, which happened to be further into one of the traffic lanes. I felt like I had the situation relatively under control and began to evaluate my surroundings. When I looked down the street I could see a car coming directly at me in the lane I was standing in, realizing I was in trouble I began to run toward my unit; however, upon further inspection realized I did not have time to run out of the way. I decided my best option was to jump and slide on my butt at an angle across the hood of the oncoming car. With no time to spare I picked a spot on the hood, lifted my left leg, and jumped off of my right... I remember seeing the headlight of the car swoop by under me before everything going dark until being awakened by the scissors on my leg.

The car hit me at approximately 40 mph, and the driver never slowed down because he couldn't see me through the spotlight I had pointed at the male. I hit on the hood of the car in the spot I intended, which is where my plan failed terribly due to the momentum of the car. My butt and legs dented the hood, and I slid up into the windshield, shattering it, before my body was thrown 50' down the street. I cartwheeled through the air and landed on the back of my head. My partners arrived to find me unconscious in the middle of a major street with a rapidly expanding pool of blood under my head. The first sergeant on the scene, a thirty-year veteran at the time, told me later he had never seen a cop down and out like I was, and it seriously affected him.

Lucky to be alive, the doctors told me I had two fractured cervical vertebrae, which was their major concern even while I complained to them my right knee was in severe pain. Of course, the back of my head and neck were covered with abrasions and cuts from the windshield, and my entire body was bruised. I was admitted and taken to my hospital room with my neck immobilized facing the possibility of surgery to repair it and fearing if it went wrong I would never walk again. The next day after several more X-rays and tests, it was determined my spinal column was intact, I would not need

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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