NORMAN — On Saturday morning, June 30, 2012, Debbie Wog’s world as she knew it came to a sudden halt.
She was riding along the wide shoulder of Highway 7, training for the cycling portion of the full Redman Triathlon, when a large SUV, traveling at an estimated 70 mph, struck her from behind.
She heard the noise of the crash an instant before she registered that she was the one who had been struck. The moment she hit the pavement, nearly unbearable pain set in.
The driver of the automobile pulled over to the side of the road about a quarter mile past the scene of the accident but did not return to check on her. It was members of a local Seventh-day Adventist Church coming out of church services who came to her aid.
Members of the congregation called 911 as she lay on the ground conscious but unmoving. She was quickly taken by ambulance to the Arbuckle Memorial Hospital and then immediately transported via medi-flight to OU Medical Center.
She sustained numerous injuries, including three broken vertebrae, five broken ribs, a broken ankle, a collapsed left lung, a partially de-gloved hand, and significant abrasions, bruises and road rash. Her helmet prevented serious head injuries.
Wog spent six days in the OU trauma unit as doctors worked to stabilize her condition and re-inflate her lung. After six days in the trauma unit, she was transferred to the Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center. After two days at the rehabilitation center she was released to go home.
“I was in good shape before the accident which was a huge help and I was extremely motivated. After the first physical therapy session, I could do pretty much everything they needed me to do to be released,” Wog said.
Once home, Wog began to take slow and painful walks through her neighborhood. Her broken ankle was encased in a medical boot, her torso encircled in a full back brace.
“My mom lives only a few streets away from me so she would come over in the mornings and we would walk. At first, it was only a block or two, but in two weeks, we were over a mile and my mother struggled to keep up with me. I wore a Garmin unit to keep track of my distance so I could track my progress,” Wog said.
As a wife, mother of a teenage son and daughter, a triathlete, and a yoga and fitness instructor in South Oklahoma City, Wog was committed to doing whatever was necessary to resume her life as quickly as possible.
She was able to return to her yoga studio about two weeks after she was released from the hospital.
“I could only coach my classes, but it was important to me to return to some sense of a normal schedule. After a month, I could return to coaching some classes at the Earlywine YMCA. After two months, I was able to begin teaching again.”
Wog knew she was well on her way to her former life when she ran in her first road race, a 10K in the Kilgore Half race Christmas Eve of 2012, six months after her medi-flight to OU Medical Center.
“This was the furthest I’d run up to that point. This one meant a lot to me. My entire running community/support system was there to cheer me on and there were lots of tears.”
It was in March, nine months after the accident, that Wog returned to cycling on the open road. The plan was to ride along the Oklahoma River trails with some friends.
“Initially, we were just planning on riding on the trail, but due to construction, we had to go on the open road to loop around to the other side of the trail. I was very nervous, to say the least, but my friends ‘cocooned’ me so I would feel protected. I still get nervous riding on the open road.”
The past year of recovery has not been easy. Wog, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, credits her faith in God as well as the faith and prayers of many friends and family members for her miraculous survival and recovery.
“Debbie Wog is one of the most faith-filled, determined, disciplined people I know,” said close friend Rhonda Taylor of Wog’s recovery. “She takes care of the body God gave her. I believe her faithful dependence on God and her faith in His Son, Jesus Christ had everything to do with her amazing recovery.”
Wog has inspired many with her comeback. Among them, Janice Maitino, a regular attendee at her Body Pump Class at the YMCA.
“Her strength and courage is truly amazing and such an inspiration not only to me but to others. If I have times that I feel that I can’t do something, I think of her and tell myself if Debbie can fight back from her accident I have no excuse. I truly believe that there is no holding her back. The world could use a lot more people with such grit,” Maitino said.
Wog says she’s learned a lot this past year.
“I have learned to appreciate life. I know that sounds cliché, but we are not guaranteed any set amount of time on this earth so every moment, every experience is a gift to be embraced. Our family has gotten much closer since the accident,” Wog said. “Another important thing I learned was to accept service from others. I’ve always prided myself on my independence and self-sufficiency. I was put in a situation that I needed help and my church family rendered service in every way possible. It was one of the most humbling and moving experiences I’ve ever had. It seemed I was always in tears, just moved and appreciative of the help and the love I received. It has forever changed my perspective of service.”
When asked what she would tell others facing similar challenges, Wog said, “We can’t control a lot of the things that happen to us, but we can control how we react and respond to those challenges. It’s important to always strive to take steps forward, even if its baby steps or with a walker. Do what you can.”
For anyone wondering what guidance Wog might have for fellow cyclists, her heartfelt counsel is this — “Always wear a helmet.” She has long been an advocate for cycling helmets, and you can bet that she will be wearing hers this September when she competes for the first time in the full Redman Triathlon.
Debra Woods is director of public affairs for the Oklahoma City South Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.