Whitney Sibol looked up to see a buoy ahead as she continued her front crawl along the Bird River in eastern Baltimore County.
Like so many times before, her left arm came out of the water as she continued to swim. It was Sunday, June 3, 2012.
"I'm almost there," she thought.
Then, it was Thursday, and the Perry Hall High alumna was in Maryland Shock Trauma Center, her pelvis and a scapula fractured, ribs caved and left extremities devoid of feeling. Her mother, Judy, was speaking with nurses about an accident.
"That's the last thing I remember," she said. "The next thing I remember was waking up in Shock Trauma because I was in a coma for a week. When I woke up, I thought it was that same day, that Sunday night."
Sibol, 24, had been training for the 2012 Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon. She said she was in the best shape of her life, doing laps with a spotter boat on the river when she was hit by a motorboat.
And it was from her hospital bed that she declared her intentions to swim in today's Iron Girl in Columbia.
"To register for the race from a hospital bed is amazing, and it means everything," said Linda Congedo, communications director at TriColumbia, the nonprofit that sponsors the race. "She is exactly the iconic Iron Girl."
The race is scheduled to start at 6:40 a.m. today, attracting more than 2,400 triathletes from across the country, as a celebration of women's empowerment.
"There are so many stories. Every woman competing in this event has overcome some obstacle to get there," Congedo said. "It's such an inspirational feel to the event. It makes the whole day nothing but triumphant."
Sibol underwent surgery, for up to 10 hours at a time, to repair an artery that was "kinked like a hose" and a nerve had that suffered severe damage.
"I remember just sitting in the hospital and just crying," she said, adding that the daily presence of her boyfriend, Adam Pupo, as well as her family and friends, carried her through the initial adversity. "I was in the best shape of my life, and that was all taken away from me."
In a wheelchair until about a year ago, Sibol went on to heavy rehabilitation and pain medication, getting cleared for running, cycling and swimming in October. But even the shortest jogs seemed like marathons to the recovering triathlete.
"My life was just paused," she said. "It wasn't stopped. I survived, and I'm extremely lucky. I could have been paralyzed; I could have had a traumatic brain injury; I could have died, but I was very lucky. But everything completely stopped for a second."
After a 5-kilometer race in December and a 10-kilometer race in April, Sibol was able to get back to triathlons in June, finishing the Tri-It triathlon in Bear, Del.
And now she means to finish what she started.
"It's a ready-or-not type of mentality," she said. "It's something that's been in the making for almost two years. … I'll complete it and feel good about it."
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