Two years ago, Trina Peterson experienced a cycling accident that could have taken her life. Now, she’s about to embark on a two-day, 140-mile ride—and she’s convinced it wouldn’t be possible without the healing powers of community and nature.
This weekend, Peterson, 54, will join 200 cyclists in Petaluma, California, for the Green Fondo Weekend. The term is a playful spin on the Italian “Gran Fondo,” which loosely translated means “Big Ride.” It’s just one of many cycling and hiking events organized by Climate Ride, a nonprofit that organizes charity bike rides and hikes to support a greener planet. Climate Ride participants commit to a fundraising minimum, which goes toward a nonprofit organization of their choosing, such as 1% For the Planet, National Geographic, and the Nature Conservancy.
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Peterson did her first Climate Ride in 2013, welcoming the chance to mix philanthropy, athleticism, and nature. “It’s like this trifecta,” she says. Today, she’s grateful that, despite sustaining a traumatic brain injury, she can do it again.
On June 25, 2017, Peterson was biking with her dad on the Peak to Peak Highway, just six miles away from her Nederland home. About a half-mile into the ride, the pair pulled over to take a selfie, before hopping back on their bikes and continuing along the road.
That selfie is the last thing Peterson remembers.
Her recollection of what happened next is based on what she was told by the first responders and family members who rushed to help her that afternoon and in the days that followed. Upon hitting a rock at 22 mph, she and her bike catapulted into the center of the road while her dad, not realizing what had happened, continued on. When he finally discovered she wasn’t behind him, he turned around, encountering a scene that was every parent’s nightmare. Peterson was foaming at the mouth, her body splayed out on the pavement.
Another passing cyclist, Dorin McClish, was the first to find Petersen. Coincidentally, McClish is also the head nurse on Boulder Community Hospital’s ortho-neuro unit. Knowing Peterson had suffered a head injury and was having a seizure, McClish organized her husband, who was riding with her, and a team of passersby to move her off the road and call 911. “She is my guardian angel,” Peterson says.
Peterson arrived at Boulder Community Hospital with a cracked helmet and a shaky prognosis. In addition to sustaining a TBI, which caused an intraparenchymal hemorrhage, Peterson had a skull fracture, a burst elbow bursa, and a hip contusion. Initially, doctors were unsure if she’d survive. “The surgeon was telling [my husband], you know, every head injury is different. It could be two years, it could be five years before Trina gets her cognitive abilities back. We just don’t know.”
After several days in the ICU and a week of inpatient rehabilitation, Peterson went home with extensive bruising behind her ear, along with headaches, fatigue, vertigo, and slowed speech that would continue for months.
While she’s grateful to her speech, occupational, and physical therapists, Peterson credits much of her healing to nature. Pointing toward a charm of hummingbirds outside her kitchen window, she recalls watching them as a tracking exercise to help restore her visual scanning ability. “They were my friends,” she says. She also spent a lot of time lying on a futon on her patio, feeling the sunshine and listening to the birds and the breeze in the aspens. “Every day it was my job to sit out there and nap and nap and nap some more,” she says, recalling the months following her accident. “And every day it was my job to just look for beauty [in nature].”
A former soccer and lacrosse player at Princeton—before a career-ending ACL injury her sophomore year—Peterson has always felt connected with nature. Upon graduating high school, she took a summer job as a wilderness educator at National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). That summer, and every summer through her college years, she spent her days leading wilderness courses in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. “[The] incredibly wild, open spaces made an imprint on me,” she says. “It taught me to always look for beauty.”
Participating in a Climate Ride event is a way for Peterson to pay tribute to the birds, trees, and mountain views that supported her recovery. This year, she selected Climate Ride as her fundraising beneficiary. In addition to raising roughly $25,000 through participating in their events over the years, she’s also served on Climate Ride’s board since 2015.
Aside from nature, Peterson says her near-full recovery—she has yet to regain her sense of smell—hinged on the support of her community. She describes the cards, the Facebook messages, and the acts of kindness she received during her recovery. “It was like this buoy, just lifting me up and motivating me,” she says. “I kind of felt like I’d been to my own funeral and wow. These people, they liked me. I felt so overwhelmed with their support that I felt like I owed it to them to come back.”
Peterson has certainly made a comeback. Of the six Climate Ride events she’s completed, this is her second bike event since her accident (the first was in summer 2018, just months after her first post-accident bike ride). Though she struggles with fear every time she gets on her bike, she’s grateful for the ability to participate in the Climate Ride. “You get to be active, you get to give back, and you get to do it all for beautiful places and for our natural environment…What could be better?”
Get Involved: To support Trina Peterson’s effort to raise awareness of climate change, sustainable solutions, and active transportation advocacy, visit her Climate Ride fundraising page.