All healed up and back at the races, Amy Wakefield reflects on her Cape Epic, the duct tape incident, surgery, riding in orange and an incredible partnership with Candice Lill.
[ NOTE: The visuals are pretty graphic so if that’s not your thing then get out of here, fast. ]
A Sticky Situation, by Amy Wakefield
A wave of shock hit me as I lifted my bloodied sleeve. I spun around, “Candice, look at my arm!” Candice’s hand flew to her mouth. “Ok, we’re done” she said. The series of events to follow happened in slow motion but took place in a matter of seconds.
A reel flashed across my mind: all we had been through just to get to the start, our support crew and the effort they had put in, my sponsor (e-Fort by Symbtech)’s investment, how much wearing the orange jersey would mean to the both of us and the fact that, at that point, we were looking like the strongest team with a good chance. There was no way our race could end before it began. I flexed my bicep and miraculously the muscle worked perfectly with no extra pain. I was also not actively bleeding, which meant, logically, and despite the gore, it was fully functional! We did however need to close the thing. DUCT TAPE.
NO. It’s fine, we just need to close it. Do you have Duct Tape?
I grabbed the gash closed which required my entire right hand and looked Candice (apparently quite fiercely) in the eye “NO. It’s fine, we just need to close it. Do you have Duct Tape?” Without skipping a beat, Candice immediately began her mission of getting the Duct Tape from her saddle bag. I could still see blobs of yellow wobbly fat poking out and a fresh wave of nausea hit. “I can’t look.” I said.
In the background, Ila Stow who was riding behind us on an e-bike doing the live feed, was urgently calling an ambulance. We told Ila to calm down and that we didn’t need an ambulance. In one swift motion, and as if she were a trained nurse, Candice wrapped the tape straight over the cut while I held it closed. Tada! Perfect.
With the adrenaline still pumping, I zoomed off on a mission to catch the others. Candice told me to take a gel to help with the shock, and not to panic. “Don’t think of the others, we’ll just pace ourselves”. Not too much time had passed before we caught and passed Kim and Vera, I knew they weren’t far behind Songo-Specialized, but I was still in disbelief when we caught up to them next. We sat with them for some time which allowed me to decompress a bit. The pain was growing but the blood stain never got bigger, and Duct Tape remained firmly in place. As soon as the last climbs of the day began, we noticed Katerina was battling and we put a big attack in. Soon they were out of sight. I looked at my still intact albeit painful arm incredulously, how is this happening?? What is this day??!!
I’m so proud of you, I want to cry.
Candice had a touching moment: “I’m so proud of you, I want to cry” she said with tears in her eyes. “Cands, we’re winning! Cry later” I said with a smile. The wind was picking up, and by the time we reached the road approaching Rotary, it was gusting with such force that both my wheels slid sideways at one point, but it didn’t slow us. We could taste orange, and, since we both come from the Southern Suburbs, wind is no stranger and we used it to our advantage, eventually putting over 5 minutes into Songo Specialized
We crossed the line, arms in the air, and the biggest smiles. We had done it. In our collective 8 Cape Epics, neither of us had touched an orange jersey. After we were done with the onslaught of media attention, Kandice Venter (Cape Epic pro liaison) asked if I wanted to skip jersey presentation and go to the medics. I told her there was no way we were missing this moment (also I was procrastinating the inevitable reality of what was going on under my sleeve).
Eventually, I had to face it. I was terrified. Darren Lill (our manager) escorted me to the Medic Tent. With the Duct Tape still on, the medic on call asked me if I thought I needed stitches. Darren and I shared a nervous giggle. “Probably, yes.” The medic carefully peeled the tape off. Darren was shielding my eyes from the wound and his face remained calm while he took in the extent of the injury. “I think this is above your pay grade.” he said to the medic who agreed, sans protest. He gave the wound a thorough clean, wrapped it up, and put me on antibiotics immediately. Darren started phoning all the plastic surgeons he could find in a 100km radius. Finally, he found a surgeon named Dr Tonetha Jay. She was available at 7 pm that evening in Somerset West an hour away.
Because an entire day lay ahead of me prior to my surgery, and more notably prior to the rest of the Cape Epic that we were now winning but had only just begun, I had to focus 100% on my recovery (massage, eating, and drinking lots).
An hour in theatre.
As the pain grew and the reality of going into surgery sunk in, cracks in my resolve appeared and I started what-if-ing. What if Dr. Jay sees the wound and tells me I can’t continue? Eventually, over 11 hours post-incident, with no painkillers, I was wheeled into theatre. Thankfully my amazing husband had driven through and was with me every step of the way. After an entire hour in theatre, a couple of hours in recovery, and an hour’s drive back to Hermanus, I was eventually on my way back with the green light to continue racing. I got to sleep at 1 am.
The next morning, after 4 hours of sleep, we rode to the start of stage 2. I knew our antics on stage one had caused a stir, but I could never fathom the extent of it. The image of my arm and the story had gone viral overnight. We were swarmed by media and fans, it was wild! The days to follow would prove to be the hardest thing I have ever gone through, from my body eventually shutting down, to a devastating 40-minute mechanical. What I’ll never forget is the support we received. It felt as if an entire nation was behind us, blowing wind into my deflated sails. I was in agony, and I could never have gotten through it alone.
I had the most incredible partner in Candice, she pushed, pulled, and encouraged me, and regardless of circumstances we always had fun. Our support staff at home were wonderful, there was no shortage of laughs and happiness, and we never had to lift a finger.
I was devastated and felt like I had disappointed everyone.
And then there were the heartwarming messages from fans, particularly after we lost the orange jerseys. I was devastated and felt like I had disappointed everyone, but it seemed the opposite was true. The messages from people, and parents saying how we inspired their kids to never give up, and face adversity with grace were overwhelming. Neither Candice nor I have been in a position where we literally couldn’t get through all the messages. In my fragile state, I shed more tears than I’d like to admit going through all of them.
At the end of the day, we could hold our heads high. We were being labeled “the people’s champions” and “we won the hearts of the people”. We were so overwhelmed to have inspired people the way we did, and regardless of how justified we feel it is, the world needs positive role models, and what greater privilege than to be one.
| WORDS: Amy Wakefield | IMAGES: Amy, Dino Lloyd & Cape Epic |