From twisted iron to IRONMAN

From twisted iron to IRONMAN

March 12th, 2009 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Matt Marion said he didn't want to be remembered as the guy who got run over.

Four years ago, nearing the end of a 40-mile bike ride in Chattanooga, the Atlanta resident was hit near the Stringer's Ridge tunnel by a woman who had stolen a van. The force of the collision catapulted his body onto the hood, driving his helmet into the windshield and slamming his back onto the hood.

He wound up against a guardrail as the driver swerved the van to shake him off, a 2005 Times Free Press story indicated.

"If I hadn't been as fit as I was, I would be dead or in a wheelchair," said Mr. Marion, now 42.

He sustained a broken back, ribs and lung damage, and he underwent brain surgery. His injuries were similar, though not quite as serious, as those suffered in France more than a year later by professional cyclist and Dalton, Ga., native Saul Raisin.

The cyclist's mother, Suzanne Marion of Houston, said in 2005 that her son's strong will helped sustain him.

"It was horrifying to see the pictures of the van," she said. "If I'd seen them before I saw Matt, I would have been even more frantic."

Mr. Marion, now in bond sales with Jefferies & Co., went back to work five weeks after his accident, ran in the Peachtree Road Race less than six months later and placed in the top 15 percent of finishers in the Florida Ironman another year later.

The Ironman, which entails a 2.4-mile swim, a 122-mile bike ride and a traditional marathon, was his personal quest to put the accident behind him.

"I was determined to bounce back," said Mr. Marion, who remembers nothing about the accident. "It was insanity, but I dedicated myself to it a year in advance."

Although he had been an endurance athlete all his life, running his first marathon at age 12, becoming a competitive cyclist in college and placing well in previous triathlons, he had not attempted an Ironman.

"It was a legacy thing," Mr. Marion said. "There was a big chip on my shoulder that I wanted to knock off."

He did a second Ironman in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2008.

Mr. Marion chose not to file suit over the bike wreck, in which the driver of the van served nearly a year in jail, and has not returned to the scene of the crash.

However, the impact left him with permanent problems such as a puncture hole in his chest, ongoing back pain and a condition similar to a "brain freeze" if he drinks too much water.

"Every day's a struggle," he said, "but I keep it to myself."

His accident, Mr. Marion said, helped him reflect that he had done a number of things correctly before it happened. In addition to keeping fit, which accelerated his healing process, he has woven a successful career and has spent abundant time with his wife and children, now 9 and 8.

"It reinforced certain principles," he said. "You need to stay close to your family, treat other people with respect and leave the world a better place."