Joe Linkous has endured a year of pain and agony, countless tears, numerous setbacks and many days he didn't, or couldn't, even leave his home.
Late in the morning of July 21, 2012, Linkous was finishing his last long bicycle training session in preparation for the IRONMAN 70.3 Steelhead race, held annually in Benton Harbor, Mich. He was riding along with about 12 teammates from the Team To End AIDS (T2), the endurance-training program of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), and Linkous had just said he was hungry and that pancakes, post-ride, sounded perfect.
Seconds later, as he was heading south on Kedzie Avenue, close to Albion Street, Linkous' world changed.
He hit a pothole and flipped off his bike, landing on his right arm and his right elbow; he then rolled to a stop.
Linkouswho then was training for his first half IRONMAN, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, then a 56-mile bike ride, followed by a 13.1-mile rungot up off the ground quickly. He put his left hand on his right elbow, "and nothing felt right," he said.
"I knew I broke something; I just didn't know what."
His teammates stopped immediately, rushed to his aide. So did his coach.
"Everyone was so concerned, and I was trying so hard to not be afraid or scared because I didn't want to face the reality then that something bad had happened to me. I tried not to look at anyone's faces; I tried to lighten the mood," Linkous said.
An ambulance came and he was rushed to Swedish Covenant Hospital. He was given his first-ever injection of morphine to help ease the pain. They took X-rays and set his arm in a cast.
Linkous had fractured his elbowand he had surgery less than a week later.
His dream of Steelhead was overand so, too, was his plan to participate in the annual IRONMAN Arizona, held in November.
"It's been horrible, absolutely horrible," for the past year, he said, coincidently, on July 21a year to the day after his accident. "The worst part has been, just not being able to do what I wanted to do, which is being active."
Plus, he lost $500 of the $650 IRONMAN Arizona registration fee.
Linkous, 46, lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood. Originally from Virginia, he has lived in Chicago for 11 years and works as an account manager at an insurance company. He is openly gay and is partnered with Greg Weyer.
The two moved in together about two weeks before the accident.
"I didn't know [before the accident] how resilient I am. I have just kept a smile on my face, and that has helped," said Linkous, who has completed nine marathons and six triathlons. "Through all of this, it really has strengthened my relationship with Greg. He was there every single step of the way, which has been amazing."
Linkous had same-day surgery days after the accident, and he was back on the operating table about a week after that initial surgery to treat a staph injection.
He has endured three other surgeries over the past 11 months.
He was finally released by his doctor on July 22, a year and a day after the accident.
"It's been very, very emotional," he said, fighting back tears numerous times during this interview. "It's been so frustrating watching people come in and out of physical therapy, and yet there I am, still. That made me mad, but got me to work harder, too.
"I still don't have full use of my arm. I have awesome use of my arm, and it's great that I can use it, but this is just as good as it's going to be."
He said his arm still aches a bit, and his range of motion is less than before the accident. "I just try not to think about it. Instead, I think more about the fact that, yes, I can still use my arm and this is what I'm going to do, this is how I'm going to use it," he said. "I have just always thought that I'm not going to let this [accident] hold me back."
So, on Sunday, Aug. 4, Linkous will be wearing red, along with his T2 teammates, walking to the starting line for the IRONMAN Steelhead. He knows there will be tears.
He also knows he will finish, regardless of his time.
He likely will cry then, too.
Linkous also is registered for IRONMAN Arizona in November.
He has never completed the distances he will attempt in both events.
"It will be awesome to cross the finish line," at Steelhead, said Linkous, who was at that very finish line last yearas a cheering fanfor his T2 teammates. "I didn't want to miss cheering them [as they crossed the finish line.]"
The T2 crew will be cheering for Linkous most of all.
"Like so many people in T2, Joe is a warrior," said David Ernesto Munar, AFC's president/CEO and a fellow marathon runner and triathlon participant. "He persevered through broken bones and a slow recovery that might have permanently discouraged him from endurance sports. But that's just not Joe. He is fully recovered now and training harder than ever, and he's just as passionate about advancing the fight against AIDS. We are so honored by his commitment, generosity and tenacious spirit."
Linkous said he "never wanted to feel sorry for myself, ever, nor did I want anyone to feel sorry for me. And I consistently told myself that I will do it, one way or another."
The personal battles others endure, especially those impacted by HIV/AIDS, has been a steady reminder for Linkous to continually push harder, endure the pain and heartache, so he can hit the starting line at Steelhead.
"Knowing that some of my teammates are batting their own battles that they are going through [living as HIV-positive and/or with AIDS] gave me strength. That's why I'm doing thisto help them and others, and I don't want to let them down," Linkous said.
"This past year, it's tested my strength, that's for sureand I have to say, I am one tough cookie. I didn't realize I am as strong as I am."
He had to be strong specifically to overcome his "two really, really, really low points."
The first was after the first surgery due to the intense pain he endured for about a week. "That pain was just horrible. I was sitting on the sofa sobbing in pain," Linkous said.
Then, around Memorial Day, after already enduring five surgeries, he had more elbow issuesand his doctor told him another operation, the sixth, might be needed.
Linkous broke down at that moment, crying in front of his doctor for the first time. He even told his doctor, "take it off, if you need to."
Linkous was admittedly a "basket case" that late May holiday weekend.
But, by that Tuesday, the elbow area took a turn for the better, and no sixth surgery was needed.
And in early June, his physical therapist cleared him.
"I now can do everything required for Steelhead and IRONMAN Arizona," Linkous said.
The journey has truly changed Linkous, and not just physically. He's even considering a career changeto become a physical therapist, much like the one he worked with for 11-plus months, Carrie Steffes.
Linkous has returned to the scene of the accident only twice over the past year. The first time, about a month after it happened, so he could show Weyer exactly where he fell. Then, this past February, he went by againand noticed that the pothole had been paved over.
Still, he won't again ride along Kedzie.
"I will walk my bike down Kedzie, if I have to go on Kedzie, where it happened," he said.
Linkous is fundraising for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago in conjunction with IRONMAN Steelhead. To donate, visit events.aidschicago.org/goto/joelinkous.