November 14, 2010, 10:12 am

RUNNER THRIVES ON SECOND CHANCE AFTER BREAKING NECK

WASHINGTON - A few weeks ago, Ryon Lane was running through downtown in our nation’s capital when he heard something chasing him.

It was too dark for him to see clearly, but the 1995 Grants Pass High graduate heard what he figured was a large rat scurrying after him, changing directions when he did, before finally taking a big bite out of his leg.

The next day Lane visited two different medical facilities, just in case the rabid whatever-it-was might be, you know, diseased.

“It was pretty strange,” said Lane, who is an attorney in Washington. “Who gets bit on a run like that?”

For some people, being hunted through the darkness by a rabid animal might dampen their sprits when it came to run.

But for Lane, who has been fighting his way back to health from an injury that might well have taken his life, being bitten was just one more obstacle to overcome.

Lane broke his neck on Sept. 18, 2008, during a freak accident. Rather than allowing the injury to sideline him, he trained relentlessly through physical therapy and rehab for a ultimate goal of running the New York City Marathon.

He accomplished that goal Sunday, finishing 801st out of a whopping 48,829 people, cracking the three-hour mark with a time of 2 hours, 58 minutes and 37 seconds.

The level of commitment that drove Lane from the hospital bed to the finish line is the feeling that he’s lucky just to walk. The vast majority of people who break their necks are paralyzed in some portion of their body.

The feeling that he was somehow spared inspired him not only to run, but also to raise $3,750 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, a group that seeks to cure spinal cord injuries by funding research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis.

“I feel like I’m running for those who weren’t as lucky as me,” Lane said. “I survived with no real impediment to my body. I’ve always loved running, so for me it was a natural no-brainer to try and raise funds for people who have had the injury.”

Like most life-changing moments, Lane’s accident occurred during an unexpected moment.

He was at a volleyball tournament hosted by his office in Santa Monica, Calif., flirting with a co-worker he thought was cute, when she challenged him to a race into the ocean. As he ran at full speed into the water and dove head first into the surf - something he’d done on any number of triathlons - his head crashed violently into what he can only guess was a sand bar that migrated under the water.

The impact fractured his C-4 (cervical) vertebra in half, shattered all of the spiny processes attached to the back of the vertebra, and severely herniated the disk between his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae.

He underwent spinal fusion surgery and had a titanium plate and four screws installed in his neck, as well as the donated femur that serves as a pseudo-vertebrae in his neck.

During the next five months, he wore three different neck braces, including a waterproof one for showering and a “Michelin Man” spongy white brace worn during the last month of the healing process.

“For a while I was a little depressed,” Lane said. “And of course it was frustrating to go from being able to go out and do a 30-mile race, to wearing something around my head all the time. My friends would screw around and go to areas where I couldn’t turn my head and say stuff like: ‘Hey Ryon, over here. Hey Ryon, look at me.’ ”

Lane’s close friend Dale Learn, an attorney and runner in Washington, has watched Lane slowly turn himself into a top-flight runner.

“It’s like a second chance for him,” Learn said. “I know he reflects on how badly he was hurt, and how easily he could have been paralyzed That knowledge really pushes him. He’s been extremely motivated.”

The frustration Lane owned turned into motivation once he recovered. He’d always been a prodigious runner. He competed on the Grants Pass High cross country and track teams and was part of the 1994 team that won the Southern Oregon League district championship.

“He was one of our real hard-working guys,” said Grants Pass High cross country coach Carl Sniffen, who was an assistant on the 1994 team. “It took intensity and focus to be part of that group ... the guys really challenged each other to get better.”

Once Lane recovered enough to run, he did so with renewed purpose.

Lane ran more than 2,000 miles since his accident while training for the marathon. He also started a blog called, “The Runner With The Broken Neck” where he updates readers on the races he enters and shares his story.

His goal is to turn his broken neck into a positive.

“When you face the possibility of never being able to walk again, all of the stress in life becomes relative” he said. “For me, I just felt incredibly fortunate to still be able to walk, much less run.

“I want to share my gift with those who suffer from spinal cord injuries by running.”

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