Rachel Corey is a classic overachiever.
The 34-year-old, who grew up in Weiser, was a top student who chose a career in nursing. She traveled a lot for work but still trained enough to develop herself into a world-class triathlete.
She was a 90-pound powerhouse who liked to wear pink when competing because she believed others would underestimate her — until she passed them. Her intensity and commitment to improving as an athlete inspired others.
“She definitely propelled me in the sport,” said Boisean Erin Green, who is in her fourth season as a professional triathlete. “She motivated me to keep working above and beyond my current ability.”
These days, Corey is working out harder than ever, but not for any race. She’s trying to get back some semblance of the life she had before she was struck by a car in 2014.
She’s tapping her savings to cover physical therapy visits beyond the 20 per year covered by insurance. She now believes insurance coverage is geared toward getting people used to life in wheelchairs, rather than helping people regain as much function as they can.
She hopes one day there will be more community resources available for people who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries, including equipment at local gyms. She’d like to be a champion for change.
Ultimately, my goal is to get back to competing. But first things first. I have to get back to walking.
LEARNING AGAIN TO WALK
Corey’s legs became paralyzed following the crash. But she’s since regained some feeling and function in her quadricep muscles, hip flexors and hamstrings, and she hopes that if she continues what she’s doing she’ll regain full function.
Now living on long-term disability, she spends much of her time going to physical therapy, walking two to three times a day on a treadmill and taking care of her household, including her feisty kitty, Hellcat.
Everything takes a lot longer. To walk on the treadmill, she must wrap her feet and legs in elastic bandages to hold them in the correct position. She also has to have someone hook her into a ceiling-anchored harness/pulley system that supports and protects her from falling.
She’s progressed through four different walkers, first with stoppers then with wheels. She reluctantly uses a wheelchair for daily activities and chores.
She had ramps installed in her house and learned new ways to cook, clean and bathe herself. Her compact car was modified so she could continue to drive it, but she has to pull herself in and out of the back. It’s a maneuver that sometimes draws curious onlookers; that’s not always bad because she once got stuck and needed help.
“It is an ordeal when she has to make several stops. It’s very tiring for her,” said her mom, Diane Corey. “We tried to kind of say, ‘Maybe you should get a van.’ She said she’s not ready for that. She feels like if she gets a van, she’s giving up on walking.”
“I don’t want to make my life easier. My goal is to get out of this chair,” Rachel Corey said of getting a van. “In the middle of Ironman, when things are getting tough, it’s not the time to slow down or stop and take a water break.”
Corey was in peak condition in September 2014 as she prepared to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
She doesn’t remember anything about the crash. When she woke in the hospital, she thought she had been in a crash during a race in Bend, Ore., where she was scheduled to compete a few days later.
Corey doesn’t know how far she was cycling that day, but she typically did 30- to 40-mile loops from her home in Southeast Boise. She was riding north on Pleasant Valley Road — part of Boise’s Ironman 70.3 course and a popular road for cyclists — more than an hour before sunset when she was struck from behind by a car driven by Marc Law, a prison employee who was driving home from work.
Law told the investigating officer that he saw Corey about 50 yards ahead of him in the northbound lane, and he also saw oncoming traffic on the two-lane road.
“Next thing I know I had hit the person who was riding the bike. I don’t know what happened before or right after,” Law wrote in his statement about the crash.
Police reconstruction of the crash estimated that Law was driving 60 to 70 mph in an area posted 50 mph.
Danielle Nestor was the first of Corey’s friends to see her in the emergency room. Corey’s parents, who live in Arizona, drove all night to get here.
“It was a horrific, horrific thing to see,” Nestor recalled. “There was a lot of blood — her nose, mouth, teeth. I was really worried about the head trauma. I thought she had bit part of her tongue off because there was so much blood.”
Corey’s injuries included a broken back, numerous other broken bones and three brain contusions (she was wearing a helmet). Her doctors were optimistic that she would walk again because her spinal cord did not appear to have been seriously injured, and she could feel her feet and toes before she went in for back surgery.
But after that surgery and a few days after the crash, she lost feeling from the waist down. She consulted an outside expert who told her that it was possible an artery to her spinal cord had been damaged, causing spinal cord cells to die and further damaging some organs.
Doctors say most of the gains that people with spinal cord injuries see are in the first two years. Corey is not convinced that gains cannot be seen beyond that window.
“Even though I’m a nurse, I don’t have a lot of faith in the medical community,” she said. “Because there’s a lot that’s not known.”
Last October, Law pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving.
At his sentencing, Law told the judge he believed he was driving 60 mph. His attorney noted that it’s not uncommon for motorists to drive 10 miles over the speed limit.
Based on estimates by the crash reconstructionists, Law had room to pass Corey without going into the oncoming lane — but it would have been like threading a needle at any speed. Also, it would have been a violation of city code, which requires motorists to give bicyclists 3 feet when passing.
I think Ms. Corey is being really quite tempered. She doesn’t come across to me to be vindictive or angry — more sad at all the many ways her life is permanently changed because you were in a rush, because you chose to try and go around her when a car was coming, instead of slowing down, because you misjudged the situation. ... You caused this accident, and it forever changed both of your lives, but certainly more so hers.
Judge Daniel Steckel during sentencing of Marc Law
Law was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with 165 suspended. He was given the option of doing community service for the remaining 15. He received one hour credit for time served, so he ended up with 119 hours of community service.
He was placed on unsupervised probation for two years and ordered to pay more than $19,000 in restitution, medical and related costs that Corey had incurred up until that point. She estimates her costs are at least double that amount now, but she said she’s doing OK financially because she’s always been very frugal and her friends have held fundraisers for her.
The judge acknowledged it might be difficult for Law, who was no longer with the prison, to pay restitution with a job he then had at Wal-Mart, which paid about $10 an hour. He set up restitution payments so that they could be lower at the start, giving Law time to find a better-paying job and/or a second job.
Law was granted a withheld judgment, which means that if he successfully completes his probation he can petition the court to dismiss the case.