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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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Call her more than just a survivor

TAMPA — On the quiet morning of Oct. 8, 2011, a 30-ton freight truck ran a stop sign in the small town of Clinton, Conn.

It ran over Colleen Kelly Alexander, who was riding a bicycle.

The truck's front wheels crushed her, then spit her to the back double wheels, which crushed her again.

Her pelvis cracked in two. Her legs broke in pieces. Metal ripped open her abdomen. Her intestines spilled onto the pavement. Muscles shredded. Skin tore off in wide swaths.

"Then I died," Alexander said Friday afternoon, sitting inside the Tampa Convention Center. "I flatlined. I was gone."

Alexander, 42, said it calmly, matter-of-factly, intensely with a deep, blue-eyed stare — the same way she looked when she ticked off every alarming detail.

She went on.

Limp with no pulse on a table, a trauma team pumped their weight again and again and again onto her heart for 20 minutes, smashing down on her sternum and ribs, which cracked under the stress.

But her heart began beating again.

The next day in surgery, she flat-lined again, only to come back a second time.

It was not until five weeks later, after a medically-induced coma, that she finally opened those deep blue eyes to find her husband, Sean Alexander, at her side.

"I was alive," she said. "It was a gift. I wanted to live."

What followed was hard living indeed. Dozens of surgeries. Bolts screwed into bones. Wounds that leaked blood. Stretching exercises that felt like her legs were being ripped apart.

Pain wrapped in pain, tied in pain.

"I cried and I got mad and I rode every emotion," she said, tasting bitterness after already living with lupus and surviving a surgery for a herniated cerebellum in 2006. "Sometimes I wondered how can I go on?"

Along the way she said she made "a choice."

"Either I could sit on my couch and be addicted to pain killers," she said, waving her hand toward the thousands of runners shopping and picking up their bib numbers Friday at the Tampa Convention Center. "Or I could do this."

Alexander retrieves her medal after completing the 15K. She has a tradition of giving her race medals to her heroes, mostly nurses and doctors and rehabilitation specialists. (Scott Purks, Special to the Times)

She could run.

Nine months after the truck ripped open her body and her heart twice stopped beating for 20 minutes, she "ran" a half-marathon, which involved gripping a walker and shuffling with a colostomy bag dangling from her side.

"It hurt so bad," she said. "But I was smiling. I was alive."

She has run and/or competed in almost 100 races or triathlons since then.
On Saturday, she ran two more, the Gasparilla's 15K and 5K. Today, she will run another, the half-marathon.

Along the way, she will greet people at the convention center and happily sign her book, Gratitude in Motion, which tells her story in heartfelt, gripping detail.

She will tell you, as she has said in many motivational speeches, that it may not always be easy, but the answer is simple, that if there is life there is hope. She will hope that her story inspires you.

On Saturday, not long into the 15K, she found a new friend, 77-year-old Richard Parker of Panama City.

"We started talking and we told each other our stories," said Parker, who has run 30 marathons and six Ironmans (including Kona) and is now battling Parkinson's disease.

"Her story is amazing. She is an inspiration for all of us. I am very grateful that I found her and ran with her today. What a memorable day."

Alexander smiled like she was the happiest person on earth.

No, she will never be able to give birth. She will no doubt always live with some sort of physical pain. She will sometimes have to fight off anxiety attacks. But she will go on.

Running.

Smiling.

Inspiring.

"I've made a choice," she said. "I think it's a good one."

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