Nearly three years ago, Santa Barbara triathlete Neil Myers endured a tragic, life-changing bicycle accident that left him in the hospital for weeks. Now, Myers is telling his story at the 2021 Santa Barbara International Film Festival through his documentary “Climb” in hopes of highlighting the critical and lifesaving work that happens at trauma centers daily.
“I want to make sure that I tell the story the best that I can. It’s a very special story, and I don’t want to mess it up,” Myers told Noozhawk. “I want to be able to use this film to get people interested in building or improving trauma centers in the community.
“A big goal that I have is to see if I can use this film to fundraise for places that give the critical care that saved my life.”
On Aug. 4, 2018, Myers, now 61, was biking down Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara to train for an upcoming triathlon when he collided with an oncoming truck. Myers was going around 25 mph at the time of the collision, he added.
It was a path that he had biked about 100 times before, and one of which he knew “every stick and stone,” he said. But the impact of coming around a blind turn and colliding with the truck is something that he was never prepared for, he added.
According to his recollection, the accident lasted about two-tenths of a second, and the next thing he knew he was sitting on the road in a pool of his own blood.
“I woke up on the ground, I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know why I was there,” Myers said. “It would be just horrific to wake up like that, but you lose all available reason and you just don’t process it.”
Myers said he was shot through the truck’s windshield and suffered 11 broken bones in 26 places, a massive brain bleed, and lost about 10 pounds of blood.
Within 30 minutes, a helicopter air ambulance transported Myers to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he spent more than three weeks recovering. The helicopter just happened to be in the area after transporting another patient to Cottage Hospital, and it “was amazing how that went so right,” Myers said.
At the time, the hospital was just recently certified as a level one trauma center, which is another blessing in Myers’ story, he said. He said the time he spent at Cottage Hospital’s rehabilitation facility was remarkable, and he was amazed at how much the staff and doctors helped him heal and recover.
“First, you have to survive; then, once you’ve survived, you have to heal. Once you heal, you have to recover and rehabilitate,” he said. “It’s amazing how much Cottage helped me get ready. When you have seven broken ribs, two broken wrists and a broken leg, how do you even put on your own socks? The Cottage staff is the superheroes in my book.”
Myers’ accident caused devastating injuries that could have restricted him from ever competing in triathlons again. But thanks to Cottage’s staff and facilities, and Myers’ determined attitude, that wasn’t the case.
“Right when I recovered, I thought that I want to get back to the place that I was five seconds before the accident,” he said. “I knew I needed to do another triathlon. I didn’t feel like I was back the day that my rehab was done. I knew I needed to get back out there.”
Myers said that his orthopedic surgeon didn’t think he would ever be able to race again. When sharing his goals with a nurse practitioner at Cottage, she promised him that he was going to recover, that it wasn’t going to be easy, but to never give up, he said. He said he remembered the nurse telling him to “expect the best, but accept the rest.”
Then, only a year after completing his rehab, Myers finished the Santa Barbara Triathlon with his team.
“I sat down and, you can imagine, it’s emotional, but I realized that I did succeed. I wasn’t anywhere close to the same person that I was back then, but in a positive way,” Myers said.
He said he has an “indescribable feeling of gratitude” for the way that his doctors, his work family and the community came out to help him in his time of need.
While it was emotional and scary for Myers to first get back out on the road to cycle, he said he pushed through and has completed multiple triathlons since his accident. It has always been a goal of Myers’ triathlon team to win the Santa Barbara Triathlon, and once he finishes that race one more time, he will retire from the sport, he said.
“In one sense, it’s really hard to walk away. But on the other hand, there are so many emotions behind continuing to compete,” Myers said. “If I look at the list of all the things that went right for me to be here after the accident, they’re not going to go right if it happens a second time.”
In February 2019, Myers was the spotlight patient at Cottage Hospital’s Tiara Ball, where his story was shown in a short video to a room full of donors and Santa Barbara residents. The video received a standing ovation, and it took Myers about 45 minutes to get out of the room because so many people were eager to ask questions and hear more, he said.
“I had just never seen a reaction like this,” he told Noozhawk. “It wasn’t about me, it was about the story, the hospital, the caregiver right at the gates of hell who help you work your way back to make it to the top of the mountain.”
Many people had told Myers to make a movie or write a book telling his story, but to write so much about himself seemed “almost cringe-worthy,” he said. However, after seeing the strong response from the crowd at the Tiara Ball, Myers realized that he could tell his story in a way that was about more than just himself, he said.
“The story didn’t have to be about me; it could be about the journey. It could be about the community,” he said. “I thought, ‘What if I made a documentary and used it in a way that would help give back?’’”
Myers directed the documentary, “Climb,” with the “relentless” help of his youngest son and wife, he said.
The film’s world premiere will be at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on April 10 at 9:30 a.m. “Climb” was also selected for the Sweden Film Awards, where it won best documentary, the Columbia Film Festival in Columbia, South Carolina, and the Cowpokes International Film Festival in Electra, Texas.
Myers said he hopes the film can be used to highlight the critical work that takes place at trauma centers such as Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and serve as a way to fundraise for trauma centers everywhere.