From wheelchair to triathlon: Kyung Lee's inspiring story of recovery after bike accident

- Kyung Lee is an inspiration to us all. The 49-year-old Southern California resident teaches piano at Pepperdine University and has competed in several triathlons.

But it's her incredible comeback from a devastating bike accident that is the most inspiring. 

Mobile app users, listen to the full conversation with Kyung Lee here.

In April 2017, Kyung was on a long bike ride with a friend. After doing 40 miles, they only had a few more miles to get back to the car.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in the emergency room.

Her friend was riding in front and heard Kyung scream, but didn't see the accident. While Kyung isn't entirely sure what happened that day on Agoura Road, she says she's been slowly recalling some type of visual.

"The flashback is someone swiped the back wheel. It was a big shove, a big push. I'm thinking maybe a car coming out of a driveway," she said. "Again, these flashbacks I've only been getting for the past three weeks or so. I don't know if it's real or imagination."

Kyung found herself lying in a hospital bed with a fractured skull, a broken clavicle, elbow and pelvis as well as three herniated discs in her neck.

She went from a very active lifestyle of triathlon training to spending 10 weeks in a wheelchair -- confined to certain areas of her townhome where she could navigate the chair.

"If you go to my home now, I have all these skid marks on the wall because the wheelchair was making all these marks on the wall."

She had to rely a lot on her daughter and others for help to do everyday tasks that were once so effortless, like picking out clothes, taking a bath and writing.

"I felt like a Frankenstein," she said of her arm with the screws and plates she received in surgery.

She then transitioned to using a one-handed cane and eventually got word from the doctor she could drive again. Slowly, she started getting back into teaching with just a few students a day.

"When I look back at their assignment book when I first started teaching again, I was in a wheelchair, I still had my cast. I couldn't write," she said. "They all looked like chicken scratch. When I look back on those writings, I still kind of get emotional. I don't want to look back because it conjures up all of those memories. It's such a dark time that I notice myself wincing, so I try not to look at that."

One thing that helped pull Kyung out of that dark place was setting a goal to compete in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September, which consists of a 1/2 mile swim, 17-mile bike and four-mile run.

She started swimming in the last week of June, slowly building back up her strength. The following week she started cycling. Running came last since it has the most impact on the joints.

Dealing with muscle atrophy, she wasn't steady at first and took the running very slowly and carefully.

"When I came back from a one mile run, I needed to sleep. I took a nap for about two or three hours." 

Just a mere five months after the accident, she managed to make it up to four miles in running -- the distance of the Malibu triathlon.

"I was telling everyone I am going to be the happiest athlete out there," she said before the race.

She also says she made it her goal to complete the triathlon in honor of a friend she recently lost to cancer.

After going through hell and back -- Kyung crossed the finish line of the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sept. 17, 2017, an event she's participated in since 2011.

The race benefits Children's Hospital Los Angeles, which also treated and saved her daughter in open heart surgery when she was a baby.

Listen to the full conversation with Kyung Lee here.

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