On May 31, 2006, Doug Markgraf's life changed forever.
Doug, a sophomore and member of Drexel's Cycling Team, was riding his bike on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia when he was struck by a pickup truck pulling an ATV. The driver fled the scene and left Doug alone and seriously injured.
Doug doesn't know how long he was in the street before help came. In fact, he remembers nothing from the accident other than what people have told him, or what his medical records reveal.
He does not know who called the ambulance, but emergency responders eventually came to his aid. According to Doug, they measured his level of consciousness at the scene using the Glasgow Coma Scale. Anything less than a three on the scale is considered a vegetative state. Doug was a three.
In addition to his brain injury, Doug shattered his arm, most likely trying to shield himself from the oncoming truck.
He remained in a coma at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for 14 long days. Though he woke after two weeks, the doctors gave Doug's parents what he refers to as the "doom and gloom" report.
"Initially doctors were unable to say much at all," he said. "They told my parents that it's unlikely I'll ever do things like return to college or ride a bike again."
After waking up from the coma, Doug suffered from post traumatic amnesia and he could not remember what anyone told him about the accident for about two weeks.
"I was so confused. All I wanted to do was sleep because I didn't understand why I was in a hospital bed."
At six weeks after the accident, Doug was able to live at home with his parents and had to undergo outpatient occupational, physical and speech therapy. According to Doug, it was like he had gone back to being a child. He had someone helping him 24 hours a day.
"I just wanted to go back to normal life but I didn't necessarily know what normal life was at that point," he said. "More than anything I just wanted to get back on a bike and I kept pushing my doctors and therapists to be able to do that. I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could do it."
It was almost exactly one year after his accident that Doug defied the odds and got back on a real bike, on the open road. With his parents following closely behind in the car, video camera in hand, Doug rode his bicycle for 62 miles.
"I never had any fear about getting back on the bike, but my parents did," he said. "You might think it's hard for the person who has the TBI (traumatic brain injury), but I think my family had it much worse. It was scary for them because they didn't know what would happen to me. I always knew that I would keep pushing forward."
As a result of his traumatic brain injury, Doug had trouble remembering much of what he had learned in his first two years at Drexel. Reading for any sustained amount of time was difficult to impossible, and he continues to have trouble remembering things. He also finds that he is more easily fatigued if he doesn't get enough sleep, or enough to eat.
Struggling with the damaging effects of his injury, Doug attempted to go back to his engineering studies at Drexel, but failed several classes.
"It was really, really hard and I felt like I was pushing myself back instead of forward," he said. "I started my second Co-op and realized that it was no longer what I was meant to do. I'd be forcing myself down a path that wasn't right for me."
With guidance from career counselor Arnie Kohen in Drexel's Steinbright Career Development Center, Doug decided to change his major to education. He graduated in 2010, and now teaches robotics to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the Universal Institute Charter School in Philadelphia.
With the upcoming summer off from teaching, Doug decided to do something that he's wanted to do for a long time – ride his bicycle across the United States.
"I told myself that if I ever got back on a bike, I would ride as far as I possibly could," he said.
On Monday, June 27, Doug and his bicycle will embark on a journey from San Francisco, CA, to Tom's River, New Jersey. He expects to bike 50 to 100 miles a day, finishing the trip by mid-August. He will carry about 50 pounds of supplies with him and will only sleep in a hotel if weather conditions are threatening.
According to Doug, there are three things he wants to accomplish with this cross-country voyage. First and foremost, he wants to be an inspiration to other people recovering from traumatic brain injuries.
Second, he wants to bring attention to traumatic brain injuries and raise public awareness.
"This kind of injury changes your life forever and you never recover 100 percent. When TBI survivors attempt to rejoin society, they find themselves at the mercy of a disability that goes unseen and often unrecognized."
Finally, Doug wants to raise funds for the Raisin Hope Foundation which was started by a friend, fellow bicyclist and TBI survivor, Saul Raisin.
What he considers one of the most important aspects of his journey is the fact that Doug will be stopping at hospitals and rehabilitation centers along the way to speak to individuals with traumatic brain injuries. His first stop is the Janet Pomeroy Center in San Francisco.
"I plan to tell them my story and let the patients know that they are not alone. There are people out there who want to see them succeed. When I was recovering I felt like there wasn't anyone else out there who could relate to me. It was a really, really lonely time."
Doug has a blog called DougTrails! at www.dougtrails.wordpress.com which he will update throughout his journey using his smart phone. He encourages everyone to follow along with his blog and join him for the ride.