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After being struck by a hit and run driver while cycling, Josh Whitehead was severely injured by the incident and went through months of rehab to be able to return to the local running scene. Photo Contributed

Josh Whitehead- Escapes Death, Returns To Running

MADISON- The recent Memorial Day was a grand time for remembering those who gave their lives for the United States and its freedom. The day was also a monumental celebration for Josh Whitehead and his family for their participation in the 42nd annual Cotton Row Run through the streets of downtown Huntsville.

For the 43-year old Whitehead the celebration was for a return of sorts to the sport he first began at age 29 after years of being a cyclist. He jumped on the cycling kick when he was 12 and continued on his two-wheel adventures until he swapped his two wheels for his two legs for his sport of choice. Since taking to running, Whitehead has established himself as one of the premier runners in North Alabama, as well as, the entire state.

In the recent Cotton Row Run Whitehead had his best CRR run with a third place finish overall and a first place spot in the male masters division with a time of 33-minutes. His wife, Deanna, also participated then the couple joined their three children ages 11, 9 and 5 in the one-mile fun run presented by race organizers.

“I’m blessed to have my entire family to be a part of the Cotton Row Run as even during the pandemic we went outside and participated in great ventures such as hikes and walks,” said Whitehead.

The 2020 Cotton Row Run was cancelled due to the pandemic while the 2021 race was moved to Labor Day in an attempt to stir clear of the pandemic. Last year, Whitehead was ninth overall, finished second in the masters division and completed the 10K distance with a time of 33:35. For him personally, Whitehead feels his comeback is complete as he was sadly taken away from running or cycling due to a coward-like hit and run incident on June 24, 2020.

In early 2020 the pandemic broke and Whitehead suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee, which sidelined him from running. He chose, instead, to get on his bike as a way of rehabilitation for his knee and to remain physically active. In the morning hours of June 24, Whitehead was on his bike for a 30-40-mile trek riding south on Zerdt Road just south of the Martin Road intersection. Although he was wearing highly visible gear as a cyclist with a LED vest, reflective items on his bike and was traveling at an estimated 28 miles per hour, he was struck from behind and thrown to the side of the road by a vehicle, which he never saw. His injuries included a broke back in three places and a separated right shoulder. The driver of the vehicle never stopped and has yet to be found. After overcoming the initial shock of being struck, somehow Whitehead struggled to his feet and found his phone. He called Deanna and told her he was severely injured and he needed to go to the emergency room for care. Not far away, Deanna raced to his location to take Whitehead to receive emergency care.

“The impact was so hard one of the carbon pedals on my customized bike was split in half and the bike was completely destroyed,” said Whitehead. “I’ve had several bike wrecks through the years, but I knew right away this one was serious.”

Upon arriving at Madison Hospital for an array of scans to determine the seriousness of his injuries, he was asked if he could feel his legs and feet. The attending medical staff was amazed Whitehead indicated he could as his back was found to be broke in three places. He was on the borderline of reconstructive back surgery and was transferred to Huntsville Hospital where he spent three days under close watch. Going through conferences with attending physicians it was determined Whitehead would forgo back surgery and instead placed in a specially made back brace, which he wore for five months.

In September, Whitehead underwent surgery to repair his shoulder injury as the tendons in his shoulder were torn in half. He spent three months just learning simple things in life using just one hand. “I had to learn to use my computer left handed and for four months I slept in a recliner,” added Whitehead. “The entire episode in my life was awful, as I could not run or bike. I didn’t know if I’d ever run again.”

Whitehead was finally cleared by his doctors and he began his journey back to running. His first experiences were simple ones. He would run 10 steps, walk 10 and so-on. “I knew God had a plan for me,” he added.

The remaining months of 2020 were extremely challenging for the always cheerful and energetic Whitehead. His determination to regain his presence in the local running scene was the drive he needed to accomplish his comeback. He’s currently training normally, which means 80-90 miles a week running and participating in several races leading up to the 2021 CRR and the just completed 2022 CRR.

Earlier this year, Whitehead was put to the test of his comeback at the Birmingham/Hoover 10K. He ran a 31:48 and set a state record at that distance and age. He felt good and knew his training last year was very good and prepped him for this year’s Cotton Row Run. “I went to the start line hoping for a good masters run and no other expectations,” said Whitehead. “I started out well taking third place behind the two young runners who were in first and second places. I kept my pace plan and just tagged along in third place during the entire race.”

“I was glad to be able to line up for the traditional Memorial Day event and it was good to see people out supporting the runners throughout the course,” said Whitehead. “I missed this.”

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