By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Greenville, South Carolina
The mere fact that Saul Raisin was able to walk to the start ramp of the USA Cycling professional time trial championships north of Greenville is considered my many to be a miracle. That he was there to compete as a professional is a dream come true after suffering a near-death crash and brain injury 17 months ago.
"It brought back the old memories of me racing," he said, breaking down in tears after finishing. "I felt strong out there. I had a great day. I felt like I won the race before I even started, it was a personal victory for me!"
While everyone in the crowd was happy to see Raisin starting the race, it was unknown how he would actually do against the top American pros. In fact, he did rather well. Although he finished last, he was only nine seconds slower than the rider in front of him and only 4'33" behind the winner Dave Zabriskie. By comparison, twelve riders finished more behind Zabriskie in last year's time trial over the almost identical course -- with Zabriskie beating his time from last year by more than two minutes.
But Raisin was not the least bit concerned with things like time or placing, he was just enjoying the thrill of feeling like a bike racer again. "I didn't care, I was just enjoying it," he said. "It was probably the easiest ride of my life because I just sat there enjoying it. I had a great time and it felt good going fast. I had no stress... I was nervous because it was my first ride back. It was probably the best ride of my life, other than my first ride back with my father.
Raisin's parents were both right there to be with their son. "You did great son, we are so proud of you," his father Jim said, embracing his son. "17 months ago we didn't think it would ever happen. And last year we had no idea -- he had a long ways to go last year, and he still has a ways to go, but he is working at it and taking it one day at a time. But it's back in his blood so he's going to want it more and more now."
The ride today was for more than just himself, according to Raisin. "It's more than just an accomplishment for me, it's for anyone with a brain injury. It shows you can overcome the impossible. They told me I wouldn't walk again and I told my doctor I would run! Right here today is proof, I am running. I am going to come back and come back stronger than before."
Raisin is not stopping with just racing the time trial today -- he is setting a goal to race again as a pro in the peloton. "The Tour de France... well, maybe the Tour of California first," he said. "I reacted fine [to racing.] These last two months I've had all these new sensations on the bike. For the longest time I couldn't sense fatigue, but today my legs hurt and I felt like a racer again. I go back for team testing in October and hopefully get released to race a full season next year. "
Raisin is not quite ready to race a mass start race yet, hence he will watch Sunday's road race from the sidelines. "I'll be everywhere, signing my book at the start and all day."
"I almost started crying coming down the ramp because the announcer had said some kind words about me and all of the emotions were going through my head. I can't explain how it felt. It's a dream come true, like I've said from the start."
For complete coverage of the USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championships, click here.