When Jeff Rauff was hit by a vehicle while bicycling on Lycoming Creek Road on April 3, doctors did not know if he would survive. Yet just two months later, he was back to exercising daily at the Williamsport YMCA.
The car that struck Loyalsock Township Supervisor Rauff's bike was going more than 55 mph, according to police reports. The impact threw him more than 70 feet.
"It could have been worse," Rauff said. "I'm fortunate to be alive. I'm alive. I'm not paralyzed. I'm very blessed in that way. Broken bones will heal."
PAUL BARRETT/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Jeff Rauff pauses in front of the Williamsport YMCA building.
Rauff had been working out at the YMCA for the last four decades. Without his top physical shape, he would not have made it, according to one of the nurses who was with him on the medical helicopter that flew him to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
Through the years, Rauff has competed in more than 400 competitive races, more than 80 triathalons and various marathons, including the Boston Marathon.
"Even as a kid, I played sports," he said. "It was ingrained in me. I enjoyed it. I liked the results you got."
Rauff's survival points to how fitness can help with more than just feeling good.
"I think Jeff is ... the poster boy for what a fit person should be," said David Fagerstrom, River Valley Regional YMCA president and CEO. "He's committed and dedicated to coming in every day. ... From the experience he had, you never know when being fit is going to pay off. ... There are other benefits. In Jeff's case, it saved his life."
Rauff still was conscious when the ambulance and helicopter arrived, but he cannot remember the crash or much of the eight days after it.
His injuries were extensive. He had a broken pelvis, broken tailbone, broken sacrum, 12 fractured ribs, two punctured lungs and bleeding in his
brain. He also had gravel in his eyes, which could have cost him the vision in his left eye.
He was considered to be in critical condition because 60 percent of people who have a broken pelvis die due to complications. Doctors did not know if he would be able to keep his left eye or what his mental abilities would be in the future.
Yet while he was in the hospital, he amazed the doctors with his physical condition and how quickly he healed. One doctor asked if the age on his chart was correct because he thought Rauff had the physical condition of a man in his mid-40s, not someone 61 years old.
Rauff underwent seven surgeries, including reconstructive surgery on his face and three on his arm.
While in the hospital, he was labeled as "non-compliant," because several times he had to be restrained from getting out of bed or scolded for not using his wheelchair.
He considered those commands as nothing more than suggestions for "average" people.
"I think I thought that, because of my level of fitness, those rules were for 'normal' people," Rauff said. "I never considered myself a normal person. That's not for me."
He told his family he would be riding his bicycle before the end of summer. His wife knew he would recover, but she was not as confident he would do it as quickly as he thought he would.
"Deep down, I knew I would push myself to achieve it," Rauff said.
Just eight weeks after the accident, Rauff was given permission to walk, which he did, right out of the hospital.
By June, he was back the Y, swimming and lifting. Shortly thereafter, just as he predicted, he was riding his bicycle again.
Even though he cannot remember the crash or what happened directly after it, he has gone back to thank many of the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and the doctor who assisted him that day.
"A lot of people touched me," he said.
Support from his family, friends and fellow township supervisors contributed to his quick recovery, he said. Rauff only missed the April and May meetings, four in all, for the Loyalsock Township supervisors.
"They were very, very supportive," he said.