Pedaling with a purpose: Raisin on his way back after serious accident

Published: Monday, July 2 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Saul Raisin, pro cyclist, suffered a near-death accident in Europe and has returned to Utah to train.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

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It was barely 15 months ago that Saul Raisin was in a coma.

Surgeons in France performed emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain from fluids that had built up following a horrific crash during the Circuit de la Sarthe cycling race.

The injury and following surgery left Raisin unable to walk, feed himself or do many of the normal, everyday tasks a world-class athlete takes for granted.

Riding a bike, as you might imagine, was out of the question.

On July 7, Raisin — who had a portion of his right temporal lobe removed and still suffers from some of the lingering effects of the injury — will make his return to competitive cycling at the Porcupine Hill Climb. The race, which starts at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon and ends almost 15 miles and 3,800 feet of elevation gain later at Brighton Ski Resort, presents Raisin with what he calls a "safe" race.

"This isn't an 'I'm back' race," Raisin said. "But it's going to be a huge test for me physically and mentally ... I chose this race because it seemed like a race with not much risk to it. It's not dangerous."

Perhaps coincidentally, the men Raisin used to race with and against will begin the Tour de France at almost the exact same time in London with the prologue stage of the grand tour.

Raisin's life was once hanging by such a thin thread his parents were discussing organ donation options with European doctors before he came out of the coma.

And while Raisin's comeback story is taking off at the Porcupine Hill Climb, it began almost as soon as he returned from France after the accident.

For many, the name Saul Raisin is not a familiar one. For cycling enthusiasts, though, he is a star, and one of only a handful of Americans racing for the biggest cycling teams in the world.

A Georgia native, Raisin has now made Salt Lake City his home as he trains to rejoin the European pro tour. Once considered the next big thing in American cycling, Raisin won numerous races before signing a multi-year contract with Credit Agricole — one of the top cycling teams in the world. He was sent to prestigious races around the world and was fast moving up the team's list of riders, expecting a spot in races such as the Tour de France this year.

"I was doing pretty well," Raisin said. "I was racing hard and things looked pretty good."

Raisin often wears custom-designed cycling socks and gear that say "Raisin Hell" on them to reflect the risks associated with the high-speed, low-protection sport. Now, though, he also wears custom bracelets like Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong bracelets. His are imprinted with "Raisin Hope."

Raisin's recovery took a big step forward this spring when he rode ahead of the peloton at the Tour of California. His subsequent Raisin Hope charity ride helped raise more than $30,000 for a variety of charities. On his way home to Georgia, he met Aleeza Zabriskie in the airport. Aleeza is the younger sister of Salt Lake's David Zabriskie — among the best cyclists in the world.

The two hit it off immediately and soon Raisin decided to move to Salt Lake and train in the canyons of the Beehive State for his return to the pro cycling peloton.

"I love it here," he said. "I really think this is a cyclist's dream with all the canyons and mountains. You have bike lanes all over the place. It's a perfect place to train for my comeback."

He has spent hours training with and being evaluated by doctors and cycling experts like Massimo Testa and Eric Heidin at TOSH. He's been evaluated by top national cycling coaches as well as brain injury experts to make sure he has the mental skills needed to keep up with the demanding physical expectations he'll have in pelotons of tightly packed cyclists going more than 50 miles per hour down a mountain or around a corner.

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