After being hit by a car while riding his bike last September, Dean Otto was hurt so badly that he was given a 2% chance of walking again. But less than a year later, he’s training for a half-marathon that he will run alongside his doctor, as well as the man who hit him.
Prior to the accident, Otto, 52, was an avid runner and biker who kept his body in excellent shape, even completing the New York City Marathon. But when he was knocked off his bike by a driver who never saw him, he was left with several broken ribs, as well as a broken back, pelvis, leg, and tailbone.
“His spine was torn apart,” recalls Dr. Matt McGirt, who treated Otto. “His only shot at any type of recovery was really measured in minutes.”
Somehow, just three days after McGirt performed the emergency surgery, Otto was able to take his first steps with help from a walker. Otto was encouraged by his quick progress and so confident that he’d fully recover that he challenged McGirt to run a half-marathon alongside him.
“He said, ‘I tell you what when I beat this, we’ll run a half marathon together,'” recalls McGirt. “I remember thinking, ‘if you can run a half marathon after what you’re going through, then heck yeah, I’m there.'”
Otto began working out three days a week, pushing himself not just to walk, but to run again.
“I wasn’t scared, I just always knew,” he says. “I knew I had a small window to get better and it was like a race for me to do everything I could to get back as much as I could.”
During his rehab, Will Huffman, the man who hit him, came to visit and apologize to Otto. Huffman felt terrible about what happened. But Otto told him to let go of any guilt he felt, knowing that it was an accident.
“He said to me I’m gonna be fine and you have to do the same thing, you can’t let this hold you back,” says Huffman. “Not only did he say I’m gonna forgive this guy, but he said I’m gonna be friends with him.”
Otto has also invited Huffman to join him and McGirt when they run a half-marathon next month on the anniversary of his terrible accident in a celebration of how far Otto has come since that day.
“I don’t know that I’m ever going to be the old Dean as far as my speed but I’m walking, running biking swimming – everything else in my life is back to normal and I know I’m going to run that half marathon – and I’m going to finish it.”