Runner Tyrone Fulgham on his way back after crash that took his leg

·15 min read

Feb. 6—AUBURN — Tyrone Fulgham remembers with crystal clarity the moment his leg was taken.

He remembers hollering to the motorcyclist who had hit him to call 911. He remembers advising a golfer who came to his aid on how to apply a tourniquet.

He never lost consciousness during that ordeal on South Witham Road last September, but even in the midst of all the pain and chaos going on around him, Fulgham found a moment of clarity. He began to consider the future.

Just moments after his leg was ripped off at the knee, Tyrone Fulgham was getting his mind right.

"At that moment, I knew my life had changed," says Fulgham, 52, and a lifelong runner. "I knew my leg was gone and I knew it was never going to be attached again. In my mind, I had already accepted that."

In a very real way, Fulgham began to triumph over his injury right there at the side of the road, even as he lay wounded and bleeding out.

On Sept. 23 at about 5 p.m., Fulgham was running on South Witham Road, getting in 8 miles as part of training for an upcoming marathon.

He was about 4 miles into his run when he was struck by an oncoming motorcyclist who had lost control of his bike as he was coming down a hill. The biker, 28-year-old Mason Perez of Auburn, lay the bike down and it slid straight at Fulgham.

"It was like a blur," Fulgham says. "I could see the bike. I could see the guy's face. The bike went right through me. It instantly took my leg."

What followed was not the Hollywood-style version of a crash, where victims lie in useless heaps. Even as he bled out — Fulgham would ultimately lose half of his blood volume — he was taking control of the situation, shouting instructions to Perez, who had survived the crash mostly unscathed.

"I was trying to get him to call 911," Fulgham says. "He had his phone in his hand, but he was running back and forth and saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' I kept yelling at him to call 911."

The crash occurred near Fox Ridge Golf Course and already a few people were running over to help.

"They must have been moving from the 14th or 15th (hole)," said David Mireault, who lives in a home next to the crash site, "because they arrived quickly."

Fulgham himself remembers one of the golfers standing over him.

Among those first at the crash site were Eric Ferron, Dylan Cox and Benjamin Goodall, three men from the Oxford Hills area who had been golfing.

Fulgham remembers one of them crouching over him.

"He ran over and said, 'We called 911. What else can we do?'" he recalls. "I couldn't see the man because my face was down, but I told him, 'I need a tourniquet. Find a belt or a shirt and pull it as tightly as you can.'"

Ferron used a belt from his shorts and got it around the remnant of Fulgham's right leg. By that point, Fulgham says, he could hear ambulances on the way. He made a joke about how in the movies, it takes forever for the ambulances to arrive, but then he started fading from blood loss. His limbs were starting to go numb.

"Someone was there telling me to keep talking, to stay awake," Fulgham recalls. "And I did. I stayed awake until the EMS got there. They got the tourniquet on and that's the first time I started to feel pain, particularly when they turned it to tighten it down."

One of his legs was gone, that was the goriest part of it. But that wasn't his only wound. His left leg had been hit pretty hard, as well.

"My lower tibia, fibula and ankle were smashed," Fulgham says.

Fulgham was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston where he underwent his first of at least a half-dozen surgeries. Fulgham's leg had been sheared off just below the knee. Surgeons were hoping to keep the portion below the knee because it would make it easier to fit a prosthetic, Fulgham says.

It wasn't to be, though. There was too much damaged tissue below the knee, so surgeons had to take that portion, as well.

Still, Fulgham wasn't getting down. He had his family around him and he had plans for the future.

This man who had been running all his life was now down a leg. Yet he swore that he would run again.

Fulgham has a son and a daughter, Kyle and Shanitra, having lost his oldest daughter, Mariah, just short of her 27th birthday. He has an ex-wife who still cares for him and he has many neighbors, friends and relatives who rushed to his side during the horrific ordeal.

"My kids stepped up," Fulgham says. "And my ex-wife. They were crucial to my recovery because they were there when I needed them."

He's a family man, and before the crash Fulgham was working at Bates College where he helped with event planning and custodial work.

He's also very into music, playing bass guitar and deejaying some, but at heart, he's a runner. Since he was a young lad, Fulgham has been running any chance he got: in marathons or just for his physical and emotional well-being.

"My running started in high school," he says. "I was primarily a sprinter, but then I did everything from the 100 to the 800. My love for distance came a little bit later."

At Lewiston High School, Fulgham joined the cross-country team. His first time out, he went too fast and burned out. In his second race, he got the hang of it. He found his pace.

"That's where my love of distance running came in," Fulgham says. "And from then on, I started running distance everywhere."

Fulgham won a state championship with the Lewiston track team in 1988. A year later, his brother, Stanford, also won one with LHS.

But Fulgham didn't hang up his running shoes after the glory of high school. He and his running companions would continue to compete in half marathons at Bates College, in Bar Harbor, New Hampshire, Massachusetts . . . anywhere they could find one, really.

Locally, he would run in marathons to help raise money for fundraisers or to just work on his time. He kept in tiptop shape, always trying to become the best runner he could.

"It gives me a high," he says. "It gives me a sense of achievement."

The Boston Marathon was the goal before the crash that took his leg.

"But I haven't given up on that," Fulgham says.

That's not to say there weren't some dark moments for Fulgham in the days and weeks following the crash. After he was released from CMMC, he went to Marshwood Center for rehabilitation. Fulgham thought he was well on the road to recovery, but then infection set in.

Back to the hospital he went for another surgery — and for some serious discomfort.

"You can't move because you have to stay in one position," Fulgham says. "And with the phantom pain, with your leg healing, it's very painful, even with medication. And I had to go through that three times."

During that period, Fulgham's rehabilitation came to a stand still. The prospect of getting a prosthetic was pushed further back.

"It probably set me back two months," he says. "It was pain like I'd never felt before, and so, I was angry. I was angry that I got the infection. I was angry that we had to step back. I was very discouraged. I tried to stay positive, and I did for the most part. But it was just very frustrating."

Fulgham, at home now and getting around in a wheelchair while waiting for his prosthetic leg, reflects on this period of recovery.

It would have been easy, he acknowledges, to succumb to darkness and despair. But just as he had during those terrible moments on South Witham Road, Fulgham knew that he couldn't give in to self-pity.

"I wasn't going to ball up in the corner," he says. "I wanted to get healthy; to get up and going as soon as possible. I couldn't feel sorry for myself. There are people in the world, and people in my life, who had suffered worst fates.

"I'm still alive," Fulgham says. "I've got to live."

Finally, after multiple surgeries and rounds of antibiotics, the infection was defeated. Fulgham was back on that road to recovery he so craved and it was time to go home.

When he got there — Fulgham lives in a cozy house on a quiet stretch of Cook Street in Auburn — he found that his kids, his sister and other friends and family had taken care of everything. They had prepared him a room on the ground floor that would be more accessible while he recovered.

They had cleaned, put in a new floor, painted. Carroll Akers, a relative and friend, built a ramp so that Fulgham can wheel into his home while he's in the chair.

"This is the thing that's probably going to make me cry," Fulgham says, recalling this. "When I was still in the hospital, they sent me a picture of Carol in his shop measuring wood, so I knew what he was doing. He was right on it. The accident happened and the next day, he was already planning out the deck."

Fulgham is grateful to many others, as well. The golfers who helped him, the paramedics and the surgeons, for starters. He says Bates College, where he was working and is now on leave, has treated him well, as did the staff at Marshwood.

Now going on six months since the crash that changed his life, Fulgham is home. True to the vows he made to himself in those early moments and days, he stays busy, always focusing on the future and on the various ways he can be the best version of himself possible.

He has physical therapy twice a week and occupational therapy twice a week. He goes to the gym three days a week, mainly working on his upper body.

"It helps me focus," Fulgham says. "It helps a lot. You've got to keep moving."

Before the crash, Fulgham weighed in at about 165. During his long hospital stay, his weight dropped all the way down to 125. These days, he's at his fighting weight: 152.

Most important, perhaps, is his emotional state. Fulgham knows that he's lucky to be alive. Had no one been there to help him on that awful day in September, he very easily could have died right there on the side of South Witham Road.

He's lucky to have the support he has, Fulgham knows that, too. Many people have gone through the ordeal with him, and for that Fulgham feels blessed.

"Some things were taken away from me when the accident happened," Fulgham says. "But some things were given to me, too, so, I have to take advantage of that. I have to just realize what's around me and maybe help some other people."

Fulgham has since learned the names of the men who came to his aid that grim day on South Witham Road. He's hoping to talk with them soon, to thank them for what they did for him.

Ferron, the golfer from Harrison, was the man who tied his belt around Fulgham's leg. Good fortune was smiling on them both: He recalls that earlier that day, he had debated over whether or not to wear a belt.

"I'm just happy he made it," he said of Fulgham's ordeal.

As for Mason Perez, the Auburn man who crashed into Fulgham with his Kawasaki, Fulgham doesn't have much to say.

"People ask me if I'm angry," Fulgham says. "I don't have time to be angry. I just hope that at some point, he grasps the idea that he completely altered someone's life — and the lives of people around that person."

Perez was charged with driving without a proper motorcycle license immediately after the crash. In January, he was charged additionally with Class C driving to endanger in connection with the collision. Police said speed appeared to have been a factor in the crash.

Reached Saturday, Perez described what happened the day of the crash: "It was a blind hill," he said. "Didn't see him till (the) last second, went to swerve and lost control.

"I feel like s**t for what happened," Perez said, when asked about Fulgham's injuries.

Perez is scheduled to appear in court in May on those charges and Fulgham plans to be there. But there have been further developments.

First, on Dec. 18, less than three months after the crash that injured Fulgham, Perez was charged during a traffic stop in Lewiston with driving with a suspended license. That charge is pending court action.

Then, on Jan. 13, he was involved in a single-vehicle crash in Lewiston that left him with injuries of his own. Police said it appeared that Perez, just after midnight, was traveling "at a high rate of speed" on Russell Street, headed toward Main Street, when he lost control, crossed the median and skidded along oncoming lanes for a considerable distance before striking a utility pole.

Perez, who was taken to CMMC following the crash, was partially paralyzed as a result.

"Just crappy luck on my side," Perez said Saturday. "Hoping to get back on my feet again."

Police said "speed and impairment" are believed to be factors in that crash, which remains under investigation.

To those who know him, Fulgham's perseverance in the face of such adversity is no surprise at all.

"He is a very special man with a great will to live life to the fullest," said friend Donna Breton Remillard of Auburn. "He has had such a positive attitude throughout this recovery, despite some of the setbacks he has faced. Unfortunately, there have been many. He just continues to work hard to reach his ultimate goal: to get back to running."

His family, too, can't help but ponder how things might have been different if Fulgham wasn't so strong a man, or if the right people weren't around to help him in those vital moments after the crash.

"I love my dad," said his son, Kyle. "I wouldn't be the person I am today with him showing me the ropes. He showed me the music I love and still listen to today. He showed me the movies I love and still quote with him today. I also got my love for sports from him and he taught me to always be there for family and friends. I've always tried to be like my dad from a young age. He is my hero, my father, and as I became older, one of my best friends. I'm lucky to have a dad like him, and I'm more than grateful to still have him with us after this tragic accident to be able to tell him always . . . I love you Pop!"

Clearly, Fulgham will have his cheerleaders as he takes his next steps, both figurative and literal. And that will be happening right away. On Monday, if all goes as expected, Fulgham will be fitted with a prosthetic leg.

"I'll be up and walking for the first time since the accident," he says.

He's going to get a prosthetic for running, as well. The so-called "running blade," made famous by runner and double amputee Oscar Pistorius, is curved and made of carbon fiber. Because they are light and springy, the blades allow runners to reach much higher speeds than traditional prosthetics.

Remember when Fulgham talked about those old dreams of running the big marathon in Boston? That dream is still very much on the table. In fact, it might be more realistic now than ever.

"Ironically," Fulgham says, "it might be easier for me to get into the Boston Marathon now because of my disability."

The walls of Fulgham's home are festooned with ribbons, awards and photos, but most of these are not his own. These are the various awards collected by his niece, Saphryn, who runs track for Edward Little High School.

"She's better than me," Fulgham says. "Me and my brother were state champions, but she has a chance to be even better."

Following the achievements of his niece is just one more way to fill his already busy days. Fulgham talks about all these things with enthusiasm. He has an energetic and engaging speaking style, but what stands out the most is how frank he is, how honest and open he is about the ordeal he suffered and the emotional courage it took to work his way back.

People who meet him and hear his story say he's inspirational. So, it's an obvious question: Would Fulgham use his talents and speak to others about what he's been through.

"Maybe I'll do some public speaking," he says. "At help groups and stuff like that. If I could help somebody, or inspire them, I would love to do it."

Maybe he will speak exclusively to those who have suffered grievous injuries. Or maybe he will speak to anyone who finds himself in a tough situation and who wants to find a way out.

Fulgham knows what his advice will be. After a lifetime of doing it himself — and with big plans to do it some more — he knows the way forward.

"Run," Fulgham says. "Running will cure many things."