Cyclist badly injured in fall
Published: Thursday, April 21, 2005
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Nikhil Chugani, CSOM '07, was seriously injured following an accident Saturday during the 21st Annual Army Spring Cycling Classic. On a downhill portion of the course, Chugani collided handlebars with another rider traveling at an estimated 40 miles per hour, leaving him with a broken right collarbone, bruised skull, and swelling in his brain.
His condition has greatly improved from his initial status, said Andrew Armstrong, treasurer of the cycling club and A&S '05.
He was breathing on a respirator until Sunday at 3 p.m., when doctors removed the tube. Chugani has been breathing on his own since, and has limited communication with visiting friends and family. Doctors also feared that the sophomore had two fractures in his skull, but tests have shown that they are bruises.
Chugani remained in the neurological intensive care unit until Tuesday, when he was moved to a regular hospital room in the West Chester Medical Center, in West Chester County, N.Y. He is in and out of sleep, said Armstrong, and is "quite responsive," despite slurred speech.
"Certainly there will be a long road to recovery, but he is doing better than most people thought he would be doing at this point, including nurses and doctors," said Armstrong.
The category D race, along a 14-mile track in Herriman State Park in New York, involved about 80 riders, including four from BC, completing two laps. At the beginning of the second pass, Chugani went down with a group of five to six other cyclists, breaking his helmet into two pieces.
"If he wasn't wearing a helmet, it would have been over," said Mark Abramson, conference director for the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. "It saved his life; no question about it."
The national governing body of cycling requires all racers to wear a helmet at all times, even when warming up on a race course.
The crash occurred 30 to 40 yards in front of an ambulance parked on the race loop, allowing medical staff to immediately put Chugani in a neck brace. Shortly after, he was transported to the hospital via helicopter.
Jonathan Keephart, captain of the cycling team and CSOM '05, was not riding in the race, but has in years past. He characterized it as a technical track with significant uphill and downhill portions. Keephart was told the about Chugani as he was being airlifted after the accident.
"For a teammate that I've been as close to as Nikhil, who I've seen enter the sport and start to develop as a more experienced rider, who was very enthusiastic about riding and racing and did it because he loved it, for him to get hurt in this way is completely unfair," he said.
Upon hearing the news, two of the rider's friends and all three of his roommates visited him in the New York hospital. Matthew Egyud, A&S '07, was stunned to see his roommate after the accident. "I was shocked," he said. "You don't expect a guy who has been training this long and hard to have such a tragic accident."
Abramson picked up Chugani's father at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Sunday, after he took a 28-hour flight from China. Chugani's father lives in Taiwan and was on a business trip when he heard the news. He left immediately and remains at the hospital.
The Chugani family has received support from many sources, including those both in and out of BC. Paul Chebator, associate dean for the Office for the Dean of Student Development, spoke with Chugani's father yesterday, but declined to comment on the specifics of their conversation.
Abramson said that "pretty much everyone in the conference" has called or sent well-wishes, while Armstrong said that the head of U.S. Cycling sent an e-mail hoping for the best.
Also, the coach and two members of the West Point cycling team, who hosted the event, visited the injured rider in the hospital. One event organizer drove from West Point to the hospital Monday night to visit Chugani and offered him a West Point cycling jersey, said Armstrong.
Keephart, who remains at the hospital with teammate Lauren Murphy, A&S '07, and Chugani's father, said that the recovery process has progressed "in spurts." He has had a tough time remembering certain people, said Keephart, but he did remember what kind of bike he was riding. He will attempt to walk for the first time today.
Chugani, as well as being on the cycling club, is a Heights staff writer.