12 years after an accident left him paraplegic, North Jersey native competes in marathons

12 years after an accident left him paraplegic, North Jersey native competes in marathons

An early afternoon bike ride on Nov. 26, 2011 changed Ron Gold’s life forever.

As he rode down East Saddle River Road with a friend on a lovely fall Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving, an SUV suddenly appeared on the wrong side of the road.

“They said that my buddy Zach (Orden) had yelled and I looked up and saw the car right before it hit me and I tried to make sure my head didn’t take the brunt of the impact,” he said.

He woke up at Saddle River Day School on a helicopter about to transport him to Hackensack University Medical Center.

At the time, Gold was 51 years old, married and living in Hillsdale with three teenage children, and working as the head of a sales desk at Barclays Bank. Always fit and athletic, he enjoyed long bike rides to decompress and “let off steam” from a busy and pressure-packed work life.

He and his wife, Betsy, were looking forward to the future when they would empty-nesters who could travel the world for leisure instead of business.

Gold’s spine was smashed in the accident, and a short while later, his spleen was removed and his aorta was disconnected from his lungs due to extensive blood loss.

He was placed in a medically-induced coma for nearly a month and spent 51 days in the hospital before being released for 11 weeks of rehabilitation at Kessler Institute in West Orange. He was diagnosed as paraplegic, ostensibly consigned to a wheelchair for life.

“In literally a flash, everything that I knew was pulled away from me and it’s an incredibly difficult thing to happen,” Gold said earlier this month. “You think ‘why me?'”

But as he nears 12 years since the accident, Gold has rebuilt his life.

He lives with Betsy in Saddle River, and his kids are out of college and living on their own. He’s been running a successful business that connects families looking for home care with vetted caregivers for the past nine years.

And this fall, he completed two marathons within three weeks − including the New York City Marathon − using a specifically-designed handcyle.

Growing up in New Jersey

Gold grew up in West Orange, where he played soccer and ran cross-country in junior high school. He concentrated on his studies at West Orange High School and went on to graduate from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, and later earned an MBA at Columbia Business School.

He climbed the Wall Street ladder at Lehman Brothers then Barclays over the next three decades. He eventually ran an Asian equities desk at Barclays, often traveling to places like Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore for work.

To help deal with the stress, Gold took up golf, skiing and cycling in a lifelong quest to remain fit. In 2011, he ran the Ocean Drive Marathon from Cape May to Sea Isle City in four hours and 16 minutes. A few months later, the accident put a halt to all of his fitness goals.

“I was out of it at Hackensack Hospital. I was in a daze,” he said. “I was feeling sorry for myself, and even as I started to get interested in things again while I was at Kessler, I wasn’t going to get my life back the way I wanted it.”

But Betsy never believed that her husband’s active lifestyle had ended on that fall afternoon. Gold said she spurred him daily.

“She gave me a lot of tough love as I recovered,” he said. “She was really patient with me every day in the hospital and rehabilitation and kept telling me to stop with the ‘why me’ and start thinking ‘why not me’.”

“Do you want to lose your family, lose your kids, she would say. Bad things happen to good people. Move forward, don’t look back. Eventually, I realized she was right and these are the cards I was dealt, so why not play them?”

Starting a new business: LeanOnWe

Gold still had a family to support, with three kids to put through college, on top of all the responsibilities of every functioning adult. He chose not to try to go back to his old job and started thinking about what he wanted to do next.

He thought about doing something entrepreneurial, and his continuing need for care showed him the way.

Gold has an open wound that will never heal on his right leg, which requires consistent home care by a trained professional. One of the biggest challenges that he and Betsy faced was finding reliable private caregivers, in part because Medicare and private health insurance don’t cover continuing home care.

“America’s home care system is broken,” he said. “I knew we could do a better job.”

Gold says that there are two basic options when continuing home health care: Find care through an agency that selects the workers for you, or try to find people on your own. The first choice is expensive, doesn’t pay the caregiver enough and is not necessarily catered to the patient’s needs. The second requires a huge leap of faith as to credentials and trustworthiness.

So, in late 2014, Gold created a start-up called LeanOnWe. In a video on the company website, he describes the business as “a platform that allows families to hire hand-picked, recommended caregivers, privately and directly.

Customers pay for access to the system, which includes more than 1,000 vetted caregivers in Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, Essex, Union and Morris counties in New Jersey, the five boroughs, Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties in New York, and Fairfield County in Connecticut, he said. They select the caregiver and pay a small daily fee to the company, negotiating the rate of pay directly with the caregiver.

Staying active, competing in marathons

As Gold developed his new business venture, he still faced the challenge of finding an outlet to decompress.

“I had an active life, I was a great skier, a strong cyclist, a good runner and a lousy golfer,” he said. “I had a hard time finding something I was interested in doing, and ended up in adaptive rowing, spending a lot of time in a pontoon boat on Rockland Lake.”

Several years later, in the middle of the Connecticut River, his pontoon capsized, sending Gold under the boat and fighting for his life again. This time, someone was able to dive in and help save him.

He continues to row, but that prompted him to start looking for something else to do to stay in shape.

Enter the world of handcycling and the Achilles International track club, headquartered in New York City. The worldwide club sponsored more than 500 athletes of varying disabilities in this year’s New York City Marathon.

Domenic Romano, the club’s New York City adaptive cycling manager, first met Gold when both were rowing and helped him to start training for handcycling. Gold became part of a group that includes wheelchair athletes, handcyclists and about 30-50 runners, practicing every Sunday morning at Saddle River County Park in Rochelle Park.

Gold, who has a stationary handcycle and a complete weight set in his home, trained and looked for a flat course to enter for his first handcycle marathon. His competed for the first time on Oct. 14 at the Hartford Marathon after being selected as one of 11 members of the 2023 Inspiration team at the race.

“I had lived up there for a couple of years right out of school and it looked like a nice flat course to race,” he said. “Then they changed the course, and there were a few uphills that slowed things down.”

He also struggled to get through the mass of runners to the starting line. But with the help of Achilles Connecticut’s Erin Spaulding, he got there and was ready to go 30 seconds before the start.

“The crowd was great and there were people cheering for you everywhere you went,” said Gold, who finished fourth in his division in 2:56:46. “I had friends from West Hartford with signs saying ‘Go Ron’ and all the runners who passed me were encouraging me.

“It was very empowering. I felt like I had laid it out there and given it my all.”

When the chance came to compete in the New York City Marathon three weeks later, Gold grabbed it.

“I was better prepared for the gels I had to take and the water I had to drink this time, and this time, it was easier to get to the start,” he said. “Before the Hartford race, I didn’t know what to expect because I’d only been riding in the park. This time, I was hoping to go faster.”

He did, finishing in 2:42:47 for 39th place, a nearly 14-minute improvement.

“Over time, I realized the question isn’t why me but rather why not me?” Gold said. “We all suffer adversity. I’m not happy about it but that ain’t changing.”

“I didn’t want to be the husband and father who literally rolled over and gave up. Instead I wanted to be that person who rose to the challenge and set an example for how handle whatever life throws at you.”

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