Rider seriously injured in crash celebrates survival at Peachtree Road Race

Jessica Rantamaki runs for many reasons.

“Running has really been more of a mental relief for me,” she says.

Jessica and Rick Rantamaki after racing the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. (Jessica Rantamaki)

The 51-year-old Geo-Hydro Engineers business development manager rides her Suwanee treadmill when she needs to clear her head, release stress or just get moving, always aware of how much she has almost lost it all.

“The memory of that event, that collision, will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Rantamaki said.

It was the night of July 1, 2017.

She and her husband Rick were days away from running their fourth Peachtree Road Race together.

They were riding in the backseat of their friends’ SUV, returning from dinner, only 5 minutes from home.

Night shot of a crumpled SUV

Jessica Rantamaki was seriously injured when the SUV she was driving in was hit head-on by a man fleeing police in a stolen car. (Jessica Rantamaki)

“We rounded the corner, and about 20 seconds later I felt like the car had exploded,” Rantamaki recalled.

They never saw the driver of the stolen car coming, who was being chased by the police.

It hit them head-on, Jessica says, going somewhere between 80 and 90 miles per hour.

His passenger, a woman, was ejected and killed.

A crumpled SUV stands in a parking lot.

Jessica Rantamaki was seriously injured when the SUV she was driving in was hit head-on by a man fleeing police in a stolen car. (Rick Rantamaki)

“The first thing I saw out of my left eye was broken glass, and my husband was bleeding from his head, and then I also saw someone’s crumpled body on the street,” Rantamaki said. “This image will be with me forever.”

The Rantamakis were wearing seat belts, which police say is why they survived the impact.

But Jessica Rantamaki, pinned down by her seatbelt, immediately sensed something was wrong.

“The only other thing I remember is the shooting pain I had in my back,” she says. “So I knew something had happened to my back.”

She remembers a policeman coming to the window from her side of the mangled SUV.

“He looked inside, because all the windows were broken,” Rantamaki said. “And, I asked him, I said, ‘Am I going to die?’ And he said, “No. The fire and the paramedics are on their way.” And I said, ‘Do you want to hold my hand until they get here? Because I’m in so much pain.'”

She had fractured 3 vertebrae in her lower back and the impact of the accident tore her intestines in several places, a life-threatening emergency.

That night, Rantamaki underwent four-hour emergency surgery to repair the perforations in his intestines.

A few days later, a spine surgeon fused his L1-L3 vertebrae.

Side-by-side x-rays show spine fractures and titanium rods holding 3 vertebrae together.

X-rays of Jessica Rantamaki’s lower spine, after she was seriously injured when the SUV she was driving in was hit head-on by a man fleeing police in a stolen car.

She spent the next three weeks in the hospital, in a haze of pain.

“In the hospital, I remember texting a very good friend of mine and saying, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it.’ says Rantamaki. “Because I was in so much pain.”

Instead of running the Peachtree on July 4, she struggled to get up and take her first steps.

It was exhausting.

“It probably took a good 40 minutes to go, I don’t know, 20 to 30 feet,” Rantamaki says.

Her spine surgeon told Rantamaki that she would run again one day, but her body needed time to heal.

“Running, he absolutely wouldn’t let me do it for 6 months,” she says.
“Every conversation was, ‘So when can I run again, doctor? “”

In October, she was on a stationary bike, trying to regain the strength and stamina she had lost.

“I felt like I was going back to my old self, where any form of physical exercise helped me mentally,” she says.

In January, Rantamaki was cleared to race again.

“I run a bit and walk a bit on the greenway with my dog, then I start crying,” she recalls. “And, there were a lot of people there, and I’m sure they thought something was wrong, but it was really tears of joy.

Only on July 4, 2018, a year and 3 days after the collision, Jessica and Rick Rantamaki raced the Peachtree again, but this time, she says, it felt like it was all Technicolor.

The woman raises her arms and smiles as she runs in a road race.

Jessica Rantamaki runs the Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2018, a year and 3 days after she was seriously injured in a head-on collision.

“It was sunny, I don’t know if the sun was shining stronger that day,” she smiles. “Almost every day after the accident, the sun shines brighter for me.”

A woman with a backpack and a racing number poses for a selfie.

Jessica Rantamaki was seriously injured when the SUV she was driving in was hit head-on by a man fleeing police in a stolen car.

She passed the Shepherd Center, where spinal cord injured and healthcare workers line the sidewalk to watch the 60,000 runners pass by.

“I used to wave,” Rantamaki says.

But this time, she stopped to speak with patients who were beginning their own recovery.

“I felt like I was racing for all of them,” Rantamaki said. “For me, it’s a privilege to walk on two feet. I have a whole different appreciation for a lot of things in life.”

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