Less than four months after breaking his neck following a night out, Tom Cumming has returned from the Blue Mountains with a fourth 100 kilometre Ultra-Trail Australia event under his belt.
The 31-year-old from Forrest finished the iconic trail in 18 hours and 18 minutes last weekend, having been released from hospital in February.
While details are sketchy, Mr Cumming had been running the few blocks back home after drinking in the city when he wound up in hospital.
On routine patrol, ACT Protective Services found Mr Cumming face down in the street, alone, unconscious and badly injured.
In addition to the neck injury, he woke the next morning to news of three broken ribs, a broken shoulder and two brain bleeds.
During the two weeks in hospital and six weeks of rehab that followed, the IT project manager became fixated on returning to the things he loves.
He said his work and running became important milestones to measure his physical and mental capability.
"I obviously got out of hospital with a bit of fire in the belly and a bit of intrinsic motivation that I had to do something to prove to myself that I was still the same guy," he said.
Starting off with a short shuffle, Mr Cumming quietly worked his way up to running distances, while keeping his greater goal to himself.
The UTA100 starts and finishes in Katoomba. The running festival weekend was attended by more than 1000 Canberrans, with this year's 100-kilometre course including more than 4460 metres of elevation.
Mr Cumming signed up just over two weeks before the run.
He said inspiration on the day came from those around him, with members of his crew suffering injuries and near hyperthermia along the trail.
While his incredible feat may suggest otherwise, Mr Cumming insists he's no professional athlete. Running is about just keeping moving, he said.
"There was talk of surgery, there was talk of permanent brain damage and every time I had a bunch of doctors talking to me it seemed like I wasn't actually there, it was a really surreal moment day by day.
"Certainly to think I couldn't run again was pretty massive and weighed pretty heavy on me.
"I think humans need that release and they need to focus on something other than work pursuits," he said.
Mr Cumming said throughout his recovery he has focused on celebrating the small wins.
"When you start from zero everything is an achievement, especially when you've got so many people around you celebrating with you," he said.
Despite the accident, or maybe because of it, running has maintained its importance.
"Even though it's starting to get cold now the first thing I do when I leave the office is want to get out and exhaust myself," Mr Cumming said.
"I can't explain that, I think it's a type of meditation or something."
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