The long-time rider got a new subject to write about after undergoing a serious bike accident.
I received some welcome news late last year after I was named the new editor of Columbus CEO. Steve Wartenberg, a writer I long admired, wanted to contribute to the magazine.
If you're an attentive central Ohio news consumer, you've probably noticed Steve's byline over the past 12 years. After working for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Allentown Morning Call and other Pennsylvania newspapers, Steve relocated to Columbus to teach journalism at Ohio State University in 2006. Soon, he started contributing to Columbus Monthly, our sister publication where I worked for about 12 years. He became a valued contributor, someone capable of crafting a charming personal essay one month and then a deeply reported feature the next. His talents didn't go unnoticed, and in 2008, the Columbus Dispatch hired him to work on the business desk.
In this issue, you'll find Steve's delightful feature about local entrepreneurs with military ties using the skills they picked up in the armed forces to achieve business success (“Succeeding on the Home Front,” P. 30). The story was Steve's idea. “I've always been drawn to entrepreneurs,” he says. “I just admire people who have the courage to come up with an idea and go all in and put everything into it to make their idea and their dream a real thing.”
For my money, however, Steve is just as courageous and inspiring as the three veterans he profiled. In November 2013, Steve was riding his bike in Upper Arlington on a beautiful Sunday morning when a driver under the influence of drugs struck him from behind. Three days later, Steve awoke in a hospital bed with a collapsed lung, about 17 broken bones, a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury. “If it was just a little bit more serious, I may have died,” he says.
Despite his injuries, Steve vowed to get back on his bike. “I think it was partly stubbornness and partly denial of how serious my injuries were,” he says. And in May 2014, he achieved that goal, joining two friends for a ride along the Olentangy Trail. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing—they got caught in a hailstorm—but Steve was undeterred. He remains a devoted cyclist today, though his riding has changed—he mostly sticks to bike paths and residential streets. Just as he did before the crash, he rides in Pelotonia every year.
Steve also didn't let his brain injury stop him from returning to writing. During his recovery, he wrote a novel, Numbskull, inspired by the incident. The self-published book features a semi-autobiographical protagonist who is seriously injured in a bike crash. “He literally does have a numb skull—numb from being fractured, which I do have,” Steve says. “Parts of my skull are a little numb.” (You can read excerpts of the novel at numbskullthenovel.blog.)
Three months after the crash, Steve returned to the Dispatch. He discovered he still had the cognitive abilities to report and write, but the stressful newsroom environment was no longer a good fit, as his brain injury left him more prone to anxiety and mental exhaustion. “I find myself having to say, ‘Slow down, take your time, you'll get it done,' ” says Steve, who's been a full-time freelance writer since June 2015, “whereas before I could just power through and just do things fast. Now, whenever I do that, I just get all anxious.”
The more contemplative approach hasn't harmed his writing, as he demonstrated with his story in this month's issue. But Steve isn't willing to make any bold declarations about his literary growth. “I hope my writing has matured and become more reflective,” he says. “But who knows? I have no idea. You just write and hope for the best.”