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American Today



The Ride of His Life

By Mike Unger

Photo: Tomas Trnka

Tomas Trnka '11

Forget the yellow jersey—you can leave that in France. Tomas Trnka ’11 is thrilled to be wearing one that’s red, white, and blue. 

The business administration major donned the colors and logo of the Kogod School of Business during the 100-mile Tour de Cure June 20 in Reston, Va. The grueling ride, which benefits the American Diabetes Association, was 40 miles longer than Trnka previously has peddled, but he finished in 6 hours and 22 minutes.

Where others see a daunting challenge, Trnka sees only opportunity.

“I want to do something that will have a positive impact on people who cannot do it,” the 31-year-old Czech Republic native said. “Thank God I have the physical ability and I’m that crazy to do these things. I don’t do it for myself, I do it for people that can’t.”

Trnka has raised more than $200 for the Diabetes Association, and recruited Kogod to sponsor him. The school picked up the tab for his jersey.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to support a student who was clearly very passionate about not only racing but the particular story behind the race,” said Lara Kline, Kogod’s assistant dean of marketing and strategy. “Kogod as a community has a lot of people who race, whether they’re runners or bikers or triathletes, so we thought this was a great way to bring the Kogod culture to life.”

Not a day goes by that Trnka doesn’t realize the preciousness—and fragility—of life. He first came to the United States in 2003, and instantly fell in love with the country.

“It’s the land of opportunity,” he said. “People say that, but I actually saw it. You can do what you want here. You have those tools around you. You can work hard and get what you want to get.”

Trnka started a sports nutrition company in 2007, but it was prior to that, while he was working as a lifeguard at a Washington pool, that true love struck. He met his wife, Lenka Honcova ’03, also a Czech native, while on the job.

On Feb. 10, 2008, the couple was walking in the woods near their Glover Park home with their two dogs, when in a nanosecond, the fairy tale almost ended.

“My life changed because my wife almost died,” Trnka recalled. “She was 50 feet away from me and I heard this rumble. I looked up at the highest trees and a wave of branches were falling right at her. I yelled at her, ‘Run, run!’ She did two steps and it smashed her over her head. I thought she was dead. It was the most chilling experience. I was hoping somebody will yell ‘Cut!’ I started screaming for help, and somebody heard it.

“She had a broken spine, internal bleeding—it’s a miracle she survived. I will relive this the rest of my life.”

Honcova was taken to three hospitals, eventually having surgery in Baltimore. Thirty months later, she has made such a remarkable recovery that despite some permanent nerve damage in her leg, she has begun jogging again.

“She’s Lenka 2.0. She has so much heart,” Trnka said. “We lost everything because of that. We sold the company because I needed to be there 24/7 for my wife. We had to start over again.”

For Trnka, that meant working toward an undergraduate degree at American University. He also rededicated himself to physical fitness. In addition to the Tour de Cure, he will participate in the Nation’s Triathlon on Sept. 12, again wearing the Kogod colors.

“You realize you only live once,” he said. “There are days where you want to give up. You can’t. You cannot think what’s going to happen in three months. You have to learn from yesterday and live for today.

“You need to focus on the big prize. Maybe next year Kogod, with my help, will have a team. Maybe 10 years from now they will say there was this crazy guy who started all this. Every year there will be something to conquer. If I die tomorrow, I know I lived the best I could the previous day.”