Almost six years ago, Dundalk resident Dave Roberts lay crumpled on a highway after being thrown nearly 50-feet from his motorcycle following a collision with a car on Bel Air Road.
After t-boning the other vehicle, Roberts suffered a fracture to his skull near the intersection of his spinal cord entry that caused bleeding from the brain for 12 hours and robbed him of his short-term memory. He also had a broken back, pelvis, arm in two places and two toes on his left foot.
Wheelchair-bound, Roberts, then 45, was completely disabled for three months and lost his job of 15 years.
"I have no actual memory from the accident other than what I've been told by witnesses and my wife, Marge, and so on. So it's sometimes embarrassing for me to try explaining it because of the brain damage and because my short term memory fades away," said Roberts.
"But I realize that I'm so fortunate," said Roberts. "Because most people who crack that portion of your skull, it can take your life because you've pinched your spinal cord and it can cause full paralysis or partial paralysis."
Nearly five years to the day later in November of 2010, Roberts literally stood tall.
That's when a physically-fit, chiseled, 136-pound Roberts – with just four percent body fat – was named the winner of the Mens’ Masters Division in the 50-and-over age group for natural bodybuilders at an event in York, PA.
But a bigger title was on the horizon.
Last month, Roberts, now 52, a father of three and a grandfather of nine, was named the Gold's Gym International Most Inspirational Member, being chosen from among 800 nominees and four finalists from around the world.
At the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel in Las Vegas, Roberts was showered with praise by about 600 owners, managers and vendors of the Gold’s Gym franchises as he received an eight-pound trophy depicting a man holding a barbell.
"I know that you're probably not going to talk to too many people you would see who are as blessed as I am," said Roberts, who was accompanied on the all-expenses paid five-day trip to Las Vegas by his wife of 33 years, Marge Roberts. "I have a wonderful wife, all three of my kids have gone to college and are very successful in their lives."
But that hardly details the struggle Roberts has faced since his accident, starting with a three-month recovery period during which he went from being bedridden to wheelchair-bound to walking on his own, and including the loss of his job as a building manager.
"I am so blessed to have a great wife," said Roberts, whose mental and physical recovery took him from Maryland Shock Trauma to Kernan Hospital over the course of four months. "She took the Family Leave Act and was able to take off of work for a month of December and she learned how to give me shots and brought me home."
Roberts wore a support brace – "from my shoulders to my head to make me not turn my head for three months” – and said that he required surgery that left two pieces of metal and 12 bolts in his left arm.
"I was pretty close to bedridden," said Roberts. "But Marge worked to get me from the bed into the wheelchair, and from a wheelchair to crutches, and then from crutches to independence."
However, Roberts still was struggling with low self-esteem and self-worth, much of it the result of losing his supervisor's position at a Towson-area condominium.
"I had not recovered enough to resume work, so my job decided to terminate me after the accident. I was paid up until 12 days before I got released from the hospital, but I had never been fired in my whole life," said Roberts.
"That was like (the) hardest part, losing my job. That was my self-worth, so I was definitely on the depressed side," said Roberts. "I mean, I had worked two or three jobs for the majority of my life to pay for my kids' college and weddings and so on. So I've lost my job, part of my memory and some friends and family."
The following spring, Dave and Marge Roberts joined the local Gold’s Gym on Merritt Boulevard, where they met Chris Toland and hired him to be their personal trainer and nutritionist.
"We changed our lives in reference to how we eat. I got to be very lean – about seven percent body fat – not long after that. People at the gym started telling me, 'You ought to compete,'" said Roberts.
"I honestly had no knowledge of what that meant at first because I had never seen anybody compete. I reached a point where I asked Chris Toland, who had been a body builder for years and who had come to know me with my brain damage and physical disabilities," said Roberts. "And he said, 'Yes, you should do it,' and then, he agreed to take me through it."
In the years that Roberts channeled his focus into weightlifting -- a decision that helped him both physically and psychologically -- he began attracting the notice of others.
When Roberts won the masters event, the manager at Gold’s Gym recommended him for the inspirational honor.
"Every franchise was asked to submit a story about an inspirational member, and the manager, she submitted Robert's story to the Gold's Gym corporate," said Marge Roberts, an elementary school principal.
"We were notified a month later that he was among the four finalists that had been voted on," said Marge. "They paid for our airfare, admission into the convention and all of the food. It was a wonderful trip."
Although Roberts still fights depression, he counters it by training at Gold’s Gym, working on an extension to their home or spending time with his children, Jennifer, 32, Jessica, 30, and David, 26, as well as his nine grandchildren, ranging in age from 9-years-old to a few months.
"I get up in the morning, and when Marge leaves for work, I go over to the gym and I work out for about an hour to two-and-a-half because it's important for me to stay physically fit," said Roberts.
"Then I come home and I work on the extension. It's a family room on the back of the house with a hot tub and it's separated by sliding glass doors," said Roberts. "I have nine grandchildren, so I've turned into a rotating babysitter when they need somebody to watch the kids during the day."
Last week, the Roberts spent a few days in Ocean City with Jennifer and her two children, Megan, 7, and Christopher, 1.
"I think that it's those moments with the kids and the grandchildren that help him to realize how blessed he really is," said Marge Roberts. "I think that when he gets really upset at what he has lost, it's sometimes hard for him to see how far he's come."