Leadership In Action

Pros on a Mission: Meet Laura Carney

June 01, 2021
Leadership In Action | 6 minute read

This is a story about courage—the type of courage that inspires others to conquer their fears.

Laura Carney has always been driven to set goals for herself in her career and life. It’s this self-described “goal-oriented” mindset that drives her to go above and beyond as a Senior Claims Specialist and in pursuing her personal passions: competing in marathons and triathlons.

Laura began running almost twenty-five years ago and was instantly hooked. “What I love about running is that you can’t challenge the clock. If it says you’re doing a 6-minute mile, there’s no arguing that.”

Since the first time she laced up her running shoes, Laura has completed over 20 marathons—from Chicago to Boston to New York to Berlin. About five years ago, her family challenged her to a triathlon after watching Laura’s brother compete in one. For Laura, a new passion was born—well, not so much born as developed after overcoming a few obstacles.

“I was afraid to swim, and I couldn’t imagine sitting on a bike that long. During my first triathlon, I was ten strokes in when swimmer’s panic took over. I started crying and looking for the lifeguard to get me out of there.”

But when Laura sets her mind to something, she commits fully. To combat the panic, she flipped onto her back, started swimming like a frog, and has been going ever since. “‘You can’t do it’ is not an option for me.”

This perseverance has since given way to four triathlons and a Half Ironman under her belt. The type of willpower it takes to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, then finish up with a 13.1-mile run is a testament to Laura’s strength.

“I will bike, I will swim, and I will run for no other reason than I can.”

 

This is a story about resilience—both physical and mental—to overcome profound trauma.

On June 12, 2019, a date forever etched in Laura’s mind, the unimaginable happened that would test her strength to the extreme. While on a cycling training ride, she was t-boned by a car going 20 mph. “On that day, my entire life just kind of ended.”

Laura was left with a broken jaw, broken eye socket, profound facial scarring, and most significantly, a broken neck. The accident fractured her C6 vertebrae in three places, blew out the discs at C5-6 and C6-7, and ripped all the ligaments off the back of her spine. This type of tri-column injury required an immediate spinal fusion, with Laura being unaware if she’d ever walk again.

For anyone, such a diagnosis would be soul-crushing—let alone for an athlete who lives to challenge body and mind. Laura was poised for the biggest fight of her life, but it was something her grueling endurance training positioned her well for.

First thing for Laura was to get through surgery and out of the hospital. In typical resolute fashion, she set goals for herself: using her stomach muscles to roll up in bed, slowly making it across the room with a walker, then graduating to walking down the corridor. Since the doctors wouldn’t release her unless she could walk on her own, this simple act of walking was an achievement she had to master. “My spinal surgeon said the only reason I could walk with the amount of damage done to my spine was due to my fitness level and the shape I was in.”

What followed after her release was eight weeks in a neck collar, months of occupational and physical therapy, alternative treatments like cupping, and counseling for post-traumatic stress.

In her position at ProSight, Laura has seen accidents from the claims side, but now she was experiencing the effects firsthand. “Think about it—I’m in the prime of my physical fitness, and suddenly I have a broken neck and I can’t do anything but lay on a couch.”

Laura needed something she could focus on besides her devastating injuries and the pain, distress, and sense of loss that came with them. So five weeks after the accident, she made it her goal to return to work. “I needed the routine. From nine to five, I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I had a job to do, and that’s who I was.”

And she’s been conquering every goal since then.

Three months after the accident, Laura got back in the pool as part of her recovery. Swimming was therapeutic for her neck, so her doctor encouraged her to take the plunge. This was the type of motivation Laura needed to keep going, even when she felt stuck in the trauma of the event.

Six months after the accident, Laura started running again—first on a treadmill, then cautiously on sidewalks and side streets with a running partner. Little by little, she built up her strength and resolve by tapping into her athlete’s sense of mental toughness. “I wasn’t running like I used to, but I was determined. Part of me was even more focused and more driven because it was my way of finding my normal.”

Nine months after the accident, Laura decided it was time to get back up on the bike. Understandably nervous to train outdoors, she adapted her damaged road bike for indoor use as a wind trainer. This step was crucial in enabling her to get back on the saddle in a safe environment.


This is a story about determination—and finding the path back so you can move forward.

Laura is not afraid to admit that the emotional toll of such a life-changing event has been immense. “I have such a heightened sense of danger now. I know exactly how much you could ultimately pay the piper if things don’t go right.”

This hypersensitivity is something she battles every day, so she continues to use her training to find her sense of self again. “Transitioning back into running and endurance training and the mental component, that’s where I see me. When I’m on the treadmill and I’m running seven miles and I feel good, it’s like, yeah, that’s who you are.”

Laura had set her sights on the 2020 Boston Marathon just ten months after breaking her neck as her return to racing. Unfortunately, COVID forced cancellation of the event. While a disappointing setback, this didn’t lessen Laura’s resolve. It only served in allowing her to set and train for a new goal: the New Jersey State Triathlon in July 2021. After that? The 2021 Boston Marathon beckons. “When you cross that finish line, whether it’s a 5K, 10K, half marathon, sprint triathlon, this is you. You’re back, you’re here. This is who you are.”


This is the story of Laura Carney—colleague, athlete, warrior. Thanks for sharing your story, Laura. Your strength inspires us all.

—Written by the ProSight Team