death change life
The risks involved with skydiving and storm chasing give Robert Atchley the adrenaline rush he seeks.
However, it was a simple action that brought him close to death — twice — in 2009.
“It was very strange,” he said. “I was just changing a light bulb when I had a numb sensation in my armpit. I went to do a chest X-ray and an echogram.”
Atchley recalled his doctor telling him that if he didn’t replace his mitral valve with a mechanical one, he’d be on the heart transplant list within five years. He underwent heart surgery March 12, 2009.
“It was a 19-hour surgery. They called code blue twice. I died each time,” he said, adding that people ask him if he ever saw the “light” associated with near-death experiences.
“I had a peace about me,” he said. “I can remember being somewhere, but I don’t remember exactly where it was.”
Atchley said he was put on life support for 30 days. Toward the end of that time, the city’s emergency management director, Jimmy Moore, visited him and brought him a new city emergency management officer’s badge.
“The day I woke up was the day he laid it on my chest,” Atchley said. “It meant the world to me. For him to give me that means there was a trust and a bond there that could never be destroyed.”
Atchley said the operation has changed him. He said he gets exhausted after eight hours of work.
“But I feel I got closer to the Lord ever since,” he said.
Racing as a
Atchley has been going to car races since before he was born.
“My mom went into labor in 1967 in the Thunderbird Speedway grandstand at the fairgrounds,” he said. “My daddy was a race car driver, and Mom was actually the 1965 trophy queen. The women were so proper then. They always wore beautiful dresses when they presented winning drivers with their trophies. That was always a tradition at the race course. And now my daughter is doing it. And she still wears a beautiful dress.”
He recalled watching his father race.
“It was very inspirational, exciting,” he said. “For me, that’s what drove me toward motocross and drag racing. Living that fine line, edge of death, you would say.”
Yet Atchley doesn’t race cars.
“I’m just a watcher,” he said. “I used to race motocross, and drag racing is my thing. But I love the spectator sport.”
Atchley remains active in the races. Every Friday, he gives the invocation at the race track.
“I’ve been doing it for two years,” he said. “Stanley Slader — he’s the promoter at the race track — has known my mother since the early 1960s. He asked me one night, ‘Would you mind giving the invocation?’”
He said he fills a need at the track.
“I know everyone needs prayers,” he said. “You have fans coming out. You have race car drivers. You never know when something’s going to happen. You need the prayers for the fans and the race car drivers to keep them safe.”