Sustaining an injury in any sport is frustrating, more so frustrating when said injury keeps you away from sports for any amount of time. You can get really depressed, angry, annoyed, sad .. but how you handle your recovery will affect your comeback.
Personally, I have been recovering from injuries for the last 4 years. The first major one was 2012; I got t-boned by an SUV, decided I could fly while unconscious and hit my brow bone on a parked ambulance then took a dirt nap in the middle of a busy Brooklyn street.
I was DOA at the scene and woke up to policemen taking photos of me with no paramedics attempting to help.
The result of the event left me with a concussion, torn MCL, torn lateral meniscus, shattered tibial plateau and forehead stitches. My doctor at the time told me I would never ride bikes again but I am the kind of person that likes a challenge and doesn’t take “you can’t do that” very seriously. From there I had a surgery to get my ligaments repaired and my bones put together with screws and cadaver parts. I could ride my bike better than I could walk at that time. Friends helped me cover my leg brace and crutches with cool stickers so they felt less orthopedic. I can’t say I ever felt terrified to get back on my bike but I definitely felt more cautious.
Later in 2012, my Doctor told me the MCL repair didn’t take so I had to get another surgery to have that replaced. Also my bones had healed incorrectly so the Doctors decided the best case scenario was to graft my hip bone, cut my femur in half then put the hip piece in there to align my leg. After hearing that, I was devastated. So devastated that I walked 70 blocks to a pub to meet friends. I could’ve easily gotten on the subway but I wanted to get my walking in before I was back to crutches. I have a pretty high pain tolerance but waking up from that surgery was miserable. I got really depressed for a few months despite constantly telling myself “it can always be worse”. Part of that came from the medications they prescribed me and the other part was having to be reliant on other people. Friends helped carry me, wash the blood from my hair, held fundraisers so I could pay rent and go to the doctor, made me food, hailed cabs, did laundry, and so much more. In hindsight, it’s better to have people to rely on than go at it alone, no matter how independent and strong minded you are. It took a lot for me to ask for help. But I was determined to ride my bike again and one day be able to race.
In 2013 I literally had a screw loose – which is a really funny thing to say to someone when it is an actual thing in your life. I got that removed and later in 2013 I got all 19 screws and 2 plates removed from my leg. Of course my Doctor told me not to ride bikes and maybe I should reconsider my hobbies. I did it anyway and I don’t regret it. I took it easy at first, my muscles were so atrophied and I really needed to work on getting my strength back. I continued to remind myself that it can always be worse and tried to put in perspective where I was and where I had been. Strength does not happen overnight.
The following year I was working as a mechanic at a bike shop in Manhattan. Most of my co-workers were bike racers, as well as my now fiancee, and I started to really enjoy spectating. It wasn’t long before I wanted to do more than spectate so I did my first cyclocross race – with no training – and my only goal was to finish. Once I finished, it was a huge deal to me. To go from not being allowed to do anything while living in crutches and then jump in head first to bike racing, was a big moment for me emotionally.
Showing up to a race by yourself is really intimidating, especially when you don’t know a single person in the field with you. I wanted to join a women’s team so that I could ride with women with similar goals that would be supportive and encouraging. But, I couldn’t find a team that was all women so I decided to make my own. I think part of the drive for the team came from me wanting to be around strong, skilled, teammates. I wanted to help women reach their goals but also try to make the women’s racing scene a little more inclusive. I wanted to take my strength from dealing with injury and focus that on something positive – that also helps people.
I went on to do 18 races the 2015 cyclocross season and was starting to feel confident and see improvement in myself both physically and mentally. At the end of the 2015 season, I got a coach and really wanted to take training seriously. I started with realistic goals:
1. Finish in top 50% of the field.
2. Finish top 10.
3. Finish top 5.
4. Finish top 3.
I was feeling stronger than ever and I was ready to start on my goals. But life had other ideas. At the end of August 2016, I got hit again (in a protected bike path) and was knocked unconscious (was wearing a helmet). I didn’t break anything this time but I soon learned it wasn’t as good as it seemed. I felt off for a few days, unable to keep my eyes open, so I went to another ER and had them check me out. They came back to tell me I had a moderate traumatic brain injury with multiple hemorrhages, one being as big as 5mm. I also learned I had torn my retina in my right eye. The neurosurgeon told me not to do anything for a few weeks. He really meant “anything”. No computer, no phone, no books, no tv, no bike riding, no working out… I was so upset.
Everything I had worked toward was now on hold and my fitness was dwindling the longer I was off my bike. I didn’t ride for a month then went out a few times just to test the waters. I ended up doing a 2-day cyclocross race and a 1-day race in October. It was great to get back into racing but the experience left me realizing that I needed some more time to heal. After it became apparent that the recovery process was going to take longer than I had anticipated, I took off the 2016 season. It’s better to focus on recovering than jumping into something and possibly making the injury worse. It’s been kind of a blessing in disguise because the team this year is stronger than ever and I love watching my teammates succeed. Watching them get their points, upgrade, win, and have fun is so exciting. I’m looking forward to working towards my 2017 goals and racing with my team. This has all been an emotional roller coaster and I’ve had to learn to trust my body and the process.
If there was a moral to this story I think it would be that only you know what you’re capable of, you know your limitations and you know yourself. If you find yourself injured, take it easy and be patient. Always try to remember that it can always be worse and you’ll bounce back eventually. It will take a lot of hard work and determination but with the right attitude, I think most things are possible. It’s important to understand that you need to focus on your recovery and sometimes that means reevaluating your goals. The silver lining to injury can sometimes be that it allows time for interpersonal reflection. It also gives you more drive to go after your goals once you’re back to doing what you love.
I want to achieve more now than I have ever wanted to before. And I will.
I am a Wahooligan.
Make 2017 the Year of the Wahooligan.