Cyclocross Magazine would like to welcome new columnist Paul Warloski, who like many of us, has a passion for cyclocross. Only for him, this passion nearly consumed his life, literally. Follow Paul as he takes us along for a ride of trials and tribulations of a cyclocrosser with a refreshed perspective.
’Cross Saved My Life but Racing Damn Near Killed Me
Cyclocross saved my life.
And at the same time, ’cross nearly destroyed what was left of my sanity.
I have been racing on the road for 20-some years, mostly in masters categories as a cat. 4 or 3. But when I discovered ’cross five years ago, I was hooked hard. I won several races as a 4, upgraded, did well in the masters 40 plus events, and started to work on getting serious about it.
In the fall of 2008, I was starting to overcome some asthma problems when I broke my collarbone in a freak crash in a ’cross race. I started training soon for the 2009 season, lifting weights, doing long base rides, and adding in some tempo.
And on a long March 2009 training ride from Milwaukee around Waterford, I was 100 yards from stopping at a local gas station for a break and to call my coach to tell him how ridiculously good I was feeling already in the season.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was the only vehicle on the road, dressed in a red and yellow kit.
Next thing I know, I was on the ground, fighting for my life. In a split second, a young man in a large pick-up truck broadsided me as he turned left into my path.
I was thrown 20 to 30 feet, my shattered femur came through the skin and a hand-sized chunk of thigh skin and muscle was partially scooped out. I also broke my shoulder, tore the labrum and rotator cuff.
For some reason, I saw the femur and literally tried to push it back into my skin. That didn’t work.
I spent eight days in the hospital and two months away from my 7th grade students, first getting in-home therapy, then going to physical therapy three times a week. I know now I was lucky to survive. If the crash hadn’t occurred in front of a convenience store with many people there to assist me and stop the bleeding, or if the truck had been moving slightly faster, or a myriad of other what-ifs, I would have died.
My friend Mike and I went later to pick up what was left of my bike. I nearly got sick when I saw it.
The doctors did not expect me to walk normally again. And they cautioned me that I would likely never race my bike again.
’Cross season was coming in six months, and they told me I wouldn’t race again?
I managed about six races that first year, mostly to spite the doctors and have a focus for getting through rehab, until the pain in my knee, where pins still held the titanium rod in place, grew too great as I was trying to get up the stairs at the USGP in Louisville.
In 2010, though, I started to feel like a cyclocross racer again; but on some days, I grew critical of myself and upset at the lack of results, especially when I told myself I should do well at a particular course.
And now the pressure was greater because I needed to be back where I was before the crash. I’ve never been good with people telling me what I can or can’t do. I worked so damn hard in PT that they told me slow down. I needed to get back on the bike. I needed to race.
That has been my life-long “problem” with bike racing: I measure success in results, and then I become frustrated and angry with myself when I don’t do as well as I expect. The problem was that I needed to race to prove something to myself, to show myself and those around me that I could be successful at this. And so I put incredible pressure on myself to be successful, and I was one crabby, morose dude when the race didn’t go as I “planned.”
This column will not be the story of some kind of miraculous recovery, or a greeting card reminder of how valuable life is, or even a testament to hard work.
Instead, I will be documenting a year of training: not just my body, but my mind and emotions. I will be training myself all year to work as hard as I can and race ’cross as well as I can. I will train myself to work hard to ride fast and enjoy whatever success comes my way. I will work to eliminate the expectations and the “shoulds” when I get on the bike.
And that’s it. I will work to have no expectations of myself other than to race well and hard and have fun. I will work to celebrate any result, when, in the past, I would have beat myself up for not finishing on the podium.
So to start 2011, I’ll write this on a card that will hang on my mirror and stay in my race bag: Cyclocross is the most fun I can have on two wheels.
And thanks for reading. Drop me a comment with your hugs or hate.
Paul Warloski races cyclocross for the My Wife Inc. cyclocross team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is 47 and a middle school English teacher. He was nearly killed in a 2009 crash when a large pick-up truck broadsided him on a training ride. In this column, he is documenting a year learning how to be positive and content regardless of results as well as physical training. He maintains an irregular blog at http://warloski.blogspot.com.