by Lee Waldman
Sometimes when we suffer a traumatic injury our brain does us a favor. It blocks the memory. No such luck this time. I can remember, in vivid detail, everything that happened from getting stuck behind slower riders on the first lap, to tangling with someone’s bike on the very first run up and then missing my remount at the top.
I should have just mentally regrouped there, knowing that I had plenty of time to get back up to the front half of the race. I should have run down the descent and mounted at the bottom where there was a bit more space. But no, I panicked. Never a good idea. I wanted back on the bike and back in to the race as quickly as possible. Instead of a smooth transition onto the saddle and into the pedals, my right leg landed squarely on the top of my back wheel. Not bad you may be thinking. All I needed to do was push the bike forward and try again. And, that’s exactly what I was attempting to do when my left leg hit a patch of slick grass.
The extreme stretch coupled with excruciating pain came simultaneously. I know that I screamed and that it wasn’t “family friendly.” Somewhere in the red haze of pain and disorientation I heard yelling at me to move off the course. The next category was coming around the corner approaching that same run up. I remember wishing that I could move but knowing that I couldn’t. What I don’t remember, is how I got off the course. The pain was dizzying. I have a vague recollection of desperately holding on to the bike for support and somehow getting off the course and under the tape. That’s when someone finally came up and offered to help. Did I need medical, they asked. I answered in the affirmative and waited for a really nice EMT to help me to the medical van.
I proved to him that I wasn’t concussed. We tucked an ice pack under my shorts to keep the swelling down. I collected my bikes and limped back to the car. The ride home was almost unbearable. Pushing the clutch was agonizing. I couldn’t find a comfortable place to put my quickly swelling hamstring and glute. And even though it’s taken me over a month to admit it, I knew that my season was over. All it took was one wrong move at precisely the wrong time and place and – BAM – torn hamstring. If you’ve never had one, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I was going through.
To my wife’s chagrin, the first thing I did – get the bike to the shop for repairs. She will never let me live that one down. She had to drive me I was in so much pain. Second thing, after much prompting from her, was to visit the emergency room where I shocked the trauma nurse with the extent of the swelling in my left leg. She wouldn’t let me walk into the exam room but forced me in to a wheelchair (Thank you nurse, I needed it). And then the words that I really didn’t want to hear. “You know how when a football player injures his hamstring he’s out for the season? Well, so are you.”
It’s been almost six weeks now. Whether right or not, I was back on the bike three days post-accident. I’ve been to physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture and the next step is an MRI to see if there’s any serious damage. Bottom line is that I won’t be racing Nationals this year. I’m almost over the disappointment. But what do you do when something that you’ve been working towards for an entire season, something that you focused your whole season around, is suddenly unattainable?
Age doesn’t matter at this point. Yes, I know that there will be other championships. The good news is that next year I’ll be at the younger end of a new age group. And yes, I did have a good season – up till that last fateful race. Holy Week in New England was amazing. I’ll hang on to that till next September. But, the chance to race in front of a home crowd on a course that I historically have dialed, is gone. On the day that I was injured the USAC race predictor had me finishing fourth in my category. Now I’ll be watching, if I can make myself, from the sidelines.
So, I’ve reset my calendar with next January in Austin, Texas as the end and this week as the beginning. Dwelling on disappointment won’t help. It’s not who I am. I gave myself time to grieve, to be angry, to blame others and to whine. It’s time to move on. It’s bike racing for goodness sake! Yes it’s important. We all define ourselves to some extent by our performance on the bike. But in reality it’s simply a small part of a larger whole.
My second cousin lost his wife of fourty-one years last week. She was just a few months younger than I am. She got sick in October, went to the hospital soon after that and never came out. At her memorial service I learned much about the person she was. I’d never taken the time to really get to know her and now it’s too late.
Missing part of a season of cyclocross simply pales in comparison. I’ll heal. I’m already training. I’ll have some good races – and some bad ones. What I don’t want to do is allow myself to be defined by them and only them.
I also don’t want to end this column in such a maudlin manner. At some point in all of our careers there will be a roadblock. For some it will be a pothole. For others a sinkhole. My advice – don’t look down into it; look at the other side and figure out what steps you need to take to get there. Oh yeah, and smile while you’re doing so.
Now, do what I’m doing. Go ride your bikes.