When I started writing this blog a couple weeks ago,
One year ago I took a tumble off my mountain bike and landed myself a fancy ride (Canmore Ambulances come right to the nordic centre! It's quite incredible) followed by a series of incredible photographs (nine different x-rays) and THEN a summer (that wasn't really a fun summer). Today: June 23, 2013, marks exactly one year to the day of The Biggest Accident of My Life (knock on wood).
I'd been an active child and teenager, and was no stranger to the Emergency Room. For whatever reason, I was the breakable kid of us three, managing to have handful of casts on my upper body before finishing high school. Beyond that, I had numerous stitches, a shoulder injury, concussion (from the great mountain climbing accident), road rashes, two endoscopies, lesions and enough foreign bugs, food-poisoning, acute sicknesses to make any persons stomach turn to knots. So when my parents got the call to come get me from the Canmore Hospital, no one was less surprised than them.
When I'd first awoke after the crash, the foggy thought that crossed my mind is that I might be paralyzed. I also recall thinking this after the great climbing accident of 2001; as I lay in the stream staring at the sky while someone held my neck. This time someone else was holding my neck, but I was on my left side. More frightening- but perhaps a blessing of an injured body- was that I couldn't really think. I'd entered a state of sustained foggy trance, where the world slowly moved around me but I could make little sense of anything. Later, I am told that during an attempted jump I'd lost control of my mountain bike and took a short sail over the right side of my bike (which would eventually explain the broken right elbow, split open helmet over the right temple and major concussion) but while coming unclipped I'd also managed to land right and flop over to an eventual rest on my left (this would later explain the two broken ribs on the left and the fairly nausating lesion on my left hip that took months to heal). Richelle later told me that in the first moments after I regained concsiouness I asked for Jon (who was away racing at the time). I never knew at that time that this would be one of the greatest challenges we would face together as a couple, as the healing would be difficult, and my dependency on him would be extreme.
A day or so later I remember laying next to my brother while he composed a blog about the accident. I'd been at my parents place, sleeping mostly (ever slept with broken bones on both sides of your body?) and being unable to tolerate light or noise, or move my body further than from the couch to my bed and back. I moved slow, in a jerky and uneven manner, like I was an old woman made of glass. I was high on Percocet for the first two weeks; coming down slowly off the drug would send waves of shooting pain through my body. I would come off of Percocet and graduate to T3, then Extra- Strength Tylenol to eventually to no drugs. Those weeks, and most of the summer, is now a foggy memory.
For all of the minutiae of the event itself, the real story lies in the following months from the fall. The true joy, and learning of this experience is two-fold; the People I was blessed with, and the re-building of body, mind and spirit.
I made daily trips to my Doctor, which eventually moved to weekly, and then to monthly. Dr. Thorne had been made avaliable to me by the incredible fortune of both: a strike in the NHL (he is the Doctor to the Flames) and his assignment to me due to my usual Doctors' maternity leave. I can't imagine a better person to look after someone full of broken bones and a massive concussion than him. Having dealt with athletes who bonk their heads all the time, he became one of the many gifts of this experience. His patience, support and guidance through rehab was a blessing.
Further to that I'd been gifted a forward-thinking and progressive Chiropractor, Dr. Kara, who saw me daily, then weekly, and eventually monthly. He urged me to try therapies I'd not previously considered, and managed to strike a healthy balance between pain-management and urging me to push the envelope. Funnily enough both Dr. Thorne and Dr. Kara were within walking distance, a tremendous blessing when driving was not an option.
Then there was Dave Holmes, Christine Webb, and Kristine who provided physio, massage and psychological therapy to get me back on the bike. For months I experienced a dizzying panic every time I swung my leg over the saddle, eventually blowing into a full panic attack. I had major anxiety following the accident, and I became an unintended expert in catastrophizing. Just seeing cyclists on the road required me to duck my head down and shut my eyes. Without Kristine I doubt I would have ever rode my Mountain Bike again.
Then there was the support of my family (particularly my mother whose early tasks of caring for me where fairly similar to that of having a newborn), The Birds, my friends, my networks, and other athletes. Especially touching was the kindness that outpoured to me from Victoria, with Mike wrangling support from many of my old teammates. I was deeply touched by the words of love and support, and other battle stories of overcoming, as I would lay on the couch and read the emails over and over again.
Surrounded by the support of all these people, and the drawing of the positive energy from hope and encouragement, I set off to rebuild. When I say set off to rebuild, I mean begin the process of getting my body back to its original state. I began by trying to run one minute and walk one minute. In my first minute of running I looked at my watch probably five times. My elbow hurt. My ribs hurt. My breathing was laboured. I was uncomfortable, worse, in pain. I began to walk. I sat down at the end of my street and cried. One year earlier I'd completed a Half Ironman, now I couldn't even run for one minute. This carried on in a similar manner for a week, until one day I ran to the playground near my house (please note it's distance of 0.8 km away from my front door) and sat on a swing.
It was a bluebird July day, post- Stampede (missed all of that) and I had just run a miserable less-than-a-km. I drug my feet in the gravel under the swing and felt really, really sorry for myself. Leaning back, hands on the dirty chains of the swing, I realized I had a choice. I could continue to try, and push, and work my way back up to fitness. Or I could lazily watch the summer and fall pass by, not attempting to gain strength, endurance or fitness. I could be weak, it was allowed. But would I stay weak? I knew I couldn't. So on that particular day I made a deal with myself. One year from now I will be even stronger than I was before the accident. I will be back doing all my sports. I will be back on my mountain bike. I mentally shook hands with myself, and walked my sorry ass back to the house.
I did my very short walk/ runs. I stayed away from the bike. When Dave said so, I began putting weight on my arm. Even the simpliest tasks were difficult, I didn't have the ability to remove a baking tray from the oven, to give an idea. Holding my own body weight (think plank) was an impossibility. I couldn't raise my arm above my head, let alone hold any weight in it. I had a very, very long way to go.
Like all recovering, it was the small hurdles jumped that brought me the most joy. I recall the first day I held a plank for ten seconds- I was as excited as if I finished a race. I worked up some some squats and lunges. As my ribs healed, I was able to work on breathing deep, something that enabled me to start swimming. At the start of swimming it was much like when I started swimming: slow and painstaking. 50m, rest. 100m, rest. The water provided a less jiggly alternative to running, and this became my go-to activity.
Four months from the accident I started taking Lisa's bootcamp. I was slow and weak. I still had problems holding up my body weight. A month later, I started seeing Llew Edwards in his pain cave. Anyone who has seen Llew the Run Specialist knows he's no joke. Between Monday nights and weekly runs with Lisa, visiting Llew and dragging along in the pool, I was improving.
By December I had started to ride my bike again (although my headaches followed me for months and months worsened after a few hours on the saddle). I could do push ups and a few jumping pull ups. I could run for a sustained rate. I was coming along, and I knew it. It wasn't enough. I had to be back AT the level of when I crashed. Most importantly, I had to get back on the bike.
I had my biggest breakthrough while riding the Golden Triangle over May long with Jon's family. It was a long weekend I got to share with my sister, and riding 330km over three days, three mountain passes and countless elevation gain was a real spirit lifter. I was overjoyed on Monday when we ended back at Castle Mountain Junction. The healing was coming around, for real. I followed up GT with a 10km road race (where I posted my second best time- ever) and a relay triathlon in Wasa. Perhaps the most accomplishment I have felt is completed the U of C's women's mountain bike class, a Wednesday night extravaganza that helped me develop skills and learn to ride my mountain bike all over again. Each Wednesday night completed I would feel an elation so extreme I was brought to tears. Turns out I quite like Mountain Biking. There is lots of room to improve, but I find myself looking forward to swinging my leg over the saddle, a sensation I often wondered this past year if it was gone forever.
Today when I woke up I decided I'd made good on my promise to myself. I have so much to celebrate and be grateful for, especially in light of the recent Calgary situation. I overcame. I did it with so much help... and I reflect on it with great joy.
Finally, I'd be remiss to not say that Jon was one of the biggest reasons I recovered from this. He discovered a newfound depth to his patience as I moved from stage to stage in my recovery, often emotional, frequently tired, and constantly overwhelmed and frustrated at the simplest tasks. He washed my hair, learned how to make a ponytail, urged me to try to put in my contacts, stretched out my shrinking muscles, changed my icepacks in the middle of the night, held me when I cried, encouraged me when I began working out again, chose his words wisely and carefully when I was delicate and volatile. Something like this could have broken us - I can see how it could- but his ability to manage me during the most important time of his year, Race Season, will be a lasting enduring quality. I knew before the bang up I loved him and wanted to marry him, but this was true validation, my Ace in the hole. He'd been there through the wringer, right alongside me.
Our greatest glory is never in failing, it's rising each time we fall. -Confucius