There is certainly no convenient time to break a leg. I could have said that April was the worst possible time, at the very start of an exciting race season. Instead of traveling on to California for a block of Pro XCT races from Pan American Championships, I flew home, landing in Kalispell simultaneously with my mother and sister in-law who had planned to come to help out with Layla during my travels. Turned out they were here for another reason… My husband, Nelson, picked us up and home we all went.
Three days later, I went under the knife to have my fibula plated.
The emotions raged fiercely. As much support as I had, it was really up to me to work through the emotions as best as I was able. The loss experienced during injury pushed me into a season of grief. I felt the anger of having been betrayed by my body that I worked so hard to keep strong and healthy. I grieved the loneliness that I felt nobody quite understood as everyone else’s lives and race seasons continue on as normal. I felt abandoned and forgotten. I struggled understanding “why”, after trusting God with the process. I was forced to revise and postpone goals that my heart was set on pursuing. It made me ask all the hard questions… Should I have raced Pan Ams? Did I rehab my shoulder enough? Did I prepare my best? Am I equipped? Do I belong? Why am I racing my bike? …since it has brought me this kind of suffering.
In addition, my marriage had been under attack for some time, and Nelson and I were deep in a separate war fighting for each other, and dedicated to the battle. I felt as though the raging war against me just might break me and take the victory.
I had nowhere to escape to, without the option of sorting out my frustrations while hashing out a set of hard intervals, or long hikes in the mountains; or even going for a drive since I couldn’t drive. I spent many days sitting in my recliner with really no choice but to face the mountains in front of me. I cried for weeks. The tears allowed the many layers of denial to begin to peal away from my heart and over the next several weeks I became the most raw and broken I have ever been. My family and friends came and went. Layla stayed by my side, and it was all I could do to make life as normal for her as possible.
Attending Sea Otter with Nelson within a week of surgery was good but very hard. Physically, I could not have functioned without Nelson’s help and he became a rock for me during this time, which was monumental for us. Watching the races under my current condition felt like I was torturing myself, while doing my best to put a smile on my face, and support and celebrate my teammates.
“6 weeks,” my doctor said for the bone to heal, and I set my eyes on returning back to race Cross Country Nationals in July. I didn’t quite realize at the time, that meant at 6 weeks I could start the process to begin walking again; but the stiffness, swelling, clicking, and discomfort would linger months longer.
At 4 weeks, I was given the green light to begin partial weight bearing and start riding my stationary bike. Simultaneously, my incision became infected, and was such a distraction, I felt like the tiny spark I had felt was blown out by the wind of the pain and worry of the infection. After nearly a full round of antibiotics without improvement, my surgeon scheduled a second surgery to remove the hardware, since the bacteria can survive the antibiotics if in contact with the hardware. In his words, I was told that only “miraculous” improvement would allow any exceptions. Then, I was given a “YES”…. A miracle happened. The infection began to clear and my doctor cancelled my surgery and prescribed a second round of antibiotics in its place. Just in time by chance?… Maybe, but I clung to that “yes” as I felt God’s whisper in my ear that He hadn’t forgotten me and that I needed to continue to trust Him.
The layers of denial were gone; and through finding the willingness to surrender, I was able to finally accepted my circumstances. It was here where healing began. The infection cleared, my quality of life began improving. I began riding my bike first on the road then on the dirt. Layla and I started spending long afternoons at the beaches of our beautiful Montana, mountain lakes; as our bodies absorbed the healing rays of the sun after a long winter and spring.
My hunger and fire was hiding away, smoldering unfound somewhere inside of me. Although my spirit was at peace, I began to identify that racing in July wasn’t a good idea mentally or physically; and I began to consider having my shoulder repaired before my insurance year ended. After listing the Pros and Cons, I had no reason to wait. Pursuing shoulder surgery now would give my body the opportunity to fully heal. I would be healthy for winter in Montana to ski, and it would give myself the time it takes to build my fitness back. I would return to racing fully sound, racing the races that I was passionate to race. I could take care of my mental health without the pressure of racing; all while not under the financial burden of meeting another out of pocket deductible. Making the decision to have my shoulder repaired was incredibly empowering and I felt a sense of control over my situation.
The torn labrum in my shoulder was repaired on June 28, just two days shy of the conclusion of my insurance year. This was the best decision I could have made for myself. Although the surgery requires a 6 month recovery, it has been a cakewalk in comparison to my leg injuries. I began hiking less than a week following the surgery, and riding the trainer within two weeks. At 7 weeks, I began to ride outdoors on the road, and I am currently into my second week of mellow mountain biking at 2.5 months out; but in base training mode, none the less, with high volume rides. My strength training and rehab is ramping up. But, most importantly I am healthy and my family is healthy. The rawness of my heart has allowed the space for my marriage to be on its way to a beautiful place. I am grounded in my identity, my identity beyond being a bike racer.
Slowly, I have felt a joy returning to my spirit, and I feel excited about embarking on a new journey. One that I expect will continue to take blood, sweat, and tears. I am in an expectant season, as I work and yearn for what is to come. I am able to look back and see the beauty amongst the ashes. When life gets hard, it’s ok to hurt, in fact it’s good to hurt. I would rather feel pain than feel nothing. In fact, we should lean into seasons of pain, because it is in the struggle where character is built and growth takes place.
I have learned a great deal, but there are a few principles that stand out… knowing when to fight and when to surrender, remembering that my best is good enough, trusting the process, embracing the work (which goes far beyond ‘training’ alone), always staying humble and kind, AND last but not least that the battle belongs to the Lord!
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” – Isaiah 43:2