December 02, 2012
Lessons learned from some downtime

Six weeks ago I crashed my bike. I've crashed before, but this by far was my worse. Since the crash I've learned a few things.

I was in a cyclocross race. Cyclocross is kind of like a steeplecross race for people on bikes. You ride over grass, dirt, sand, bumps and all kind of obstacles, occasionally jumping off the bike and carrying across barriers or up a hill. I'd wanted to do this for a while and had even built a bike up from the frame to ride.

Riding in my second race of the day, I was trying to make up some time on people ahead of me going over the flyover. A flyover is a big wooden ramp. This is what the flyover looked like. Here's a video of much better riders coming down and making the turn.

I guess I came down too fast or made another mistake. When I hit the first bump after the flyover I lost control and crashed into the turn. They told me my tire popped on the bump and that was the cause, but I'll never know for sure exactly what happened.

Over the handlebars I went, landing on my head and right shoulder. I tumbled a bit and landed on my back. I had heard a crunch and I knew I had hurt myself. I wiggled my hands and moved my feet, but couldn't get up. A race official hopped over onto the course and crouched to shield me from other riders still going past. I just wanted to get up but he insisted I not move. He asked several questions to see if I was able to think straight. The ambulance crew came over, but they didn't do much but put my arm in a sling in help me up. Everyone asked me if I wanted a ride to a hospital or other help.

Lucky for me, my buddy Ken was at the race too. He gave me a ride home. On the ride home I had to call Michele and tell her I had crashed and would need to go to the hospital. I hurt all over and had sharp pain in my shoulder, wrist and back. I realized this was not a trivial injury and my stomach sank.

Michele took me to the hospital where they cut off my cycling jersey to look at me and took a ton of x-rays.

After waiting the longest 15 minutes, the doctor came in and said, "You really banged yourself up today." I had broken my right collarbone, left wrist, and cracked some bones in my lower back called the transverse processes. I'd have to see specialist to determine if surgery was needed. They strapped my right arm to my body and casted my entire left arm. I now couldn't do pretty much anything for myself.

I'd had shoulder surgery before, but had always had my other arm free to do things why the injured arm was healing. Now I had neither.

I got a wrist cast on my left arm that allowed a little more movement and I stopped strapping my arm to my chest after 4-5 days. Over the next six weeks, I didn't do much but stay home and heal. Doped up on the serious painkillers the first week, I stopped taking them the second and started to have more time to think. Currently, I'm through the worst of it and pretty functionally, but still limited on lifting things and hurt all the time.

What I learned:

I'm lucky - I landed on my head. My helmet cracked. I could have been injured in so many worse and permanent ways. Many are not so lucky and end up dealing with the consequences for the rest of their lives. I am truly, deeply grateful that I got off as easy as I did.

I'm not 25 anymore - When I was younger, accidents and injuries happened and usually were gone before a weekend was over. At 45, nothing heals fast. Even though I'm in good shape, eat healthy, and have great medical treatment, my recovery is measured in weeks and months and not days. Realizing exactly how long I'd be 'down' was a tough thing to come to grips with, considering the doctors still hadn't ruled out a surgery on my collarbone. For all the wonderful things that age brings like wisdom, patience, and the long view, losing the ability to bounce back quickly really is a hard one to accept.

Cycling is mental exercise as much as physical - I love riding my bike. It's my preferred solution to resolving every issue. Hit the road and everything fades back into the calm parts of my mind and I think about the color of the sky, the smell of summer as hot wind blows over a brown hillside, the hearing the sound my heartbeat roaring my ears, the feel of rain hitting my face, the taste of cold water on a hot day. Not being able to ride removed this way for me to deal with the everyday issues of the world. Cycling is as important to my mental health as to my physical health. I hadn't imagine how much I'd miss this aspect and long to get away and feel the air on my face to help me process my feelings.

But the most important thing I've learned and need to continue to learn is this:

Humility - When I worked at Disney, I walked past a dedication plaque in front of the Frank G. Wells building regularly. On it was written "Humility is the final achievement."

I pondered that quote literally for years. In the high stakes game of corporate politics, money, power and secrecy, humility was something that I rarely ran into. Humility seemed like a weakness.

Immediately after the injury I tried to figure out how to do things for myself and continue to keep my routine at home even though it was ridiculous. Michele and girls had to help feed me, wash me, remind me to take medicine, and even make me coffee. At first I felt bad about this, like I was a terrible burden constantly apologizing. Finally, Michele told me, "Stop apologizing. Accept this and let us help you. Your job is to sit still, rest, and get better."

I've always viewed myself as someone who did the helping, not needing the help. I prided myself on being self-sufficient, stoic, and able to handle most things without needing help. But that wasn't working here, I had to realize that asking and accepting the help of others, being grateful for their kindness, and seeing that I needed others was the only way forward. Once I accepted that it gave me a bit of peace. Accepting other's making decisions for me, listening and accepting the advice of others based on faith in them not proof, and remaining positive during a tough time all helped me get through the first few weeks.

I hope that I can continue to find humility in my life going forward, not just in dealing with my injury, but in dealing with life on a day to day basis. I don't think you ever 'achieve' humility, but like a bike ride, it's a path you can take to help your mind and body.

Posted by michael at December 02, 2012 05:10 PM


nicely said, I don't remember exactly how I found your site but when I saw you too had crashed I felt your pain. My crash happened in August '10. It was my first ambulance ride. I was told I was never unconscious but there is about 20 minutes that never got written to long term memory, another first. Cracked helmet, separated shoulder, and squooshed frame on a favorite bike. Aleve is awesome. I'm a better rider now and spending time at a little velodrome on the south side of Chicago. hang in, have fun

Posted by: JAM [] on December 10, 2012 4:03 PM
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