... And I'm not talking the pronoun here. Injury, inversion and inadequate funding seem to be the themes of my offseason. With the continuing back injury sustained at the Mammoth Kamikaze Games popping up and holding me down on random days, I've come to value my physical health in a way I never have before. The slightest tweak or pull in the wrong direction and my spine screams before relentlessly locking up for at least 24 hours, refusing to give way.
After my fall during the downhill race, I knew something wasn't right (especially after my legs had trouble maneuvering the stairs to the awards stage), but I figured I just knocked something out of place. When my toes and knees began randomly going numb during the 12-hour drive back to Utah, I prayed it was simply muscle swelling and pinched nerves. I got home, I ran into The Joint, and had them straighten me out. For a few days, I was okay. I even got back into the gym, not wanting to lose any of the fitness momentum I had built up in the weeks prior to the Kamikaze Games, and preparing for my very first UCI World Cup in Hafjell, Norway. The morning of my flight, however, I had no feeling in my feet and tingles and pins and needles down my legs. Afraid of wasting my savings, I sadly (and tearfully -- I'll admit it) contacted the UCI and withdrew my entrance, and immediately went to see my orthopedic surgeon at the U, who confirmed my worst fears: three compressed discs in my lower back and bundles of pinched nerves, courtesy of my high-speed scorpion at the bottom of the rock garden.
Devastated and sore, I turned to rest, immediate rehab and the gym, mulling over my options and the 'what ifs' while looking for a way out.
Option one: surgery. A discectomy to straighten me out that could take weeks or even months to heal from or, option two: painful rehab. I chose option two, thanks to my fear of being sliced open and current level of lingering scar tissue from a lifetime of trauma. And so the rehab began: regular visits to my lovely chiropractic team at The Joint, grueling TENS and EMS sessions, stretching, abdominal exercises, and rest. Lots and lots and lots of rest. I got out on my new bike, but not as much as I wanted, nor in my normal, hell-on-wheels fashion and instead, became back-of-the-pack and 'maybe next week'. There would be weeks without a gym session or a ride as my pain levels fluctuated. And deeper and deeper I sunk into the ever-loving shithole that is an injured athlete's psyche.
My bed seemed more comforting than the outside world, and my pillow more of a friend than my riding buddies or workout partners. More than once I was given permission to get back into the gym, only to overreach too soon and end up hurting myself again. So I ate. And cried. And watched Hulu. And cried some more. And somewhere in that pitiful, pathetic, self-absorbed darkness, I got lost. I forgot who I am, what I'm doing and why I love my life. I forgot to be grateful for what I do have. I lost sight of what's really important. And as much as I would love to say 'yeah, and then...' and give you a miraculous story of how my back healed and my attitude turned around and some more magical fairy dust unicorn shit, I can't. Because that hasn't happened. Yet.
There are still days I'm in incredible pain. There are still nights where work and stress and soreness combine into a chocolate-fueled pity session as I comb social media looking for people who are living radder lives than I, but those nights are fewer and farther between. There are days I yank a bit too hard moving one direction or the next and I'll be angry I can't move or workout. But I'm healing -- slowly, surely and quietly, I'm healing. My mind, my body and my soul are coming back into 'fight' mode. I have accepted the fact that what I'm doing, what I'm chasing, could potentially paralyze me or end my life, and I have moved on. I will mitigate risk and take precautions, but I will also accept consequences for my own actions and choices. The most important thing this invisible, debilitating, excruciating injury has taught me is compassion. Never before have I felt so much kindness towards others.. If only because of the silent battles they fight. Everyone has their own demons, and they're all cripplingly real... Physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. Communication and kindness has never hurt anyone.
Action rarely hurts, either. Taking action, making decisions and becoming actively involved in the world and our places in it changes us. Whether it's jumping into a new role or looking at the world a bit differently, we constantly have to adjust and change and morph into active, amazing roles of ourselves. We control our fate, and it is our actions alone that will determine how far we get. Taking steps forward towards our dreams confirms, like nothing else, that we are capable of changing the world.
I'm moving forward into a proactive, healthy mindset. I cannot change any of my external circumstances without first changing myself. I will not influence change if I don't create a difference within.
And so amongst the smog and pollution that covers my city, I'm fighting. I'm fighting for a chance. A chance at my dreams, a chance for others' dreams, a chance at change for us all. I've realized that what we leave behind, the legacy we impart, is more important than what we gain while we're here. What I do for others, instead of looking out only for myself, is what really matters. If I can help, even in the smallest amount, to lessen someone else's pain then so be it.