Dangling in a branch upside down two years ago, clutching the back of my leg, I only had one thought – “let’s grab that bike and see if I can finish the race”. From my vantage point at the top of the tree, I could see the edge of the road above me – tantalisingly out of my reach. I clutched at the vines hanging off the edge like soft tendrils, wondering if such delicate looking vegetation would support my bodyweight. Heaving myself up onto the road and establishing that something was wrong with my leg, but not wanting to be a quitter, I searched for my bike. One of the other competitors had kindly stopped, sacrificing her winning position in the race to check that I was OK.
“I’ll be OK,” I muttered. I had just wanted to get on with the race. Unfortunately, my chain had jammed up and I wasn’t going anywhere. Four hours later, I was in the Wesley Hospital, trying to hoist myself onto an Xray machine in sheer agony. “No bones broken, you’ll be right mate!” the doctor said. However, I was far from OK. I soldiered on with the physiotherapy process, got back on my bike to train for the 2015 Three Peaks Challenge in the Victorian Alps – yet there seemed to be little progress on the rehab front, no matter how hard I tried. Sick of myself, I asked a friend, who is a GP, to order me an MRI. The result was a shock to us all – complete rupture/avulsion of all three hamstring tendons. Surgery was quickly organised, and not being one to shy away from a challenge, I became the first Australian woman with one functioning leg to complete the Three Peaks Challenge.
When I researched the outcome of my injury and surgery, I was a little bit disappointed. Depending on your chosen sport, the “return to pre accident performance” statistics aren’t great. I was determined that I would be the exception to the rule. I slaved away at my program and decided in my mind that I would “allow” myself a year for rehabilitation post surgery. I distinctly remember speaking to one of the ladies in my riding group who is a physio and had suffered a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon. She had told me that recovery was “two years minimum”. I hope that she reads this because I am now bowing my head in humble appreciation acknowledging her deep wisdom! Having given myself a year to recover, I thought it was entirely appropriate that I should be racing in the Queensland Road Teams Series with my friends from Koiled Petbarn. However, it felt like the harder I pushed myself , the more I was falling short of the mark. Truth was starting to sink in – despite my best efforts, I just wasn’t good enough to be racing bikes at that level. To be honest, I was beginning to feel rather despondent, however I also knew that I needed to accept this reality.
I pulled myself out of the QRTS and after having it handed to me at the Lifecycle classic, decided that I was simply going to ride bikes for fun. I would continue coaching cycling and writing programs, but there would be no racing. With a full time Uni workload, I also decided to cease a formalised program with Coach Liz and started “free ranging” instead. I would ride with Liz and the group where I could, my Koiled teammates, with clients and with the group I coach. Rather than focusing on cycling, I focused on journalism. I focused on my strength training and started riding an extra twenty kilometres to training and back. Some days, I’d be running really late to meet the group and I’d have to floor it. I volunteered to be part of a Masters time trial team for the state championships without any prior training. I didn’t think about the effects of any of these things, I just put one foot in front of the other. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something odd – I’ve improved without even realising it! Today, I enjoyed a lovely social ride with Liz and the girls and as I pedalled up a hill with relative ease, the enormity of how far I have come since I had the surgery really hit home. Twelve months ago, as I struggled in both mind and body, I would have never imagined reaching this point. I am so GRATEFUL to be able to do this now. The journey has been tough, but I am GRATEFUL for what it has taught me. Letting go of what I have thought I should be, and what I should be achieving has been such a liberating experience. Yes, at 18 months post surgery, I still have a ton of rehab to complete and I’m wrestling with neck issues. However, today is still a good day.
Tomorrow marks two years since I crashed my bike at Tour De Valley. I am going to celebrate this milestone by going back and completing the race I started. I don’t care what time I do or what place I finish in. I will be riding to say “thank you for everything you have taught me”.