When professional mountain biker, Brad Stephenson, was 13 years old, he was in a motorcycle accident. He lost control of his trail bike going down a treacherous hill. He flew over the handlebars and the bike rode over him. His friends thought he was joking around. He brushed himself off and convinced himself that he wasn’t hurt. Five days later, the doctors discovered he fractured his wrist, hip, and three vertebrae.
This first big injury was a valuable experience because he learned how to read his body better. Granted, it took time. "Over the years, I realized that my pain tolerance was pretty high and what often seemed like minor injuries were actually not… I’ve a fractured finger, cuts to the bone, and a partially torn Achilles tendon without realizing how bad they were. Now I’m more tuned in with listening to my body and seeking medical attention."
On Halloween of 2007, he had another scary fall. Fortunately, none of his friends witnessed it. “It was really lame. I was returning from a trail ride on the sidewalk, going about a half-mile an hour, when my handlebars tapped a light pole and sent me straight down to the pavement,” he recalled, “My elbow hit first and it was loud. I tried to shake it off and continue my ride. I had to turn around and ride five miles back to my house.”
The older, wiser Brad listened to his body and got it checked right away. He had fractured his elbow. He persuaded his doctor to give him a half cast and a sling instead of a full cast. He wanted to be able to train any way he could.
Two days after his accident, he was back on his bike trainer, pedaling away. To cope with boredom of stationary cycling, he visualized racing and riding more technical terrain. He spent more time lifting weights with his legs and improving his core by doing stomach and back exercises in the Roman chair. “Your core is so important for single-speed mountain biking,” he added.
Though it was near the end of his season and he had already cinched the California State title, he still had one more important race – 12 Hours of Temecula. He was on a two-man team with his brother Todd. They had already won the first two races of the SoCal Endurance 12-Hour Race Series. He wanted to help his brother do well in their last race by completing as many laps as possible in a 12-hour period. He wanted to score another win for his sponsor Sho-Air.
Only three weeks after fracturing his elbow, it was too much, too soon. “I made an attempt to do some laps with my sling at night. Todd came through the line and I took off, but I only went a short distance near the finish line,” he recounted, “I bailed out. I couldn’t keep going. Todd did enough laps for the both of us to secure the title for the year.”
He spent the next three weeks babying his arm and conditioning the rest of his body. He even went for some trail runs. He was determined to have a good season in 2008. He planned to compete as a single-speed professional.
On December 2nd, he went for his first trail ride again. He went on a team ride with the rest of the Sho-Air/Rock N’ Road Elite Masters Team. “It was a hammer ride on some technical trails, but I managed to hold my own,” he said, “It was the most painful ride. My elbow really hurt from the jarring, even though it was healed. When I actually got back on the bike, it felt so good to be back riding again.” Brad never took any painkillers.
Despite getting back to mountain biking in a short span of time, his arm didn’t feel right for another nine months. “Lots of atrophy had set in and it was a slow process to get the muscle and flexibility back,” Brad admitted. After it had fully healed, he started lifting weights to get his strength and mobility back. He soaked his arm in the Jacuzzi and did lots of stretching there.
Did his riding change after getting hurt? “I wasn’t worried about falling again. It’s part of the sport,” he explained, “I think it’s very easy to focus on technical sections and then let your guard down on the easy stuff. So now I’m much more focused, no matter where I’m riding.”
His new approach paid off. In 2008, he won 12 out of 20 races, including a few nationals and he defended his California State Championship title.
NOTE: If you have a good comeback story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to interview you. I hope this will be one of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.