Jane has been an avid mountain biker for 13 years. She regularly hit the trails three days a week or more with her husband, Robin. Last March, as she traveled down the BFI trail in El Moro, she took a bad fall.
“I made it through all the technical parts, but then as I came over the bridge and tried to move my weight forward, my shorts got stuck on my saddle,” she explained, “I think I got distracted and when I put my foot down to get off my bike, I was too close to the edge.” She thought she’d make a soft landing in some brush. But she went through the brush and straight down a six-foot ravine.
Jane planted her foot and landed so hard that the damage reverberated up her entire leg. She severely sprained her ankle and shattered the top of her tibia. “My doctor said the femur had acted like a pile driver and jammed the top of my tibia. It’s called a ‘tibial plateau fracture,’ she recounted.
A week later, he used a plate, seven screws, and bone fragments from a bone bank to put all the pieces back together like a puzzle. Her doctor’s first priority was the tibia because it’s a major bone that stabilizes the leg to walk. She couldn’t bear any weight on the bone for three months.
What got her through those painful months? Her family, friends, and rehab. Everybody pitched in to help. Every morning before Robin left for work, he made her a fruit smoothie for breakfast and a bag lunch that she could grab easily out of the fridge. Her daughter Kristen came over and did all the laundry. And adjustments had to be made around the house such as removing the small bathroom doors, so she could maneuver in and out of those rooms okay. The smallest things were challenging – even carrying a glass of water.
Though she struggled to get around, she looked forward to rehab three days a week. “People asked ‘Didn’t it just drive you crazy that you couldn’t ride your bike?’ And my answer was ‘Well, no because I was so focused on getting well that my physical therapy was my exercise,’” she recounted, “When my physical therapists killed me, moving my leg around – that to me was my exercise. At least I got out of the house. At least I got to do some form of exercise and I felt like I was doing something active and positive towards my recovery. I didn’t miss being on the bike. I missed the socialization of being with my friends who biked.”
Fortunately, many of her biking friends dropped by to visit. Two of her friends who are retired visited her every Wednesday. Jane joked with them, “Oh, this must be your community service day to visit all the shut-ins.” It brought them giggles.
She was on crutches for ten weeks before she weaned herself down to one crutch and then a cane. She had physical therapy for eight months. She even worked out at a health club and took a pool aerobics class. (The gym could never compete with the trails before.) Jane was willing to do anything to get those endorphins going again. “I had some really bad days and some bad moments,” she recalled, “I was used to doing yoga three days a week, riding three days a week, and walking the dog. I got depressed.” It didn’t help that she knew her body wasn’t feeling right yet.
Unfortunately, sprains need movement and weight to heal. So while her leg and her knee recovered nicely, her ankle was still weak and uncomfortable. Nine months after her accident, she had surgery on her ankle to remove all the scar tissue that had built up. She wore a boot for a couple of weeks.
“After that it was definitely baby steps to get back. I couldn’t even walk around the block with the dog. I’d go two or three houses and then I’d have to turn around,” she said, “It is very slow progress. You can’t really look at it from one day to the next. You have to look at as ‘Well, I’m a whole lot better than two weeks ago.’”
Today, she’s back on the mountain bike. She started out by road biking on the flats. “When I started riding after my injury, I was like a beginner again,” she explained, “So I asked my daughter to come with me since she was new at riding. I felt more comfortable having someone on my level go riding with me.”
Jane not only got in some quality mother-daughter time, she turned Kristen into a pretty good mountain biker, too.” But she’s still a mom out there. “I find myself being more guarded and saying things like ‘Walk this part!’ and ‘Watch out for that hole,’” she admits. Two weeks ago, Jane and her family completed the Wildflower Century together.
Though her accident was just an accident, she still has some lingering apprehension. “I love mountain biking. I love being outside with nature. And I love the exercise. So that’s what I’m focusing on,” she said, “The downhill part and the technical part? I’m okay if I end up walking something I used to ride. At least for now!”
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 the first of many Comeback Kid stories. Here’s why.