It's been 17 weeks since I woke up barfing from a bankart repair and a glenoid microfracture to my left shoulder and nearly a year since I first injured myself in New Zealand. The first 6 weeks of my recovery in November were spent in a sling, half of them here in Whistler and the other half in Santa Cruz. At that time, I couldn’t imagine myself careening down a mountain in a race stage, let alone ever having fun on my bike again. Now that it’s March, I can look back at the steps I’ve taken and the obsessive plans I made (I had nothing but free time) that have brought me to the point I’m at now: preparing to race the first two races of the Enduro World Series in South America in just a few weeks.
There have been a handful of breakthroughs in my recovery that I've only just begun to identify and appreciate; taking time to understand how I made these breakthroughs amidst the conservative feedback from my surgeon, physios, and body has made my outlook and attitude really positive. It has also made riding my bike more fun than it's been in years.
These are a few of the key processes that brought me my biggest breakthroughs since surgery:
I wrote my awesome coach and trainer Monika Marx about a week after my surgery to let her know that I felt lazy and I wanted to do more to get ready for South America. She must have thought I was insane—it had literally only been two days since my last mountain bike ride before my surgery—when she first read my email, but she heard me out. I wanted to break down five months of time into stages of recovery based on the bikes I could ride. My surgeon didn’t want me to TOUCH a mountain bike until 6 months, but I wanted to try my best to compress that time in a healthy way and be racing in five:
November: stationary bike
December/January: My road/CX bike, Nevis (on the road) + stationary bike
February: My Roubion or Furtado
March: Get race-ready on the Roubion
End of March: Race
The plan, strangely enough, worked almost to the letter, but my surgeon did make me hold off on the mountain bike time for two weeks longer than I had hoped. I got back on my Roubion in mid-February, just in time to join the ride for our friend Kelly McGazza in Squamish. That was really special.
I was under strict orders not to do a minute of physiotherapy until my sling came off at 6 weeks. I was in Santa Cruz, far from my physios in Whistler, and made sure I had a series of exercises that I could do the day my sling came off. When I got back home after two months in California, I got straight back into therapy at Back in Action. The process was insanely frustrating for the first five weeks or so. Some days I felt like a million bucks (moments like “holy shit – I can do a windmill!” were way more uplifting than I could have expected) and most of the days were absolutely soul crushing. It’s hard to really explain how slow the first few weeks of regaining mobility are after surgeries like mine. The shoulder is a super complex joint and it gets really unbalanced when it’s injured for long periods of time or when it is operated on. It is a ton of tedious work to bring it back to its baseline—but the effort is 100% worth it.
As I was spending the majority of my time at the gym or on the stationary bike in January (and some time clumsily skate skiing), it occurred to me that I might not feel great when I finally planned to get back on my mountain bike. I had only ridden my new Roubion in two races before my surgery and I was really quite injured at the time; it was fair to assume that it wasn’t exactly dialed in for the healthy person I am planning to become. I asked Arthur Gaillot, owner of Suspension Therapy and one of the original Nomads, if he was keen to help me set my Roubion up with my new shoulder and get it prepped for the season. Arthur is no stranger to injury himself and he jumped at the chance like a champ. Within a week of my first rides back on my bike, Arthur and I spent a day together at Fluid Function going over everything from my handlebar height, seat angle/position and shock/fork tune. He put me through some baseline set ups and then we shuttled a varied trail in Squamish to compare PSI values and compression/rebound settings for what felt the best.
We aren’t quite finished our work, as bike set up is always a sensitive and changing detail for any rider, and I’m still not at 100% health. What was awesome about my first day with Arthur is that I felt like I was in control of how my bike felt and the process gave me some authority to predict my own riding and outcomes on different terrain and conditions. If you can find a suspension expert like Arthur who can translate your descriptions of how your bike feels into how a mechanic like the brilliant Shawn Cruickshanks would make it all work, you’re winning. Try it. Then try to learn it on your own (this is the hard part!).
Time On Bike
I have recently become intimately familiar with the fact that riding a road bike is a lot different than riding a mountain bike. I did a lot of time and distance (freezing my ass off) on my road bike in Santa Cruz in December and a ton of time on the trainer when I got home to Whistler, but I still worried that I might actually die on my first few mountain bike rides. The pace felt breakneck and my Garmin device showed an alarming amount of time spent at the limit of my heart rate threshold just to keep up with the folks I was riding with. Kelli assured me that this is normal (she had a similar experience coming back from her clavicle injury), so I just focused on getting through my first couple of weeks on the bike with a smile on my face. I’m still under very strict instructions “not to crash” before I race in Chile, so in a way, it’s easy to take it easy on myself. I spent some time at the Coast Gravity Park and tried to build up longer days by linking up mellower blue trails in Squamish.
I began to make major breakthroughs in how I felt on the bike in Santa Cruz, about three and a half weeks after I first got back on my Roubion. Kelli and I spent a bunch of time together and these were the first days I really started to feel like myself again. Every day was a little bit better than the day before and it was so FUN to ride again. I hadn’t really realized how negative my outlook had become last fall when I was trying to ride and race in pain, but I feel lighter and more at ease on my bike these days. I accept that my biggest challenges will be overcoming the fear I have of reinjuring myself and learning to trust in my own abilities as I progress.
South America is gonna be a legit challenge for me. EWS races are gnarly to begin with, but adding variables like recovery from injury can up the ante significantly. The Juliana | SRAM team staff have been ridiculously supportive and positive with me this winter and to be fair, riding in these races is really not about results on a score sheet in my world. I’m excited to do the full tour this year and look at it through the lens of someone who appreciates the opportunity to do this and to learn from the challenge of it all. Pretty stoked that I got this new Lamborghini of a shoulder to help me through the entire thing – now if it would only stop (torrentially) raining in Whistler!