My dear friend, Amy Thomas, recently broke her radius and ulna while mountain biking in Moab. She is attacking recovery with an optimistic outlook and I asked her to share her story of recovery over the next weeks with a few articles. We hope you can gain something out of reading her determination (stubbornness) and love for life.
It’s been roughly 3 weeks from the accident and surgery. I’ll get into where I’m at currently but I wanted to share a few things not previously mentioned that happened on the trail at the time of the accident that made this not nearly as bad as it could have been.
I was riding with four friends and teammates at the time of the accident. Moab is definitely a place to ride with a few people. Many of us ride alone and while that is inevitable, it’s always good to let someone know where you are headed. Think Aron Ralston. As we walked out of Ahab, we actually joked about the fact that I wouldn’t have to cut off my arm to save myself.
Right after I crashed, my group was just far enough ahead that they didn’t hear or see me go down. Luckily, there were two other helpful riders who were behind me. I had watched my arm forearm snap in half and before I could get back on my feet, I closed my eyes and yanked on my hand. To my surprise, it went straight again and I wasn’t in agonizing pain. I mean it hurt, but I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out. I instantly became focused and thought, I need to get out of here ASAP. I immediately started down the trail to try to catch my friends and left my new Yeti for dead. The two nice riders grabbed my bike for me and followed after me. My friends heard me yelling and rode back to me quickly. I sat down and Julia quickly accessed the situation. We splinted my arm with a bike pump and secured it with arm warmers. We used a lightweight jacket as a make-shift sling to minimize movement. Someone popped 4 ibuprofen in my mouth to help with the pain on the walk out over rocky desert terrain.
While I sometimes ride with a first aid kit in my pack, I didn’t have one with me when I crashed. I figured it was going to just be a quick ride and didn’t think I’d need it. From now on, if I have a pack on my back, it will include first aid, a bike pump, and pain medication. Because we quickly splinted my arm and it wasn’t stuck in 90 degrees, I saved myself a lot more soft tissue damage and subsequent pain.
The recovery process is a challenge but I like challenges. I can’t do a lot of my usual physical actives so I focus on what I can do and it’s still quite a bit. I have been cleared to ride the trainer (one armed), hike, and do light running uphill. While this usually would be sufficient, we have our bucket list ski trip coming up and I currently can’t ski for a few more weeks.
With help from my CrossFit coach, Kathy, I am still going to CrossFit twice a week and doing all lower body exercises for telemark ski strength. It’s been a lot of squats, walking lunges, sit ups, and other core that I don’t need my arms to do.
When I was on crutches with my pelvis, I could do all upper body but no weight bearing on my leg. Once my incisions healed from surgery, I started swimming. I felt normal in the pool because I could almost swim like I normally would, just a little less kick initially. Keeping some aerobic fitness was key so that when I could eventually ride the trainer and then outside, it wasn’t nearly as painful as if I had just stopped doing everything. I ended up MTB racing 6 weeks after I got off crutches, weeks sooner than my surgeon even thought I would ride outside. Because of the fitness I maintained while on crutches, I was only a couple of minutes slower than my previous race time.
Regardless of what type of injury, there is likely something you can find to keep moving and help decrease the situational depression of knowing that all your friends are still out there playing hard. It’s a fine line between being smart and still pushing hard when your body needs to heal. I’ve been tired because healing takes more energy than I realize, so I am taking days off when I need them. This is hard for me to do but soon enough I will be full strength. I am eating well, sleeping more, increasing my protein intake, as well as increasing my calcium and other bone healing nutrients with supplements. With both surgeries, I had a lot of post surgery swelling and used acupuncture to help decrease the swelling and inflammation. I found both times it helped tremendously and limb sizes went from double back to normal after two sessions. I also use a homeopathic pain relief topical gel for my elbow and wrist. While the joints themselves weren’t injured, they have suffered the burnt of post surgery bruising and inflammation. The gel offers some relief as do the occasional NSAIDS. I’ll also be getting massage more frequently to reduce the scar tissue left from the incisions. Taking care of myself now will pay big dividends in the long run towards 100% recovery.