By: Christina Vipond
The risk of injury is common for athletes and many who mountain bike have their fair share of stories to tell. I learned so much about cycling and racing in my rookie year with a few minor injuries to talk about. The season ended with a fun ride of the Iceman No Cometh, the nicest weather ever for the non-event The next day, I was mountain biking with a friend when my back wheel slid out on dry leaves and down I went. It should have been a non-incident, unfortunately, my left arm was extended when I landed and I heard bones breaking. The doctor from ER reported the X-Rays showed a shattered head of the humerus in my shoulder. The doctor even suggested that given the extent of the injury I might need a total shoulder replacement. Although the news was devastating, I tried to be optimistic, telling myself “at least it is the first day of the off season.”
A follow up appointment with a shoulder specialist and sports medicine doctor gave a more positive outlook. The shoulder was not ‘shattered” as the ER doctor described, but the head and upper shaft of the humerus was broken in three places. Surgery took place five days after the break. During the surgery it was revealed that the rotator cuff had been torn and where it attached to the humerus, that piece of bone had been broken. A plate and 11 screws were used to put the bone back together and the rotator cuff was repaired. The doctor was optimistic and said I could be back on the trainer in three weeks. Even with the optimism, shoulder injuries are known to take a long time to heal and I knew that race season started in just over 4 months.
Recovery has different stages and doesn’t always follow a linear path. Proper nutrition is important for athletes and even more so during recovery. I immediately received advice on the best nutritional approach for healing the bone. A diet high in protein,Vitamins C and D, magnesium, calcium and potassium was recommended. As for the arm, the first three weeks focused on resting with as little movement as possible. A sling kept stabilized, great for healing, not so great for everyday tasks that had been taken for granted. Sleeping was difficult due to the sling and fear of rolling onto the shoulder.
At the three week mark, I was finally able to get on the trainer. I had been wearing tank tops because they were easy to get on and off. Sports bras were impossible to put on and even harder to take off so I bought front closure sports bras. That was still a challenge with one arm. I learned from watching YouTube videos that I could hold one side with a door jamb while using my right hand to fasten it. I had to get used to wearing glasses while on the trainer because I couldn’t put contacts in. Even putting the heart rate monitor on required a couple of tricks (the door jamb trick worked well for the strap too). Training rides started very easy and with short durations but it was nice to return to a form of normalcy.
Four weeks after surgery I was able to start taking the sling off, begin range of motion exercises and gradually add weight training. This was exciting but also frustrating. Atrophy happens so fast, and rebuilding strength happens so slow. It was nice to have daily encouragement from teammates during this stage. Some days felt like huge gains had been made, but others felt like three steps backwards had been taken. I continued to be diligent with nutrition, arm exercises and increased time and effort on the trainer.
Two months after the surgery, I saw the surgeon again. He took X-Rays and checked the strength and range of motion of the arm. He then said,“I have one question for you, what is your secret to healing so quickly?” I told him, “It’s easy. Proper nutrition, treating rehabilitation like training, and support from friends.” Maybe said differently, I never stopped thinking or acting like an athlete in training. The arm isn’t 100 percent yet but it is strong enough to start the season. I have come to recognize the road back as a journey. While I am not at the final destination yet, I am within striking distance. I will use this season to get the rest of the way there.