The crash # 2 The emotions

BY IN Exercise Institute News On September 4, 2015

Learning to follow a wheel again

Finding the strength to bounce back and keep going is the hardest job of all. Many high profile athletes have been known to experience clinically diagnosed depression post injury or post retirement. When your life is structured around a purpose, and suddenly that purpose is gone, it leaves a void.

The same is said for everyday athletes. And the heartbreak of all that hard work “down the drain.” We hear about Davie Graham, who crashed in a club race in Peel on 29th March. Davie suffered a broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade, broke two ribs and had a punctured lung. He is still recovering from those injuries.

Mel first crashed in a Masters B Grade criterium on 1 March and broke her collarbone in three places. After surgery and a plate, she returned to her first race 8 weeks later and was involved in an unlucky crash. This resulted in a bent plate, immediate return to surgery to have a bone graft and a new plate.  The physical damage was not as much as the emotional.

What is lost can be found! 

Getting back to full fitness is paramount, particularly for those with a very physical role. Take Davie for example. Following a crash while racing, Davie went through the standard process – emergency, x-rays, doctors etc. It was after the initial six weeks, when it was time for a follow-up x-ray that he learnt that his body was not healing; in fact there was no progress. Fortunately he was scheduled for surgery as soon as this was identified and this kick-started the physical healing.

However what he was not prepared for was the subsequent feelings of anguish that followed. The frustration of being injured, and of not being able to work properly, combined with feelings of isolation began to build, along with being forced into a suddenly sedentary lifestyle, Davie found himself on the slippery downward slope toward darkness.

Thankfully his wife noticed him withdrawing and took action to get him talking and out of the house. Davie’s journey isn’t finished yet, and not being able to return to the physical part of his job is taking its toll – however he is now on the road to recovery. He has found it helpful to talk to others who have been through similar experiences.


Janice Graham on her new Time Trial bike

Additionally he is maintaining fitness and building strength with the help of an indoor trainer and support from friends and family.

There are many factors that contribute to mental anguish or breakdown, including the lack of those regular feel good endorphins that we get from exercise. Taking time off to heal injuries can lead to a downward spiral of emotional distress. Addressing the psychological trauma of physical injury differs for everyone, however, due to the focus generally being on the physical, the mental side is overlooked. We focus on getting back on the bike, to get outside riding.

Following a wheel is not so easy anymore

This is where the mental side of cycling can take a sharper turn. Getting back on the bike is one thing, riding in groups, can be a whole new challenge. The mind can be hard to switch off in some situations.

The fear of another crash, of more hurt, time off work, all the anguish already experienced is front of mind with every pedal stroke, every corner and every elbow nudge. And for those who have crashed multiple times that fear is compounded, leaving many feeling tense and nervous on the bike.

For Davie, getting back out on the road is something that he has been looking forward to, and just recently went out for a safe easy roll by the river. Davie is thrilled to be back outside on the bike, but for now, he intends on taking it easy and staying safe.

The thought of falling again, aside from the pain, is more work related at this stage. As Davie continues to build up his strength and fitness, his main goal for now is to get back into full swing in his job.

Not everyone is scared to get back out there; there are some that seem fearless. Then there are those that have gritted their teeth and swallowed the big lump of fear in the back of their throat and have lined up to race. Following time out with a broken collarbone, Mel showed the depth of her tenacity, training on the indoor trainer at full intensity.

Once given the go ahead to ride outside, she went a step further than most people and lined up for a 160 kilometre time trial. A couple of weeks later she was racing in a criterium and unfortunately crashed and mangled the plate that was holding her collarbone together. Again, Mel had surgery, got back in her sling, and back on the trainer. Last month Mel raced in Malaysia, earning herself an impressive third spot on the podium, after staying away in a break away for 75 kilometres!

Last week Mel flew interstate to line up for the latest event in the National Road Series, just three months since her last crash. All of this is highly impressive and inspirational to many. Mel however did not go into this easily, Mel lined up to race filled with trepidation, fear and many doubts, and the lead up to the four days of hard racing was tough physically and mentally, impacting Mel’s sleep, relaxation and ability to eat properly.

Everyone is different

Everyone’s journey is different; it’s not the size of the crash, nor the size of the injury that impacts the mind. How we get back into differs for everyone, there is no right or wrong way. For some racing may stay a thing of the past.

For anyone returning to race – the old comparison game always rears its ugly head, as it is human nature to look at what we could once do, and how we compare to that, and wonder, will we ever get back there? For Mel, while proud of the process she went through in getting back out there, a part of her can’t help but compare this week’s Mel, to last year’s Mel.

At times like this logic doesn’t play a part in dealing with a comeback, in the early stages our reactions are governed by emotion.


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