The stuff we don’t talk about
We regularly celebrate the joys and successes in the sport of cycling. Not often do we reveal the flip side and the harsh realities that can be dealt our way as a result of our endless pursuit to get better or go faster. Crashes happen. Some can be worse than others. But the effects for some can be long lasting.
Shannon Arnott has recounted her experience along with two other of our riders – Mel Robinson and Davie Graham. Not elite riders, but riders who do compete and strive to be better. Riders who have jobs, families and lives to lead outside of cycling but are passionate and committed to the sport. They have had serious injury resulting from a bike crash resulting in short and long term consequences.
How do we deal with the mental anguish of a bike crash. We often will blame ourselves and question our role. Asking yourself, what did I do wrong, should I have been in that position or that race at all? Then the big question, is this all worth it?
Then dealing with the abrupt change from leading an active and structured lifestyle with a purpose, to not having a reason to push ourselves each day for a reason.
In a series of posts we are hopefully going to share those experiences and thoughts and strategies on how some of us have dealt with the outcome of a serious crash. Of course, we are not the only one’s or are our injuries the most serious, but hopefully offers some insights and articulates the experiences of so many.
Part 1 – Crashing – the not so visible injuries.
Cycling is a tough sport, it’s not only hard on the body, it’s hard on the mind, and it comes with a gamut of emotions. Additionally it comes with risks, the risk of an accident, and the risk of injury. For many, the physical injury can be easier to cope with than the mental and emotional side of things.
Maybe you have crashed or you know someone who has. It is natural for us all to focus on the physical, and do what we can to help people heal, to manage and to get them back on the bike. However a lot of the time it’s the “stuff” we can’t see that holds us back.
There is no formula for how each individual will be affected mentally. Cyclists often have their sense of identity wrapped up in their sport and gain a tremendous amount of self-esteem, confidence and empowerment from structured and challenging training and competing. When serious injuries force a cyclist away from this structure they can experience a great sense of loss.
In the last 15 years of cycling, I have had three crashes. While not a lot on paper, unfortunately each one resulted in significant injury and significant time off the bike. With each one, it was the mental turmoil that hurt as much as the physical injuries.
For those that have been through any significant crash experiences and or suffered serious injury, you will be all too familiar with the darkness that encases you and can send you into an unknown abyss. Unfortunately, for many, spiraling into a depressed state happens all too quickly and often without recognition.
In 2009 following a crash that involved me being knocked off my bike and having a peloton of riders coming down on top of me, I was left unconscious, made a lovely mess of my face, (from sliding along the road on it), had tyre marks on my back where another rider skidded to a stop on my unconscious body, broke some ribs, smashed my legs and hands and shattered my collarbone in four places.
To be honest I don’t really remember a lot about the first month following the crash as concussion took care of that. My ability to cope mentally was hindered by not being able to sleep in a bed for over 3 months, as well as the fact that my collarbone did not heal and the 6 week x-ray revealed that it had not progressed at all. It took another 6 weeks after that until finally the decision was made to operate and plate it. The rest of that story involves another three months of downtime, slow recovery and rehabilitation.
Expert advice tells us that in times like this to keep moving, and or talk to people and to get out and about. All of these things are easier said than done. The crash victim generally isn’t aware in the beginning that they are in a place of needing to talk, let alone knowing who to talk to.
Well-meaning people will offer pearls of wisdom of what one should do, or worse, encourage you to be grateful that your crash wasn’t as bad as “Insert bad crash examples here” or that your injuries are not as critical as said examples. Or a throwaway line such as “Don’t let him/her bring you down talking about their crash/injuries.”
Comments and comparison games can often result in the athlete feeling as if they are supposed to be more grateful and consequently they may clam up and stop talking, thus delaying the healing process.
Following an accident, we can feel bad about having to lean on family and or friends for help and support. Letting family and friends see us broken is hard, after all we know how much it hurts to see our loved ones in pain, so we feel bad when it’s reversed.
Additionally we can feel that friends, family members and work colleagues don’t understand such commitment to a sport and may pass judgement based on their opinions of the irrelevance or stupidity of the sport.
Mel, by her own admission, reveals she took two whole days to gather the courage to tell her Mum about a recent crash that resulted in a broken collarbone. It was too difficult, her mum isn’t a fan of the sport, doesn’t understand why anyone, particularly her daughter would do it, and as it was the second crash within in a short period of time; she knew the information would not be well received.
We would welcome any comments or personal experiences to be shared here.
4 years ago / 2 Comments