What is injury? How do you know that an injury requires you to pull off the blind driving motor, modify what you're doing and reposition into a full reset? I've never feared injury, freely throwing my body off cliffs, down mountains, off planes, rock faces. I'm not injured by one incident. I'm healing a lifetime of head injuries, crashes, falls from diving, skiing, mountain biking. It's time to redefine and rebuild. For me, now is about rewriting my blueprint, redefining what makes me come alive and stay close to the pulse, raw life energy- and staying further away from the edge. Injuries from freely negotiating with gravity and rock, snow, ice, water. I'm by no means an extreme athlete, but gravity, yes. It's going to take a group effort of reinventing myself and moving to a new place in my body while shifting my focus. It may mean water is more my friend than high alpine. This transition: it hurts the ego. Not to mention my legs, but it's the ego that's acting out. I have to get crafty and creative, because I can't be that person I just was last week.
I'm moving into a transforming mode through a group effort. Am getting off the bike, backing off intensity on all things movement related. I don't want to stop visiting the pain cave, training, racing, but it's time to reinvent how that happens and with what media (more water?). Training has been that safe place - away from people, relationships, work, stimuli. Training will still happen, but to salvage my body, it'll be more varied, with triple the amount of time for recovery, chiropractic work and other tools in the pocket that strengthen and relax. The simplicity of racing- get on and go, breathe, done- will be gone. Racing was just moving, fueling, hydrating, repeat. Those days are just going to be really different. I've been competing since I was 5. So, the conversation now goes like this: how do I want to age? How do I want to FEEL as I grow older? How many objects will I need to grab to lift me out of bed? That's what this story is about. The negotiation with my mind and body.
My recent injury woke me up. I was injured in a mountain bike crash, and over a period of 6 months, slowly stopped walking, and trained only. I'd hobble-limp to the car post finish line, favoring my left quad, grabbing walls, groping for furniture on my night trips to the bathroom. After 14 months, x-rays, acupuncture, reiki, healers, massage, rolfing, chiropractors, on and on, I discover that my spine is in phase 2 subluxation, especially the vertebrae in my neck that have been straightened. That means my spinal nerves are compressed, bone spurs growing like extra digits, cervical vertebrae has almost completely straightened. You know the subtle beautiful curve of the spine? Mine's a straight line at the neck. So this is what Deep Health is about -peeling away the layers of injury, trauma, and digging for information, sensation so that you can rebuilding yourself to get to that golden mode of sustainable health. Modifying and modifying, redefining goals, rebuilding support systems, friends even, to make a world where your health is the priority. I'm on that path not by choice, with so much resistance, and hoping for the patience to keep digging, uncovering, revealing information so that I can commit to the process and begin to make some space for my vertabrae, cells, and mind.
The moment I realized I couldn't push on, I was pushing back tears in the middle of a race, massaging my quad, hoping to finish. Pushing through some nasty pain....I knew a conversation had to happen. Now, the doors are opening to that conversation, to layers of other injuries where I can start creating new nerve pathways, new muscle memory, and flush out a dead end belief system I held tightly to. I was injured then. Stuck in a state of being injured. This belief system is truly locked. We build it to keep us from knowing ourselves, and the pain we inevitably carry, use to define ourselves, resist feeling, and continue numbing, numbing, numbing. I'm intrigued at how I built these walls around me to survive in the world; that I actually created a life just getting by surviving, rather than thriving. I became comfortable moving in a numbing cycle of pain, debilitating movement, eliminating the conversation of healing.
I didn't want to see a clear way out. I think cycling, especially road cycling, so limited in the range of motion, is deeply restricted. Bias, yes. You can conceal injury even better, limited in a tiny range of motion, range of thinking. Mountain biking obviously is less predictable, constantly requiring shifts in direction, thinking, moving in collaboration, even submission, to the mountain. This dance, though still limited in the act of pedaling, the body is typically moving in not so subtle and subtle ways, dealing with falling, obstacles, and drops in a way that forces heightened awareness. Constant decision making requires muscles to be ready to shift at all times.
I had a dream one night of running with huge strides, long legs flying through the air, full body in motion, full uninhibited breaths. I really began to heal after that. That was the conversation I'd been waiting for. I had to SEE what I looked like healthy- and know what that felt like. I had to move again with full range of motion, but I couldn't feel it anymore. I didn't make healing even available, until it came in my dreams. For 7 years, I had been derailed by hip surgery, other sicknesses, and this. I was setting a new standard of sickness. I opened blood flow in that dream.
When to shift to healing? Always, constantly, rigorously, with precision, discipline and grace, incorporated into everything we do, all our movement and thought patterns.
Awareness, the acute alertness to the depth and scope of my capacities, weaknesses, boundaries is what healing is about. I lost my drive in knowing things, anything, when I lost my alertness, when I shut down my ability to respond, when accidents and lapses in judgement increased. And just kept pushing through......The body is always be repairing and rebuilding or decaying and breaking down. The body really wants to heal. When we resist healing- full, deep health- we resist becoming ourselves fully. Healing gives you access into the full depth of your intelligence. The intelligence that comes in layers, that we don't even know we have until we shed, let go, peel it away. Physicality, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. Everyone has healing to do on some level to access their multi tiered intelligence.
But do you have to feel pain, that deep visceral screaming in your body in order to listen with your bodies?... Sometimes yes. We become accustomed to pain for information- the loud noises, instead of the subtle. When it takes the pain to connect...for better or worse, in sickness and health, till death do us part...we're often too late. At that point, it requires backing up from the forward progression, peeling away pieces of hardened skin, calloused mind. Sometimes that's what turns us towards healing away from denial, rejections of the ego, jackass overdrive. What's the most important commitment you can make? It is to our bodies, ourselves, our healing, amplifying that awareness and alertness so that we're not a burden to the universe and everybody who lives here. Our obligation to this life is my only real obligation- keep it simple. From there, we develop compassion. When do we determine when we’re injured 'enough' to have to shift direction, change the pace, change habits, friends, food, ritual....? Why would we even have to do that? I'm addressing my problematic mind that didn't want to stop, to shift directions, see doctors, get surgery.
Living in fear of and avoiding confronting your injury or sickness, is just giving energy to staying sick and injured. The fear of injury alone is living in sickness. I know now that my struggle to work with my past sicknesses, my mental/emotional boundaries, my injuries, and then addressing 'it', calling the said injuries a negative intrusion, feeling trapped, even targeted, is what has kept me under, immobile, even afraid of moving, afraid of fully living in full awareness.
I must've looked like sort of a martyr at my recent races, limping across to the podium, pushing through any race of any length or difficulty of race. That ultimately buried me into a hole- a really deep one. This is my story. I know I'm not alone in any of this, and spilling it onto the page is an effort to connect to others injured. I write for my own release, hoping others will find some language that's usable for them.
I'm slowly building an arsenal of support from all facets of medicine, healing, friends, and family. Psychological, moral, ethical, physical, emotional support.
In this injury, pain came first. Alerted me to something that was off balance long enough to be compromised. I concealed injury from myself (denial) for a year before I submitted to getting full on support, therapy and agreed to change my paradigm and heal.
Here's how it started, the event and the opportunity that led to reconstructing how I work with myself, my mind and body.
Climbing uphill through a rock garden, the rocks are rounded, some loose; you hit them and the round ones activate underneath you, as live as a volcano. The only way through is to push, weight forward and low, elbows deep, and head way up, looking forward.
The conversation with the rocks is loud, brief and rough, over quickly. The consequences shouldn't have been too high, as the pace was affected by the grade, technicality and heat. But the force is high, directed out and forward, so as long as you’re using that force to move with the bike underneath you, there's a perfect symbiosis. Driving the machine through the mountain with your body, working together to come out the other side gliding, like surfing a rough wave, is what its about. Heightened alertness, till your momentum finds you on the other side, pulling you through. Before you know it- and even before you process what you’re riding on and through, you’re out. Fully engaged, fully responsive.
It’s a beautiful relationship with the mountain, bike, and body. One that can’t be found in many sports, relationships, or scenarios. It's different on skis, something I've done for over 45 years. The mountain bike I fell in love with a long time ago, began racing because that small group of girls was some terribly unique tribe. I find myself inventing random life lessons based on mtn. bike techniques and encounters---'always look ahead', 'by the time you're on the obstacle, it's already over', 'capture the flow at all costs', 'be afraid' (that's about being calm in the midst of fear)....That’s the flow we live for. That’s why when I ran my front tire into one of those rocks, didn’t quite get up over it, the tire came to a blunt stop and that momentum catapulted me over the bars. I was moving exactly as needed, just didn't respond quickly enough on the front tire to carve around that one big rock. Flying through the air, another round rock met my left quad square, centered. I don’t know what happened to the rest of my body. The quad impact struck me deep. But I wasn't bleeding out, or concussed. I couldn't move, or feel much yet. Clipped in, bike on top of me, I looked up at the sky.
Lying there, I couldn’t move for some time- don’t remember how long. My instinct dragged me and out of the way of any oncoming rider. My leg wouldn’t follow. Back draped across the rock garden, I looked at my body, moved fingers, head and neck, toes, feet, bent my legs. No bleeding out, everything was mobile. I figured I’d have a brutally dark bruise for a while, but in my experience, at that moment, nothing really happened. I slowly swung my right leg back over the Yeti, and rolled out to the car. Slowly, but didn’t even cross my mind that it’d hold me up in any way. Mid July 2016, post big races, right before my 50th birthday, right before Breck 100, Breck Epic… Nothing was turning me around from finishing the season with some more wins. So I simply neglected the injury.
At the Breck 100, I bailed at 32 miles from some strange radiating pains down my left leg at about 12k’, mid way through the course, all at points of technical uphill technical sections. Immediately after, I hopped on a plane to LAX for a planned trip with my daughter, took some time in Encinitas (good timing) to swim, surf and recover and get ready for some performance in the Epic. In 3 weeks. Hobbling up and down the beach, on the board, I moved with less grace and balance than before.
My walking was getting worse; I couldn’t get up the stairs without holding on to the rail with two hands. I kept training strength, and on the bike, just stopped walking altogether, and being on my feet. I could still ride, so I kept movement to sitting on the bike. No more standing upright. My range in motion in yoga was rapidly declining, and I eventually stopped going to classes, as it was depressing how little I could do. My muscles were all being recruited to support this injury; psoas, IT, adductors, glutes, sartorius, flexors, quad of course, then eventually wreaking havoc on my spine and right leg. Turning 50, ready to race the 3 day Breck Epic for the first time……and I had almost died 6 months earlier in a ski incident. That summer, I committed to doing things that made me feel alive, testing my tenacity, endurance, strength, speed- to do things I knew I could do, but hadn’t yet. I had a new story I needed to write.
I finished first in my age group at the 3 day Breck Epic. Getting thrown into the full range of high elevation Rocky Mountain temperaments, and all the possible sensations, I was almost shocked to finished and even feel good that final day. I thought I would go back for the full in 2017, but I'm still hobbling- body still screaming at each step. It takes a long time for the screaming to stop. Months. Years. Maybe longer. Every morning as I climbed the stairs from my bed to my bike for the Epic, I grabbed the rail to get to my pre race coffee fuel. My conditions were simple then- if I can get on the bike, I can do the race. Hear me: these are not good internal conversations. This is not a good way to determine whether or not your injury is worth looking into. And I'm still paying for it.
It’s August 2017. 11 months after that day, I was called of mountain bike racing, for good- by coach and Dr. After a 43 mile Grand Junction race, full of beautiful singletrack, I hit the wall on a gravel road section of the course- insurmountable pain, radiating and acute, self massaging for hours on and off till I crossed the finish line. The inner dialogue craved relief, concerned enough that I didn’t know if I’d make it to the finish line. I finished on the podium, could barely get off the bike, couldn't walk for days. And haven't raced in 3 months.
I spent 4 weeks swimming, surfing, climbing, feeling the healing of the ocean, perusing other forms of mental divergences and physical disciplines, expanding my range of motion, feeling blissful and distracted. For the moment. Until the angst snuck back in and the desire for mobility landed. I'm back on the bike, trying to not move as much as before- though still find myself in a 2x a day cycle; yoga and/or climbing in the morning, swimming/riding in the afternoon; low impact comparatively until the muscles began a release, starting letting go of their grip. I'm walking and learning to trust each step without clenching my glutes, IT, quad muscles. Release. Release. Building new muscle memory, new structural support from my feet up.
Recent x-rays then added a new story line. I have phase 2 subluxation of the cervical vertebrae. Meaning: vertebrae are compressed, nerves are pinched, and bone spurs are growing. It hurt to look at those films. My neck is completely straight after years of crashes. So, more impact would further compress nerves from brain to body, spinal fluid, etc. Pulling back now means I can stop the growth pattern and rebuild a natural curve back into my neck.
The feeling of loss can feel insurmountable, but letting go of fixed ideas, patterns, may be the only way out of death, decay, sickness. I was telling an injured friend.....we hit the wall, cycle through hitting the wall, feeling rejuvenated, hit said wall again, get inspired, repeat....If we know the wall is coming, it stops being a wall and is just a change of pace, direction, view that doesn't take us out completely off the rails, away from energizing healing. But revelation, inspiration, new ideas tend to come after hitting walls. Almost with a clockwork like certainty. It's ok, good to hit walls. We have some of our best revelations, epiphanies post wall.
Now, letting go of that person- racing to run away from herself, registering for events like a serial dater. Recovery is tangible, it's not a cryptic mysterious process. The challenge is simply submitting to the process and committing, staying present, positive, and creating energy, because the injury moves, changes, unearths other ailments and challenges you on more levels than you can imagine. We're suppose to be silent and humble when injured. I'm not agreeing to that position anymore than I'm agreeing to 'stay tough' and 'push through'. I know I will recover, but I'm going to make some noise in the process. I’m may have to face surgeries again; and the months of hospital visits, drugs, apologies for not being able to do things, but as long as I can move in some way, I'll recover and remain competitive again. I believe this isn't so complex, that with some therapy, I'll be back to normal very soon.
I’ve started making films, am finishing my book. I have returned to drawing, making art, fully tapped into my creative side. I’m going to take my dogs out for drawing trips…maybe take the time to date and get to know people differently. Get curious about things I shut out to prioritize training, traveling, racing. And get in the water as much as possible.
The silver lining: this racing delay enabled me to spend time with my daughter in a place we both love with deep passion: the ocean. I've developed a more creative approach to business, to movement with her by my side. When I would otherwise be rushed, still training, and occupying my thoughts with an upcoming races, I’m so completely present, to the point of her distraction, fascinated with the musing of a 19 year old, the questions she's encountering, her skateboarding, surfing. I’m so happy to be on the ocean, in the water, working the waves, finding my body again in water. Swimming was my first sport. Then skiing, dance, diving. Then, the bike- but only for racing and training. These fluid moves across different forms of water are coming back to me, needing me to find my body in that gentle fluid movement again. And she's helped show me.
I’m finding my way into my body via prized forms of movement again BECAUSE OF pain and loss. That ‘loss’ brings on opportunity: golden moments with my daughter, new view of the world, myself, at the expense of podiums, sponsors maybe. Who's left standing when I've shed the ego, the competitive elements? What is the algorithm for letting go of goals to heal injury, loss to recover something else, making changes by letting go? The ocean and mountains work so symbiotically within me- in such a dance that’s completely motivating my way of being, thinking, moving. The ocean is moving in more fluidly….into my movement vocabulary. I know this is a healing medium…..When I was little, spending most of my summer in water, it was nothing but play, competition for sure, but so much play and exploration; just movement and exploration where nothing else existed. That water is seeping in, conversing more loudly, as I’m becoming more articulate with how I can work with water. Opportunities are FLOODING in.
My two legs will return when ready, when I have the energy to invest in rebuilding, emptying the sickness and toxins completely and filling my body with clean blood flow. It’s just a level of commitment I need to make. Logistically, 3 hours a day of yin yoga, walking, traction, exercising. ON TOP OF some gentler training, spinning, swimming, etc.
The ocean is healing- and has been for a long time.... I'm curious about how strange and difficult it is to get out of stagnation, ruts, 'belief systems' and into environments that are healing- why did I resist healing for so long? Resist change? Why was my view of the world so stagnant and fearful? It certainly wasn't always that way. I resisted, out of the fear of aging, losing my daughter to college, my aging parents, my health....slowing down that leads to feeling incapacitated and the ego feeling deflated. While connecting to another fierce form of life, the ocean, I redesign my movement language, and the ego is temporarily placated. I have a new conversation that's powerful, challenging, meaningful, and a connection to others who are healing through water. Being swept into currents and demolished by waves, I work with them, through them, mostly underwater, watching the surfers sit on top. I’m feeling the full strength of the current, being reconnected.
Similar to the waves, climbing, I feel my body moving slowly, deliberately, laterally, vertically, using every muscle and neuron, such a thorough form of movement. Rediscovering my range of motion, looking at new ways of seeing and feeling, watching others move fluidly, being in this state of constant motion, is so dynamic. Climbing with my daughter, watching her move like a graceful lizard….. This injury right now, is feeling more like a gift. Many discoveries are being made, much time to decompress with Anna, to move slower through my experiences without making rash decisions, without feeling self serving, or prioritizing my training time. I’m making better decisions about my next steps in life. Slowly, with a certainty and openness that permits transitions and evolution.
Working with a support team: 2 chiropractors, 2 different acupuncturists, a DOM, rolfer, a team of trainers, mountain bike coach, masseuse, a traditional energy healer, RN, and life coach, helps address the different layers of complexity and brings me to a clear resolve- though it’s taken a year to build this team and focus. I can hardly believe that much time has passed, skiing and racing in pain, delivered with a ton of anxiety. Meanwhile, destroying brain cells, increasing inflammation, obstructing mitochondria growth. Distributing that energy with intent, resolve, unpacking injury and denial right now, is my task. Accepting where I am, and working gently with my body and mind, to navigate a new direction, is my interest.
I’m curious about what I CAN do, not what's limiting me. And what lies in this new window of opportunity, than whether I can be that racer I was last year. That person that neglected her body, others and attempted to push through ridiculous amounts of drama, has to go. NOW. My heart’s racing at the thought of the day ahead, and what's new that I can discover. The exploration becomes that focus now, not a spreadsheet, planned scenario.
I think we close ourselves off to the curiosity, interests that lie beneath our dominant natures. The older we get, maybe the more resistant to change we are and the less we're prepared for change. Change is our survival, our dynamic regenerative growth. If we resist, it may turn to injury. My body was asking for change, it was telling me I was overtrained. The accident occurred at a point of the season of such over trained, travel-induced stress, that stopping, slowing down, let alone shifting gears wasn’t an option.
We may become fearful of the conflict that change presents. In nurturing all of ourselves, our complete self, we develop our full capacity of our strength, intelligence and ability to adapt constantly to what life delivers.