Sooooo…. It would look like I was a delinquent content maker if you didn’t subscribe to all forms of my content creation, but I spent last season on the ole YouTubes. I would have spent this season on the Tubes as well (I should specify the You of Tubes. IYKYK) but that would require having a season, and being able to edit video. Or desire to take any video. Which brings me to why I am here: I thought I would just write a little update about my status. I’m not really sure where to start, but for context I guess it has to go back to last season.
If y’all aren’t aware, there is this thing called a GLOBAL PANDEMIC that started around March/April 2020 (going too far back?). This is also when, upon completion of my most successful cyclocross season ever, I packed my little car up and moved from New Hampshire to Oregon. I was planning to hang out and train for a few months before moving somewhere back east for the 2020/2021 cyclocross season; because, you know, Covid was going to be wrapped up after everyone in the world adhered to a two week quarantine, right? Then 2020/2021 US cyclocross season was cancelled. This inspired me to go where the races were for sure happening: Belgium. I stayed there for over 100 days, completing 22 races. Without my team or friends or family to accompany me. It was rough, especially because my first weekend was all but ruined thanks to jetlag, and in my second weekend I sustained a concussion (actually it may have been in my first weekend but I don’t remember last season too good).
As I am sure you remember, it was an epic crash that I was solely responsible for.
I finished the race, drove home, likely imbibed in spirits, and spent over 7 hours the next day staring at my computer editing video. If you aren’t aware, these are all bad things to do while concussed. I was fine until Tuesday when I was achy and feverish, making me think I had Covid. I went up to go to the bathroom and passed out in the hallway. I passed out again after a massage and woke up not even sure where I was. I got a brain scan and I was okay, but concussed. I was on the couch or in my bed for the next 2 days with people occasionally making sure I was still alive. When I finally had appetite, I figured that meant I could ride, and I started riding the trainer. I did skip racing that next weekend (which was the world cup in Tabor), but I was back to racing the next, 13 days after my concussion.
I never really found my stride that season. Was it the concussion? The emotional stress of the year? I wasn’t sure. But what I was sure of, was that I had made some deposits in the bank and I was going to reap the rewards the next season. Aka this season. Some bad luck continued into the gravel season with flats, some unfortunate physical stuff, and some crashes. I was ready for CX to kick off and be good.
WELL REALLY FUNNY STORY GUYS I WAS CRASHED OUT FROM BEHIND* IN THE SECOND DAY OF THE SEASON!!! And I hit my head. Luckily this time I knew I had to stop the race as to not further damage myself. [*Ladies and gentlemen, we do not pass on the inside of high speed turns. If you try, and you see yourself about t-bone the person you are passing, YOU MUST YEILD. Or be a complete twat and crash that person out.]
The immediate steps I took was trying to sleep a lot, not driving (Kerry had to drive us from Virginia to New York while I sat in the passenger seat and stared at my feet), avoided screens and took a LOT of fish oil.
Tracking my symptoms, I didn’t notice too many. Maybe a slight headache, pain behind the eyes, a bit of brain fog. Some emotional turmoil. But frankly don’t I always exhibit those symptoms?? I talked to a lot of people: my coach (who admitted to knowing zero about concussions), the USA Cycling Team Dr, Kona Maxxis Shimano Team Doctor Dr Pitson (Kerry’s wife Emily’s mom), and some friends. I got a lot of yellow lights and a few green lights, but no one put the red light on racing. But of course every single one of these people knew I wanted to keep going, and truly my symptoms weren’t bad. So, I raced the C1 in Rochester the next weekend. I had a slight headache during the race and afterward, but I was able to race largely at a high level. I made the decision to run the steep technical bits because I couldn’t focus well enough to hit the line each time (though once I was dropped from the group I did go ahead and commit and was able to ride it cleanly, go me!). I made the decision to not race the C2 on Sunday thinking that would give my brain more time to heal. Instead, I did a road spin and ran around yelling and watching people race. The road ride left me a bit disoriented, and spectating made me feel much worse than actually racing. But I swallowed my symptoms and kept up with the season.
Three world cups on US soil were on the line, and I was convinced I had to protect my points to grid well for those races. Besides that, I was already on the road and racing; I didn’t see how I could be on the road and not race and it was too much time, money and effort to fly back home. At the time I had zero income except for what I won at races. Then of course I was spending more on rental cars and lodging and race fees and mechanic fees than I was making while racing. Because, well, I was sucking. I was finishing not high enough to be happy with it, but not low enough to decide that something was seriously wrong with me. So I trudged on.
Being away from home, injured, hemorrhaging money, and not doing well at racing was taking a pretty steep mental toll. Not to mention that depression and anxiety are all symptoms of concussion. I was fighting an uphill battle for sure.
After the first 6-week block of racing I was supposed to take a week off and go to New England for 2 weeks, but Kerry convinced me to do Iceman Cometh and I chose to go on with Iceman and see how I felt before I committed to more racing. I also made an appointment to see a concussion specialist, and of course that was a few weeks out.
After Iceman, I was too depressed to race anymore. I got in to see the concussion doctor who told me I should go back to square one with my healing but to actually see it through. She was not subtle wither her disappointment in my decision to race through. Turns out the close proximity of concussions isn’t great for overall brain health and healing no matter how slight the symptoms. I was hoping for some sort of brain scan to tell me I was normal or to decide that I was most definitely not normal and then to get fixed by some magical procedure. But instead, I got this soft, wishy washy, “yea I guess you are still concussed go ahead and do nothing and hope that it gets better”. Being passive really isn’t helpful to an athlete obsessed with forward momentum. Begrudgingly, I stopped. I was also prescribed some meds (Nortriptyline) that helped with the headaches, mood swings and sleep.
I stopped doing anything. I did nothing. No screens, no reading, no TV, no riding or running, no driving, no hiking, no alcohol, no hanging out with friends. I did NOTHING. For 3 days I slept almost continuously. For some reason sitting still allowed my symptoms to settle in (though I shouldn’t be surprised, I nearly feel this way even as soon as I take a proper rest week). I felt so many things, and none of these things were good.
Another weird thing is that the medication I was taking took the edge off of the head pain and left me with pressure. Pain? I lean into it. I welcome it. Pain is my life. No pain no gain, as they say. But pressure? That’s a bit disconcerting. No longer able to ignore the pain, I instead responded to the pressure. And when my head did hurt? I knew it was serious.
For about a week I did nothing. I could barely even walk – my foot striking the ground was too jarring and hurt my head. When I eventually could walk the dog comfortably, I realized I couldn’t walk and listen to music or a podcast at the same time; apparently that was too much mental stimulation. I could eventually ride the trainer pretty easily, but I couldn’t watch anything while I rode. Luckily, I could listen to podcasts.
After a week of intermittent indoor riding, I tried to ride outside, and regretted it. An hour turned into two, I couldn’t keep my heartrate below 150 bpm and just moving through the world was too much stimulation. I had to do nothing for two days following because my head hurt.
Through all of this, I was still hoping to make it to PanAms and Nationals, which were three weeks after Iceman. Working with a therapist it become obvious that I wouldn’t be in good enough shape to compete at these events and I had to take the pressure off. But, maybe I could still make it to Belgium to get some racing in to maybe qualify for worlds, which after all are in America.
After about 70 days post-concussion I could finally watch TV again.
At this rate, my coach told me it was stupid to try to race again this year.
I am now (December 7, 2021) 80 days post-concussion. I ran yesterday, as easy as I could, for 20 minutes. Today my head hurt so consistently that I couldn’t do my outdoor ride as planned.
Nationals are in 5 days. And I can’t even ride my bike outside. Clearly, I know it would be silly to try to race cyclocross anymore this season. But I don’t think anyone really knows what that means.
I gave up everything for this sport. I gave up a career. I gave up a relationship. I gave up years of holidays with my family. I just want to see how far I can go with it. I want to be National Champion. I want to be a consistent Top 10 contender in world cups. I want to finish top 5 at worlds. I KNOW I am capable of these things. I had never structured a season to allow me to reach these goals, I always raced too much and focused on the wrong things, but this year I was willing to cut back and do some quality. It had to be this season, because after this season my sponsors want me to start focusing on gravel. So, readers, this was your humble narrator’s last chance at finding that success in cyclocross. And it was taken from me. Because one racer didn’t value my safety over leading the 3rd lap of a C2 race.
I have to watch everyone else race my races. Win my jerseys. Take my podiums. Sure sure sure, maybe I never could have met my goals. Maybe I peaked in 2019 and I ended up where I was always going to end up, but, I don’t think I am willing to accept that. I don’t think I will ever accept it and I don’t know what is worse, thinking I reached my best but knowing it wasn’t what I wanted, or being forced to leave more on the table. To let myself down or to be let down.
I may try to do more races in the future, but I will never be full-time on the cyclocross circuit again. It requires too much time and too much money. I am no longer willing to sacrifice 6 months of my life to being on the road. I am not sure how to be anything but 100% committed to this sport, and I have found that it simply isn’t healthy.
Recovering from this concussion hasn’t been about what have I been doing, but instead what I haven’t been doing. What I have given up. And it seems I have given up everything. I am sure I will gain some things, but I can’t see that silver lining yet. I am still working through the anger and depression. Acceptance will come. And I will move on. I know it will happen. But here I am…
I have had and continue to have a lot of support through this, and I want to thank everyone for reaching out, sending information, and checking in. From USA Cycling to my teammates, friends and boyfriend I certainly haven’t been alone through any of it. You’ll see vlogs come out once I can focus long enough pain-free to make them. You’ll see me race again once I can do so, safely. Until then, friends…