Monday, 12 October 2009

The pros guide to coping with injury

I am starting my first week of physio this week due to a gammy knee and a back blow out a few weeks ago. It's getting me down. Understatement. Especially as we head into winter and I can stop swatting gnats as I cycle. Then this morning I got knocked off my bike cycling to work. Bust right arm. The driver cried though which was the only redeeming factor of the sorry affair.

But instead of whinging I decided to ask some people in the know how they cope with a long period of injury. Because injury is a pretty common occurence in our sport.

And frankly, the answers were inspiring. From DH legend Tracy Moseley to Bob Barber at Manchester Velodrome, these guys have offered their wisdom. Read on ...

Tracy Moseley, Trek World racing Team and 2nd in UCI World Cup, 2009
I think when you are doing sport and training everyday you have to expect that at some point you will get hurt and I think the first step is to realise that. So when it does happen you deal with it as if it was just another training block. You work hard at the physio the rehab etc and it becomes your priority for however long it takes. Sometimes I have felt that it has been a useful downtime, and you can often reflect and make plans for your return much better when you have a little more time and you can't do everything you normally would. I have taken injury time to catch up on reading, acquire some new skills, learn stuff and have a rest. Any time you have had off exercise and training only gives you more motivation to get back out there and the fun factor and pure pleasure of just being able to do your sport again is amazing.

Jo Petterson, DH racer on Commencal
Injuries are pretty common in our sport, but that doesn't always limit us. Sometimes if we are lucky enough we can push through scrapes and cuts and some, even the broken parts. For me I have been SO lucky and had two broken parts in my career. My ankle which was completely immobilizing and my wrist which was bad enough to stop any hope of working through it to race. With my ankle I just lay in bed thinking about all the sweet races I was missing, watched the WNBA playoffs, and took three online courses, biology, creative writing and women' s history.
All fascinating when you are stuck on crutches. I did a lot of water therapy and started riding road as soon as I could. I had surgery, a plate and six pretty screws put in so recovery was not rapid but it was worth it. Last year when I attempted to fell a tree with my head and broke my wrist I used the time I had left still at races and took photos of the events. Photography is an important part of my life, but took the back seat when I started racing. So naturally that was an awesome way to fill my days.
Then after a few weeks I got myself a water proof cast and went surfing. Naturally awesome!!
Basically I just try to do things I love that don't involve bikes, keep myself entertained and also have great people around me that make me smile and can share their lovely bike adventures.

Phil Moore, Morvelo team racer
After the initial sulking has taken place and the swearing i tend to try and focus on the thing in y life that slip by when i am out riding my bike, trivial matters such as house work, diy etc. Then when the appeal of house work have worn off i get down to the more interesting things: fixing my bikes/building up to new bikes ready for when i can ride again, ride vicariously through watching videos, drinking beer then due to the anesthetic properties of beer the injury stops hurting so you go riding, hurt yourself again and go back to square one!

As for motivation? Anytime spent not riding my bike is motivation to get fixed and get back onto my bike again.

Neven Steinmetz, 4X and DH racer
Unfortunately I've become a bit of a pro at being injured, although I'm not sure that's something to be proud of. For me, I go crazy when I can't exercise, so I generally try and find something that I can do that works around the injury. The usual suspects are swimming (I swam 10.5 km in that damn pool in Morzine this summer with my broken ass!), riding the trainer (not my favourite), and yoga (I do this all the time anyway, so this is the preference, for sure!). If you're on crutches you can play the balance between the crutches game (way easier with american style crutches), it's great for the abs!! It's definitely hard to stay positive, but I try to focus on other things that make me smile rather than focusing on the injury. Luckily, I love reading books, so I try and think about it as a good way to catch up on the pile of books I've been planning to read but never have time for when you're getting to ride all of the time!

Debbie Burton, cyclist and founder of
The first and most important thing to do when you get injured is to act like it never happened to anyone else before. Really, describing the event and resulting pain in every last detail will make you (if not your friends) feel so much better. The second thing to do is get a sports physio on speed dial – even if you need surgery, what happens in physio during the months after will make all the difference between
getting bike riding better and 'as long as you’re upright we really couldn’t give a damn' better. If you can find a sports physio that does acupuncture then so much the better. (Nope I didn’t believe it worked either – until it did.)

I'm lucky I've never had (crosses everything) a broken bone. My issue is bad knees, and coping with their injuries and subsequent downtime has made me big on the power of prevention. Doing the exercises that keep my knees strong, making time for the yoga or stretching in front of the telly that stops muscles piling on the tension that sets
everything up to go twang at the slightest excuse. It’s become a habit that's not even tedious any more – although the jokes about getting my ankles behind my ears are.

Bob Barber, cycling manager, Manchester velodrome
Firstly, make sure you have a GP that understands your sport. If you say to a GP 'my leg hurts when I cycle', you don't want to be advised: 'well don't ride your bike then'!

Your GP should be your first contact when injured, just in case there needs to be medical intervention or a prescription. Otherwise, if its musculature or skeletal, find yourself a renowned cycling masseur/osteopath. The best ones don't advertise - they are already very busy, and you only find out who they are by talking to elite cyclists in your area, who go to them each week for a massage. While they don't fix broken legs, they are very good for remedial work after a fracture has healed, and riders who have been told they won't ride a bike again by the medical profession, have achieved just that by these cycling Svengalis!

Chris Garrison, women's manager Trek
How do I cope? Beer.
I find that when I'm injured, my reaction goes through the five stages of grieving: denial (I crashed, but I'm fine really. Honest); anger (I can NOT believe I crashed! I'm such and idiot! Gah!); bargaining (alright look, if you just heal a bit quicker I promise not to take that corner so fast next time); depression (I'll never ride again); and finally, acceptance (Ok, I'm hurt now but I'll bounce back. I WILL ride again!).
Once I've accepted my fate, then I try and make sure that I do whatever I need to do to ensure proper healing. For motivation, I watch videos of people doing things I'll never do, but wish I could. I also read cycling magazines, and our Trek Life blogs and newsletter (, and look at photos taken by my friends from various rides.

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