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Rehab; a long road with large sections of going nowhere!

I had hoped that by now I would be sharing posts of my sweaty face doing rehab showing how hard I was working to get myself race fit. Instead I’m sitting here…still!

I broke my collarbone (amongst other things!) 9 weeks ago and at my first fracture clinic a few days later I was told it would take 2-3 months to be back on the bike. That sounded a long time but I figured 6 weeks off and then 6 weeks rehab and it would go by pretty quickly. 2 weeks after that first appointment they advised surgery to plate my collarbone and that it would take 3-6 months to be back on a bike. I thought, 3 months sounds slow when everyone else I know who has had theirs plated is back on a bike within 2-8 weeks. A week later I had my surgery, made it through the initial grogginess of post op and finally thought I might be getting somewhere.

At 3 weeks post op I was still in my sling 24/7 and the surgeon seemed pleased with my progress. I was unsure about still being in a sling 24/7 as it was now 6 weeks after I first put it on and I worried my shoulder was getting stiff but I religiously followed advice as the long term outcome was the goal. By week 4 post op I still couldn’t move my arm much in any direction but I continued with the limited stretches I’d been given. I knew that at week 6 I would be out of my sling properly and based on their 3-6 months I figured at week 6 I would be starting rehab so I was back on my bike 6 weeks later.

I just had my 6 week follow up and it is still broken. Really broken. Like a mess of shards held together by metal that doesn’t look much different to 6 weeks ago broken.

The world came crashing down as all my targets and hopes fell apart. I was quite clearly not about to start proper rehab and there was no way I’d be back doing easy bike rides within the next few weeks with a view to racing downhill at the 3-4 month mark.

I’ve been really positive throughout the last 9 weeks but this new information was really hard to take. It’s taken me a few days to even be able to write about it and I still feel sad, grumpy and frustrated. Injury is all about the highs and the lows but as a person who rarely does lows and uses exercise to cope them with them this is pants!

I sat and cried and couldn’t work out why my expectations were so far out. My surgeon seemed to think I was progressing fine and wasn’t overly concerned that it wasn’t healed yet. Everyone else I knew who had broken their collarbone was racing DH within 6 – 12 weeks. Every internet thread I could find on getting back to biking after breaking a collarbone seemed to be full of people all riding their bikes after 2 weeks. “I was on my road bike 2 weeks after surgery”, “well I rode 200km 1 week after surgery”, “I recovered really well and won the best race in the world 6 weeks after surgery”, “well I rode a f###ing unicorn 1 billion miles 1 day after my surgery”!

I saw the NHS physio and read the sheet she was working/reading from. According to that I wasn’t going to be doing any weight bearing rehab for another 6 weeks. It slowly sank in that everyone else must completely ignore the advice they were given. Even if healed at 6 weeks the advice was the same as mine. I was bang on schedule if a little slow in the bone healing department.

After I finally pulled my head out of my ass I did a bit of thinking. I realised that the surgeon saying 3-6 months to be back on a bike wasn’t the same as my thinking. We may have been talking about racing but although he was right that I probably will be on a bike at 3 months, being on a bike and being race fit is not the same thing. After reading the physio sheet I knew that even if the bone was healed the advice was still no lifting anything heavier than a cup of tea, nothing above 90 degrees, no leaning on it and no resistance work. That might mean you can get on a bike at 12 weeks but it certainly doesn’t mean you can race DH.

So here I am 9 weeks after my crash still riding that turbo trainer with 1 arm unable to manage more than 30 minutes. I now have a slightly larger range of stretches but it’s clear that I won’t be working on strength and mountain bike fitness any time soon.

People keep telling me I’m lucky and that there are people worse off than me. I recognise there are always people in a worse position with nastier injuries or real hardship. I am also absolutely sure that aside from their inspirational awe inspiring days they also have low days and it’s ok not to be positive all the time.

My friends and sponsors have been awesome. Injuries are part of DH racing but it’s disappointing that for my first season with any sponsors I won’t actually be doing much racing! I’m looking forward to working with The Physio Clinic over the coming months to get this arm working again and I can’t wait to ride with the Flow MTB team in the autumn.

I’ve realised that the road to recovery everyone talks about is actually made up of a series of turbo trainers with a ribbon of road stretching in to the distance afterwards. It’s going to take ages to get there and the race season will likely be fully over before I’m ready to put a number board back on. If I’m lucky I might make the last race. On the plus side my other injuries have healed, I’ve got a wicked new bike to look forward to and I can enjoy a summer of walking, catching up with friends and chilling out!

As I start towards my next recovery high, sleeping with fewer pillows (!), I still feel positive about the future even if I hate my current low. The frustration will slowly turn to determination and I’ll make that step to the next turbo trainer in the line towards that road. The road will finally become a gnarly dh track and just think about all that mud I’ll be able to enjoy as I get back on it over winter!