It took a while for the magnitude of my little ‘whoopsie’ to sink in.
Maybe it was denial, maybe it was shock, maybe it was PTSD, maybe it was a combo of all. Whatever it was, charging mountains and carving rails was about as far from my mind as you could get for the many months I was well and truly deep in the trenches of recovery from said ‘whoopsie’.
That late August morning, I had misjudged where I was and had taken one turn too many as I arced turns of white dusty chalk promptly proceeding to be bluffed and launched at pace off the precipice of Chute 7 at the very top of Treble Cone’s Motatapu Chutes having had zero intention of going in there that day. Without any intention of being where I was, I embarked on the ultimate tuck-n-roll extravaganza over anything and everything in my path to come to a stop no less than 450 vertical metres below where I had unintentionally launched.
In full yard sale style, by the time I had ground to a halt I was minus anything that could be ripped off with the impact including goggles, gloves, poles and skis.
When you chew yourself up this well the helicopter comes to you. Cue a scenic flight in the Otago Rescue Helicopter, checking out from real life via anaesthesia to relocate my hip, a full body CT scan, a bulk bin supply of opioid pain relief, issued with a set of crutches and sent on my merry way the following day.
Everything was a blur, including how it had happened and why I was now couch bound looking at the mountains rather than being up and amongst them.
I was sore, but I’d been worse. The reality of what had happened was a long way off and my usual method of coping with the immediate shock of the situation was to find ironic humour when having to converse about what had happened.
“It could be worse”, “I’m still alive”, “I don’t remember it after the ‘oh f*&k moment”, were a collection of some of the one liners I had on lock.
The days passed, spring sprang and as the lack of good news started to hit, the outward humour remained while the inner angst had begun to fester.
I saw specialists who mooted significant surgeries with long recoveries. Injuries that had been overlooked in the initial course of the trauma triage came to light adding to the load.
Thankfully (or not) I’ve been through my fair share of horror scenarios in the injury department and while it seemed like life was dealing me an unfair hand at the time; twenty years down the track, I’m grateful to have been through the washing machine of life with the odd cycle of heavy agitation.
When you’re broken the outside world only sees the physical extent of your injuries, not the mental or the emotional turmoil that is often taking place.
And so began the ongoing journey of patience and acceptance. The inner acknowledgement of what had happened, the only option I had in those moments being to give my body what it needed to recover which was rest, sleep and the white flag to any kind of anxious worry.
Day by day, week by week the year ticked on. I went to hospital for a check up and as I hobbled out the old ladies on reception waved me on with, “you take those (crutches) home dear, you might still need them for a while yet”…..
Not only was the left side of my body obliterated with a blown shoulder, multiple hits sustained from my neck to my tailbone, a heavily haematoma’d left buttock, a fractured pelvis, a dislocated hip, fracture to the head of the femur, a full tear of the MCL, a fractured tibial plateau, some sweet scars down my lumbar spine courtesy of the rocks I hit mid tumble….. and a head injury which was yet to raise its hand following a long period of unconsciousness post tumble. But if I was cleared to walk, then I was determined to start to hobble my way back to normal one step at a time.
I’d hobble to the lake and have drivers stop and ask if I needed a lift. I’d thank them and usher them on, the stoic inner warrior coming to the fore.
I ratcheted up my mountain bike seat, battled to put on my sneakers and worked out how to get on my bike with a heavily incapacitated hip…and for the first time in weeks started to feel the fresh air of spring brushing my cheeks as I cautiously navigated the flattest and safest trails surrounding the lake. The impact was as much mental as it was physical and I could feel my system taking a sigh of much needed relief to be flushed with oxygen and subsequent endorphins once more.
I made my way back to California to see my Doctor who has put me back together a number of times over recent years. In lieu of major open hip surgery and a 12 month recovery I was placing my bets in a handful of injections of the regenerative medicine variety. I came home bound with enthusiasm to get stuck into the ‘work’ of recovery only to walk into an overhanging rock on the side of a trail days later when the brim of my cap shielded my peripheral as I looked to where my feet were going.
If I had lucked out on the consequences of being knocked out one too many times when I fell, getting blind sided by a rock on the side of a popular local hiking trail was about to take my down. BIG TIME.
For those that have suffered concussion, post-concussion, TBIs and other head injuries it can only be described as “suffering in silence”. Functioning like a normal human goes out the window and coping with life can become a monumental challenge on the daily.
“But you look fine”, they would say, oblivious to the state of my head and only seeing the physical improvement I had made. I fast became a social recluse unable to cope with the constant questions, bright sunlight and loud noise of social situations.
I would look at my bike and would be paralysed by choosing what kit to wear, what gear I would need or what direction I would head, instead throwing on a worn out old pair of trail shoes and walk the same track daily; sometimes twice.
I was in depths of battle and my only option was to keep showing up. I had to learn the art of self preservation and how to say ‘no’ in order to preserve the precious energy I had for myself to get through the day.
As the months rolled by and the physical injuries healed I found my way back to the yoga studio. It was hot, it was uncomfortable, it hurt, it was hard, but the lack of judgement and welcoming environment was the elixir I needed when I needed it the most.
Daily practice often became twice a day and my body began to move as I knew it could.
Walking turned into jogging which in turn became running. I started to get my memory and cognitive function back and to cope with public situations once more.
But had I truly dealt with the subconscious reality of what had happened? One of the ways of helping cope with the ongoing recovery was to attempt remove all external expectation (easier said than done) and to focus affecting what I could on a day to day basis knowing that if I just kept ‘showing up’, I’d eventually get to where I wanted to.
Sometimes the only way to confront fear is to tackle it head on, even if I often didn’t know exactly what that fear was or exactly what I was confronting.
The question of would I ‘ski this winter’ was ever present alongside ‘so when are you going to compete again….?’
My response was along the lines of sending the person asking off with a succession of riddles for them to ponder. Heck, I was simply just trying to make it through the day, the week, the month and to walk, skip, hop, run again let along contemplate any form of ‘fun’ or competition.
But courtesy of a late start to the season and some mind blowing progression on the recovery front, the unthinkable happened and I found myself back on the hill. I found my feel and without any encouragement was back skiing lines that I always have and laying my planks sideways in the relentless search for the endless carve.
It still astounds me that I was able to get my head around skiing again, let alone ski the terrain that had caught me out. Simply, it came down to focussing on the ‘doing’ to get my head around getting back on the horse and regaining the confidence to ‘do’. And if I was ‘ski-able’, I was likely able to be at-the-ready for all and every other pursuit.
There’s a number of lessons that have been handed during this imposed period of recovery but resoundingly the word ‘choice’ keeps coming to the fore.
The choice to be ‘relentlessly optimistic’.
The choice to ‘look outside the box’ when it comes to recovery.
The choice to ‘keep showing up’.
The choice to ‘affect what I can on the daily’.
The choice to ‘confront myself with situations’ that can bring feelings of discomfort.
Ultimately, it’s been the choice to commit to ‘facing fear’ head on.
Slap me across the face with a wet fish right about now…. I started trying to write this back in August, have tried to finish it on numerous occasions but for lack of a better reason you’re getting it lock stock and barrel now.
In fact, there may just be some keyboard diarrhoea ready to explode onto the inter web in the near future.
I’ve finally made it home, FINALLY managed to unpack and feel like at least part of my life has some kind of order and structure. It’s the small things like being able to open up your draws and find what you’re looking for at a glance rather than having to explode a bag and sift through the destruction on the floor that means you’ve actually made it home.
When I started writing this back in August, the second half of my season was on the verge of not happening. A lot was up in the air and I was on the verge of heading south in search of white gold and the lure of my own bed. The reports coming out of the Southern Alps were that the snow was all-time.
And when it’s on – it’s on….
With not much going on in the first half of the summer, it felt like it had been a good long while since I’d had some hard and fast racing on the water.
From the middle of the Pacific I made the call to fly east rather than west.
The next two and a half months were full to the brim, full-noise action and working out how many cans of nitrous had in the reserve tail at the ready to unleash (thankfully there were plenty!).
When I say I was close to not coming back, I’m not joking.
Every time you make a decision to do one thing, there is always the opportunity cost of what you’re not doing. But for some reason, I had a sense of unfinished business; that I needed to go and finish out the season and see where things were at.
It was a bit of a gamble, but knew that I was carrying some serious form from the first half of the year. If you’re not going to back yourself, why should you expect anyone else too?
It’s the ability to continually evaluate a situation and remain objective that allows decisions to be made on fact rather than emotion.
With a view to taking each weekend and each event as it came, I landed back on the West Coast at the ready to let the high speed roller coaster of racing, travel, more racing and more travel unleash.
From LA to Huntington, to Hood River, Oregon to LA, California to Japan back to LA, up to San Francisco, down to LA, back into the depths of the Orange Curtain and San Diego it was a roller coaster of planes, airports, some toxic chemical burns, never ending logistics, fun, games and plenty of banter for good measure….I’m finally coming up for air after the marathon of the past three months.
With pace in my favour and fitness on my side, a re-found willingness to gamble the odd risk that I haven’t had for a while, the confidence to change up equipment and roll with the consequences, and ‘that’ moment in surf race final of the Pacific Paddle Games when I decided I loved being back in the depths of the pain cave so much that I went for another lap giving away the win….the overall win ……and a decent amount of lunch money in the process, it’s fair to say – I was definitely ‘back in the game’.
Them’s the breaks.
With the willingness to take risks, the heart to charge and a re-found love to compete that has come back stronger than ever, these are the highs and lows that make you fall in love with sport all over again.
Heck I even busted out a couple of cross-country races in San Diego for shits and giggles and seriously surprised myself in the process (not to mention an off-the-couch 110+ miles on the roadie in Oregon on whim…).
Now the bags have been packed, unpacked, packed, unpacked, packed, repacked and finally Unpacked for the year, with only the ‘weekender’ version in the proximity of easy access.
There’s the familiarity of the landscape of home and the security and peacefulness of the mountains that I crave at this time of year.
The bikes have been dusted off and the puffer jacket is in full effect.Even though it is spring, there’s at least a weekly dusting of show half way down the hills and a climate where the changeability of the weather is ever-present in the decisions you make daily on what you are doing and how you are going to do it.
The yoga mat has been unrolled and my annual pilgrimage back to the warmth of the yoga studio has been embraced as much as the awkward positions that my body loves to hate at this time of year have become the norm.
The reconnection with old mates to fix the problems of the world over coffee, wine or a long ride through nature’s playground.
The cry of the mind and the body to simply go and play rings true and louder than ever – for these are the months that are the ‘jackpot’ for the hard yards and investment of energy and time away when you ply your trade from afar.
Following every period of expansion there is the need of the balancing period of contraction.
For me, that is home and it’s the contrasting environment of the mountains.
It’s a world away from the madness of the year. It’s a chance to reflect, recharge, refocus and rebuild the energy required to rise to the challenges of the months ahead.
Thanks for the support, it’s been a roller coaster of a few months – the extent of which most will never know.
I know I’m here for the right reasons and I’m stronger, faster, fitter and hungrier for more than ever before.