This story is part of our ongoing series about what makes our luthier Dave, tick.
I’ve always known in the back of my mind that someday I would stop racing bicycles. It wasn’t an actual day, it was just a pragmatic notion that the day would eventually come. I’m starting to realize, that that day may have already come. Bicycle racing has been a part of my life for 35 years. I’m not particularly good at it, and I’ve never taken it very seriously, I just like doing it. I like pinning on a number and trying to go fast. I try to catch the rider in front of me and stay away from the one behind. That’s it, simple. And I love it. I love the nerves I still get before each start. I love the weird, deep fatigue after an all-out effort. And I love eating half a pizza afterwards with no regrets.
The problem is that I’m sitting here looking at my recently surgically-repaired shoulder trying to do simple exercises and struggling mightily. I injured it in a relatively low-speed mountain bike crash. I barely even got scraped-up. But instead of the typical tumble and slide, I landed with a heavy thud on my shoulder, like a sack of potatoes falling off a truck. In my 20s, I’d have popped right up, kept going and then wondered at the end how I got so dirty. In my 30s, I’d have gotten up, dusted myself off and kept going, knowing I’d be sore for the next few days. In my 40s, I’d have gotten up very slowly, bitching and moaning the whole time. I’d have finished the race knowing I’d probably be a wreck for a week or more. But now in my 50s, after this crash, I didn’t get up at all for quite some time. First, I rolled off the course to avoid being run over and then I started my body parts check. First head, then neck, then arms, then legs…at the time, things seemed mostly in order. Everything still moved and everything hurt, so I figured I was ok. I got remounted and tried to continue but about 100 yards later, as I dropped off a small ledge, I realized something was seriously wrong in my shoulder and it would be unwise to continue.
As it turns out, that assessment was correct, there was something seriously wrong. I had severed my supraspinatus tendon and nearly severed my infraspinatus tendon. The damage was so significant that I had to have my bicep severed as well to allow access to the tendons to repair them. Now about 5 weeks out from surgery, I realize that damage like this is a real risk when racing in my 50s. This crash was not pilot error, I got taken out by an overly-agressive racer and that’s a variable I can’t control. The reality is that crashes like this have much greater consequences now that I don’t bounce as well as I used to.
I know I’ll still ride bikes. I don’t think I would ever give it up entirely because it’s just too beneficial, physically as well as psychologically. But I’m not sure anymore about taking on the added risk of racing. Maybe I’ll switch over to cyclocross. The courses are less technical, the hills are not as big, instead of rocks they have mud and sand and it’s done in winter so you generally have more clothes to protect your dermis. Yes, cyclocross might be a good idea. And besides cyclocross is done in the mud and we love riding in mud!
I think I might look into body armor as well. It will look weird to wear body armor for cross-country or cyclocross but truthfully, I don’t care. I can be the weird old guy in the body armor. No problem. I’ll still be out there mixing it up with a smile on my face. For now though, my focus is to fully rehabilitate this shoulder and in fact, to make it stronger and better than it was. Then we’ll reconsider the question of racing.
UPDATE: I’ve already decided that giving up racing would crush my psyche so we’ve ordered some body armor and we’ll just ramp up our protection factor. That’ll give the trackside hecklers something to crow about. We’ll dedicate this whole year to rehabilitating this shoulder and plan on getting back in the peloton next fall for cyclocross season. Until we can get back on the road/trail, we’ll be riding this little torture device…a Travel Trac stationary trainer. It actually works really well and I’m getting used to it. I ride it 4-5 days a week for about 75 minutes a pop. It’s a little tricky with one arm in a sling but not too bad. I kind of like it actually.