Mountain biking is both a sport and a community. The riders who participate in it have their own stories to tell. Since I began writing for Singletracks, I have had the privilege of connecting with different riders, and hearing some incredible stories. Here are three of them that stand out to me as both memorable and inspirational.
The car accident that changed everything
Traumatic events can make or break a person. Some retreat inside themselves, or wallow in misery and self-pity. Others rise from the ashes, even stronger than they were before. In October of 2019, I write an article about a rider named Trent. He had sustained a serious ankle injury while mountain biking that kept him away from the sport for over a year. He fought through the injury and returned to riding. Meeting him and hearing his story really inspired me, which is why I shared it. The resulting article prompted other riders to share their own stories of injury and recovery. Hal Casteel was one of them. He posted the following:
This story made me think I should tell mine, too. In my case, 8 years ago, I broke my neck and left leg in a head-on car crash on a two-lane blacktop near Wilmington, NC on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when a guy with his family got distracted and crossed over the double yellow line and hit me with us both going 55 MPH and neither of us having time to hit our brakes. I was spun over into a swamp going backwards and then hit the trees and was unconscious for some time to come to with the volunteer firemen using the jaws of life to get me out of my totally crushed Prius. I had 40 years of yoga, mountain climbing, and biking come to a sudden halt when my recovery forced me to first lie and then sit for almost 2 years of relative immobility while I began my recovery. If it had not been for the yoga and the fitness of being active all my life when this happened I am not sure I could have recovered at all, but the idea of biking seemed to be out my reach forever with my leg, and limp. I eventually sold my bike and gear and gained almost 40 pounds. I was 58 years old when I had my accident.
This summer, in Winter Park, Florida where I live these days, my neighbor came over to help me trim my bamboo, and as he left, asked me if I ride a bike. I told him my story and he said he had his son’s bike in the garage and to come over at 6 AM on Wednesday morning and ride with him and one of our neighbors.
I did ride that morning about 4 months ago, and it has changed my life. I have a new used mountain bike and am riding everyday. Biking is back in my life and it is changing everything to be mobile again. I may not be doing the crazy stuff I used to but I am back in the saddle.
So, I just want to say to anyone who gets injured, never give up. I had to sit still for nearly 2 years, and limp for many years after, but I am back, 67 years old now but active again and it doesn’t matter that I may not do what I did before, I am doing what I can now, which is singletrack in the woods and loving it. My neighbor’s name is Pete and I have him to thank for the invite.
By the way, my dad is 93 and has had quite a number of strokes and his balance is impossible, so he rides a trike up to 10 miles a day. So, pretty much nothing is impossible. All the best to all of you who are injured, be patient, and those of you are not, use common sense and try not to hurt yourself!
When I injured my shoulder last year, it nearly drove me crazy not being able to ride for over a month. I could not imagine having to endure nearly two years of immobility before I could just move normally again, much less ride. Also, I am still relatively young at 44. Hal was nearly 60 when he had the accident and is actively biking again at the age of 67. Whenever I get down on myself over some minor aches and pains, I think about what Hal has gone through. My aches and pains don’t feel quite so bad anymore.
An early morning ride turned into an epic recovery
Sustaining an injury is bad enough, but experiencing setback after setback while recovering from one can really test a person’s determination. VTMTB, aka Jeff, knows that first-hand. In response to Trent’s story, he shared his own experience:
So many inspirational stories so I guess i’ll share my recent saga…
On 8/10/19 I went out for an early morning (5:30AM) ride on my local trails that I’d ridden many, many times. I was about 5 miles into what was supposed to be 12-14 miles when I crashed. It was a minor crash, in fact, other than the main issue (which I’ll get to) you wouldn’t know I’d crashed to look at me; no bruises, abrasions, no dirt on me anywhere. I must have lost focus going into a minor downhill left hand corner and my front tire went up over the small berm; riding it out was not an option due to a fast approaching tree so I dismounted, like I’d done probably hundreds of times over the last 12-13 seasons but this time was different.
As I was dismounting I felt my foot hit the ground and, even with earbuds in, heard a sound like a broomstick being snapped over your thigh. I laid face down for a few minutes saying really bad things and when I rolled over my left leg was in front of me but my foot was off to the left and there was a large protrusion in my sock. I knew right away I had a tib/fib FX and I was alone, at 7AM on a Saturday and when I pulled out my phone I had no service.
It only took a few minutes to figure out that I had to do something with my foot; at this point the bone had not broken through the skin and I knew that if it did shock, bleeding, infection, and possible loss of foot were all in play as I knew it would be some time before somebody found me. Ironically, though I was in the woods, looking around I found no suitable sticks to make a splint so I dragged myself about 10 yards down the trail on my butt with my leg held up and found two sticks. But my bike shoes (BOA) have no laces.
I took out the pruning shears from my hydration pack that I use all summer for as-needed face slapper maintenance, cut the straps off my hydration pack, and straightened my foot out, pushed the bone back and put the splint on. I then yelled for help for 3.5 hours before somebody found me. My wife had just started looking for me (I always tell here where I am and what time to expect me and she rides those trails as well) when I was being taken out of the woods by EMS. I ended up with a displaced tib/fib fracture and had two plates (one inside my leg on Tibia and one on the outside on the Fibula) with 19 screws. It was 4 weeks before even light toe touch weight bearing with crutches was possible, and then I got cellulitis the day before I started PT; this pushed me back two weeks.
After a couple of weeks of PT I started having a lot of pain in the outside of my ankle where the plate ends and limited range of motion in my ankle (which makes no sense as the break was well above the ankle). So now, 9 weeks post-op, i’m going in on Wednesday to have the outer plate/screws removed, my ankle joint scraped out, and a bone biopsy to make sure that the infection is gone.
I want to thank Trent for telling his story. At this point in my recovery getting down is very easy, especially with winter coming on in my neck of the woods. I’m just looking forward to the day when I can just get up and walk to the bathroom.
Thanks again Trent and best of luck in the future.Jeff
Jeff shared his story two months after he was injured. I checked in with him while I was working on this article. At nearly 7 months after the injury, Jeff is still fighting his way back to health. He shared his progress with me, stating:
The hardware was placed August 11th of 2019 and by October 23rd of 2019 they had to go in and remove the hardware from my Fibula (plate and 9 screws). After that it was PT three times a week for a couple of months and then I was having a massive amount of pain while walking which was being caused by the Tibial hardware. Unfortunately, I had to wait until last week to make sure that the Tibia was healed enough for my surgeon to be comfortable and last Thursday I had surgery #3 to remove the plate and 14 screws from my Tibia. So now i’m back to complete non weight bearing for two weeks and then the 40 staples come out and it’s light toe touch weight bearing with crutches for (hopefully) a week or so after which i’ll be weight bearing and can start working to replace what little muscle I had put back into my left leg which is wasting away as I write this.
I plan to ride as soon as weather permits, likely though starting with gravel road rides as even though all of my hardware is out, I now, in addition to the fractures, have 23 screw holes in my Fibula and Tibia that are weakening my leg. Likely most of my exercise for at least half of the season will consist of spending hours pedaling my kayak around the lake trolling for fish to improve range of motion and build up my strength/endurance in an environment with less risk while the screw holes fill in.
I love Jeff’s positive attitude and his determination to get back on a bike. He could have easily given up on mountain biking and no one would have faulted him. Keep fighting, Jeff. I can’t wait to see you back out on the trails.
A fall could have ended it all
In November of 2019, I wrote an article listing 5 reasons I was grateful that I sustained an injury while mountain biking. One of the reasons I listed was that it gave me a wake-up call regarding the inherent dangers of the sport. I injured myself falling a few feet off of a wooden feature. However, Pedalbike, aka Kerry Strike, had her own wake-up call and it was way more extreme than mine. Kerry shared her story, posting this:
June 23, 2019 I fell 40 feet off of a cliff mountain biking. I am the first person to admit it was 100% my fault. In fact, I was so used to riding all of my local trails and not thinking about potential consequences I didn’t even realize [how] crazy narrow the rideable section of the trail was – or even that I was on the edge of a treacherous cliff. I lay away the base of the cliff for 3.5 hrs before being rescued, and I remember the fall vividly. [I received] no pain meds until after I was hauled, bones crunching together in my pelvis [on the trip] back up the way I came down.
I shattered my right pelvis and tore my rotator cuff on the same side. I spent 6 weeks with my pelvis externally bolted together along with two permanent screws threw my sacrum. I was unable to bear weight on the right, lived in a recliner, showered every few days and waited to heal. The minute I was allowed on crutches I hit the gym. I had a full week of weight training to strengthen my atrophied leg before starting PT. After my first session of PT I put my singlespeed bike on a wind trainer and rode up to an hour per day in my backyard. Three weeks into PT, I took my first road ride and went back to work.
Recently I rode out to the crash site. I was shocked at how cavalier I’d been in my riding. I was sick at my realization that looking at the cliff I went off and the ravine I fell into, littered with sharp boulders and downed trees. I cheated death, even severe injury.
I too learned to slow down, pay attention, focus on the trail here and now, and to celebrate each ride. I struggle with decreased confidence, PTSD, feeling slow, etc. But i remember my surgeon said recovery will take a year. I have another surgery in 2 months to repair my right shoulder. More PT. I’m alive I can ride. Life is great!
When I told Kerry I was doing this article, she gave me more info on her recovery. In spite of all her injuries, Kerry got back on a bike saven weeks after the crash. At first she rode her singlespeed commuter bike on a stationary trainer in her backyard. Then she went on her first post-crash mountain bike ride four weeks later.
Kerry is still struggling with some after-effects from the crash. She sees a trauma therapist on a weekly basis due to some deep-seated fear from the crash that she struggles with.
Her strength and determination is incredible. When Kerry had rotator cuff surgery this past December, she says “I continued to commute (one armed) starting one week post-op. Two months after surgery the surgeon okayed me to ride my road bike. I’m trying to do that several times a week. I’m doing a month of shoulder strengthening and then seeking DIRT!!”
I applaud Kerry for her willingness to tell her story and share her struggles. I hope she gets back to shredding the trails soon.
There are many other riders who have inspirational stories to tell
I am grateful that Hal, Jeff, and Kerry were willing to tell their stories. Sharing our stories not only helps us cope, but it also provides encouragement to others. Connecting with riders makes me feel like I am part of a wonderful community, and I hope I can be as much of an inspiration to you as you are to me.