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Trent was smiling most of the time we rode together. Once he told me his story, I understood why he was so happy to be riding. Photo by Bryon Dalton.

One of the greatest people I have met mountain biking is Trent Burns. I met Trent during a recent mountain bike trip to South Carolina. He stopped to talk to me and my friend while we were resting alongside the trail. Trent has a great personality and seemed to be so grateful to be out riding that day. It didn’t take us long to learn why he had such a positive attitude.

Two years ago, Trent sustained a serious injury while mountain biking. It could have been the end of his riding days, and it was for a time. However, he overcame the setbacks and darkness he struggled with for nearly a year after the injury, and ultimately returned to the sport he loved. I am honored to tell Trent’s story using his own words.

Trent was an active rider before his accident

Trent poses for a picture while riding at Raccoon Mountain in Tennessee in 2015. Photo: Trent Burns.

Trent started mountain biking regularly after graduating high school in 2005. “I ended up moving to a place within a few miles of Balm Boyette in Lithia, Florida. Living so close to the trails there led to more and more trail riding.”

Trent rapidly developed a passion for mountain biking. “I quickly fell in love with the sport and went riding any chance I got. By the end of 2005, I discovered Alafia and Santos, and spent the next 4 years riding trails in Florida before I had the chance to ride in another state. Since then, I have ridden trails in Utah, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky.”

But life got in the way of Trent’s riding. “2016 was a rough year. I had been laid off from a job I thought I would retire from. My wife was pregnant, and the contract work I had picked up to pay the bills kept me traveling nearly every week from Sunday to Thursday. I sporadically rode while traveling for work, and during brief periods while I was home and could get away with it.”

Pretty soon, the sporadic rides came to an end. “It was a very busy transitional time. We moved back to Florida and I started a new job. Our oldest child started attending a new school. And we had to adjust to a new baby. All this led to a completely inactive riding period from August 2016 until March 18, 2017.” Trent vividly remembers the day he resumed mountain biking. “The same day I resumed riding was the same day it came¬†crashing¬†to an end.”

A simple ride turned Trent’s life upside down

Trent went to Alafia for a morning ride that fateful Saturday. “I arrived at the park around 9am, rode most of the intermediate and black diamond trails, and was having a great time. It was like I hadn’t taken any time off [from] mountain biking.” While Trent had been out on the trails, a demo booth had been set up at the trailhead. “I had plenty of time to kill, so I figured I would jump on a demo bike and ride a few more trails.”

That’s when the crash happened. “I went back out and rode the same trails I had just finished riding on my own bike. I overshot a drop and washed the front tire out. When I put my right foot down trying to save it, my ankle and leg were instantly broken.”

Fortunately, two other riders stopped to help Trent within minutes. “They wanted to call emergency services, but I insisted they just help me ride out. I couldn’t step or put any weight on the foot, but as long as it hung loose I didn’t feel anything but pressure and could manage the ride back in. I turned the demo bike back in (thankfully it wasn’t damaged), and the same guys from the trail helped me up into my truck.”

Trent called his wife to let her know what happened, and then drove to the hospital. “The ER got me in pretty quickly when they saw my leg. The bone didn’t protrude through the skin, but my ankle definitely didn’t look right. They put me in a cast, gave me pain killers, and told me I had to see an orthopedic surgeon.”

Despite the nature of the injury, Trent thought he would have a quick recovery

The x-ray of Trent’s ankle clearly shows the extent of his injury, and how much hardware his surgeon used to put it back together. Photo courtesy of Trent Burns.

Trent saw the surgeon the following Monday. “I learned the true extent of my injuries. The medial malleolus was broken off as my foot was forced to rotate in a way it isn’t supposed to go. As my foot continued to move in that direction, it also broke my fibula, and tore tendons and ligaments.”

Trent underwent surgery the Thursday following the accident. Despite his doctor’s advice, Trent pushed himself to go back to work quickly. “I was equipped with my determination (or stubbornness, if you ask my wife) not to let an accident that happened on my personal time effect my productivity at work.”

Trent’s desire to speed up the recovery resulted in complications that set him back further. “Being up and moving around led to sweating, and the sweating caused an infection in the still-healing incision. Follow-up visits to the surgeon led to attempts at treating the infection, but it kept coming back. The infection was bad enough at one point that the surgeon had to cut it out.”

Trent resigned himself to follow the advice of his doctor regarding his recovery, but doing so caused a different issue. “Taking my recovery seriously was probably where the reality of my situation finally set in, and things started to drag me down the most emotionally. My days consisted of going to work and sitting at a desk with my leg propped up, and going home and propping my leg up in front of the TV. I am not a sedentary person by nature. Living like this was difficult.”

A setback in his recovery drove Trent away from mountain biking for awhile

It’s easy to get down on yourself when you have to be like this for most of the day. Photo courtesy of Trent Burns.

In spite of his struggles, Trent’s recovery was progressing. “The day finally came when the doctor gave me permission to start working toward putting weight on my foot and walking again. I was thrilled! Within a week, I was walking with a noticeable limp, but I was mobile. Things were looking up.”

Then Trent had another major setback. “The bolt holding my fibula and tibia together broke. After going to the doctor, I found out that I had to have surgery once more. While the bones were healing as they should, the broken bolt had to come out or it would cause issues that would hamper my recovery.”

Trent took his frustrations out on the sport he once loved. He sold everything he owned that was mountain bike related, and swore he would never ride again. “I didn’t want to experience this again, and I blamed mountain biking. I was angry, and I was sad.”

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Once he had healed, Trent looked for a substitute for mountain biking

Photo of Trent after finishing a Spartan race in 2018. Photo courtesy of Trent Burns.

Trent finished his last physical therapy session 7 months after he was injured. “Finally having an end in sight, finally healing, and having my family’s constant encouragement brought me back to myself. Also, staying involved with our oldest daughter’s activities, and trying to keep up with a very active baby fueled my desire for recovery.”

Trent started working on regaining the strength he once had. “I started with lifting sandbag weights and walking around the neighborhood. I continued doing the exercises and stretches they showed me in physical therapy. Slowly, I was able to work up to jogging, and then running. Being active again and not being dependent on others to get around really lifted my spirits.”

Trent’s desire to get stronger drove him to enter a Spartan race in early 2018. “I used this event to help renew my drive to push and train harder. The race was a short one, and I was thrilled to have finished it. It seemed like a great substitute for mountain biking. I signed up for a second race, and then a third, completing a Spartan trifecta that year. The second and third races were longer, and really challenged me.”

Trent’s family encouraged him every step of the way. “My wife and kids, my mom, and my stepdad were at every race that year. They were there for me when I was ready to give up. Their unconditional love and support for me has brought us closer than we were before the accident.”

Ultimately, Trent returned to the sport he loved

Trent felt at home when he returned to mountain biking.

After completing the races, Trent began to think about mountain biking again. “The races helped fill a gap in my life that mountain biking once occupied, but they didn’t give me the same thrills. It wasn’t long after I completed the trifecta that I started to think about biking again. At the start of 2019, I picked up a used road bike, telling myself it was safer and would be a good alternative to mountain biking.”

But Trent couldn’t stay away from the sport he loved. “I ordered a new mountain bike in July 2019. Surprisingly, my wife was very supportive. She knew where this was headed, probably long before I admitted it to myself.”

Today, Trent is back to being an ordinary rider like the rest of us

Trent is back to riding trails like this one in Lakeland, Florida. Photo courtesy of Trent Burns.

Trent is very happy to be back riding the trails, and being involved with the mountain biking community. “I ride every opportunity that I can. Recently, I helped the Ridge Riders in Lakeland, Florida do trail work, and rode with them afterwards. I also took my bike with me to Tennessee for a work trip. Sometime in 2021, I plan to do a San Juan hut system ride.”

He put his ordeal in perspective. “Looking back at everything that happened, I get a little embarrassed about how I reacted over the entire thing. There are a lot of people out there who are working their way through much worse injuries/obstacles. It was just hard for me to see that things would be better one day when I was dealing with the pain and struggling in the moment.”

Trent credits his family with helping him overcome his injury. “I’m extremely grateful to the people who helped me get to where I am today, especially my wife. She stayed in a positive mood the entire time. She reminded me that I would recover from the injury, and that we had, and still have, a good life.”

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# Comments

  • jgmtb

    Nice one. It’s good to hear stories about normal people who ride. Work issues, injuries and kids- all things that normal people experience that can add complexity the the simple act of getting out for a ride. I also feel really bad about myself when I have some difficulties like an injury, only the feel guilty afterwards when I realize how good I have it compared to so many. But what I get out of this story is that you can always come back, and hopefully use some of that energy in a positive way (thumbs up for the trail-building!).

    • Richard Shoop

      Thanks. I loved hearing Trent’s story and thought it would be great to write about a normal rider who overcame something extraordinary to get back to the sport he loved. I hope I have the good fortune to meet other such riders in the future and will be able to tell their stories as well.

  • hal.casteel

    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 to a 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 single track 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!

    • Richard Shoop

      What an incredible story! Thank you so much for sharing it. I cannot even begin to imagine going through something like that. I am so glad you recovered and were able to get back to biking. You are an inspiration.

    • rmap01

      These are the kinds of tragedies that some people never recover from, physically and/or emotionally. Good for you for getting back in the saddle!

  • m.krupp

    Trent sounds like a long hard road to recover physically and the mental toll it took. I couldn’t imagine being down so hard…low to sell all my mountain bike stuff. That sounds rough. Great to hear you are back. Happy trails to you.

    I think your story emphasizes the need to follow proper recovery. Especially as we get older I realize I have to follow the doctors orders or give my body time to recover and repair. I am not a teen or even in my twenties any more.

    I hope others will take heed to take the proper time and method to recover so they can return.

  • Karl Emmerich

    So many different kind of injuries in this sport. Everyone has a story but the comebacks are amazing.

    I hit a tree riding local trail on a JRA evening. Destroyed my abdomen and caused major internal injuries requiring an ambulance, surgery and staying in the ICU following by more repairs 4 months later. Next week is the anniversary and I have successfully returned to riding, training and racing. Seriously accidents like this change us in different ways but shows how much determination and mental strength we can endure.

    • Richard Shoop

      Wow, that’s an amazing story as well. It’s so awesome to hear all these stories, and see how determined and resilient people can be. Thank you for sharing.

  • Brent Flanagan

    Thank for sharing, glad everything turned out alright. I tore my acl in July on a slow ride showing someone new in town a round the trails. I was on a raised wooden feature that had tree down in the middle, went to stop and put my foot down. Slipped right off and snap, 6 months to a year off a bike. Surgery went well and still recovery and starting to walk.

  • rmap01

    Amazing story. Welcome back Trent! Makes me wonder how many other stories are there without happy endings, i.e. people that didn’t have the courage, support, perseverance or determination to ride again. That’s why it’s stories like these that should inspire all those that have had to overcome both the physical and emotional trauma to return to this great sport.

  • VTMTB

    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 mile 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, 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 found no suitable sticks to make a splint with 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 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

    • Richard Shoop

      Wow, that’s an amazing story too. I hope you can get back on the trails soon.

  • VTMTB

    Thanks Richard, i’ll be riding with a Garmin InReach from now on…no more cell phone signal required. Trent’s story really gives me some hope as I was finally able to walk without crutches (in my aircast) on Saturday and now i’m going back to non-weight bearing and 24 hour elevation for a bit over a week. Stories like Trent’s should be told to let people know that you can come back from a serious injury.

  • Richard Shoop

    I felt riders needed to hear Trent’s story, as well as the ones other put in the comments section, to give encouragement to those who are recovering from injuries. I hope I can share some other such stories in the future.

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