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THE GU'D LIFE: PEAKS & VALLEYS

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” Thich Naht Hanh

I’m not in actual mud, but I wish I was. And while I’m not afraid of pain, particularly when it comes to pushing my physical limits, I really wish I wasn’t suffering right now, or in this place. I’m lying inside a large tube being bombarded by a cacophonous collection of whirs, clanks, bangs, and beeps, ears covered by noise canceling headphones so I don’t go stark raving mad during the 25-minute scan. An MRI machine is definitely NOT the place I expected, or imagined, to be composing my next GUd Life blog but, hey, you never know where or when inspiration might strike!

Yup, you read that right, I’m getting an MRI of my left leg, which sustained multiple tibial fractures in a back country ski accident on January 9, to see if I also did any ligament, tendon, or meniscus damage, too. While this is not the story I envisioned, or hoped, to tell, this unfortunate accident is now part of my 2022 journey, so I’m going to share my insights, my highs and lows, and my learnings in the hope that my recovery journey through the “mud” of suffering can help all of us better appreciate the eventual lotus flower of happiness that will, eventually, bloom again.

Knee x-ray

Life can be fickle. One day you’re standing on the highest peak - Eureka Peak to be exact - and the next day you’re in the lowest of valleys lying on an X-ray table having your left leg scanned at Kaiser. I’ll spare you all the glorious details of my failed back country excursion but suffice to say I’m very thankful I was surrounded by an experienced crew, all of whom had clear, calm heads when it came to my extraction off the face of Eureka Peak. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a deep nod of respect and love to my brother-in-law Duncan, who played a pivotal role in helping me safely glissade 1,700 vertical feet off the face of the mountain. If it weren’t for his assistance, his guidance, his strength, his persistence, his focus, I know things could’ve been way worse.

Woman and man sitting on a couch

I spent the first few days after my accident trying to manage the pain and swelling, as well as do my work as GU’s Elite Athlete Manager, while also doing a host of follow up hospital visits (after the X-rays came a CT scan and then the MRI, just three short days after my accident). It’s not lost on me that I’m very fortunate to have health insurance, a doctor friend who’s helped expedite the whole process, a mom who lives around the corner, and an angel of wife who is an amazingly selfless and THE best care giver. All this combined has given me a real head start on the recovery process (important to find those silver linings, right?). Because my fractures were complicated, and my tibial plateau chipped, it wasn’t clear in the initial days following my accident whether I was going to have surgery or not, which was its own purgatory of suffering. This feeling of helplessness led to me to host a pity party for myself where I wallowed, just for a bit, in a sea of frustration, sadness, pain, and anger. Totally immobilized by the weight of my grieving, I sat for hours some days, doing nothing but staring at my phone, constantly fidgeting my body to find a comfortable way to sit with my leg elevated and iced, paralyzed by the uncertainty of my situation. But you know what? Pity parties beget pity, so by day eight, when I was told by my doctor that I wasn’t going to have surgery, I was done feeling sorry for myself, and decided it was time to change my perspective. It was time to make a plan and move forward.

Man on crutches

During my eleven-year tenure teaching elementary school, I used my bike racing experiences to impart a few life lessons to my littles, the main being that winning isn’t everything and that doing our Personal Best is the most important thing we can do in life. To most six, seven, and eight-year-olds, if you don’t win, you’re a loser, which leaves little room to learn from your experiences, and more often than not, meant that my race experiences left them thinking that their teacher, who rarely stood on the podium, always lost! Taking that knowledge, and the fact that I’m a bit of a word nerd, I created an alliteration unit that focused on what I called the P Mantras: Personal Best, Plan, Prepare, Perform, Passion, Persistence, and Phun (I was also able to slip in some phonics, too). Funny that this school lesson translated well into my 20-year racing career, and, most recently, into my teaching on the iFit indoor cycling platform that I’ve been doing for the past two years.

So now it’s time for me to walk the talk of those P Mantras that I preached years ago, to put them to practice as I crutch this path of recovery before me. The first P word I’ve embraced is Plan. Having a clear plan helped change my mental outlook, it gave me something to focus on, and a clearer path forward. No surgery, which is the best option possible, means that my leg will be in an immobilizing brace for 4 to 6 weeks, and my job is to keep ALL weight off it and focus on resting, something I’m not used to, or good at.

Soup and salads

PHood. Food is a love language unto itself, so nourishing on many levels, so I plan on eating as healthy as possible and have been consuming the following: vitamin D3, calcium, magnesium, bone broth, collagen, CBD, leafy greens, MCT, a Chinese herbal tea supplement, soups, and secret protein smoothies from R&D at GU (thanks Magda!). While there have been gifts of freshly baked bread, Thai Food, and other tasty vittles, I’m doing my best to reduce my daily caloric intake a bit since my metabolism is used to 14 to 18 hours of weekly ride time, not extended periods of couch potato time.

Before actual physical therapy/movement was prescribed, I had body work and acupuncture done to stimulate blood flow and to help flush the bruising and damaged tissue out of my left leg. I’ve also tapped into Mother Nature’s healing powers through the use of comfrey, also called “bone knit.” I’m using warm compresses of poultices of leaves and roots, which are believed to help heal burns, sprains, swellings, and bruises, on a daily basis. While I’m able to do some light physical activity with the leg now, I gave myself a three-week grace period of inactivity, to do nothing physical, to let my body do the hard work of healing, and just be with this new life adventure I’m experiencing.

Patience with the process. I’m tapping into my inner Job as I navigate the life of a professional couch potato, which is more difficult than you might think. For someone who regularly logs 10k miles per year on a bike, it is no easy task. I’m doing my best to read and write more, watch documentaries, channel positive perspectives, connect with family and friends via calls and visits, take joy in little things like sitting on my front porch in the sun, practice my Ukulele, and stay off social media as much as possible (not good for my mental health right now). This is a work in progress, and I know it won’t all be smooth sailing, but I’m focused and ready to navigate these waters as I do the recovery work.

Woman, dog and man on a couch

In these first four weeks of my recovery journey I’ve been overwhelmed, in a good way, by the outpouring of love, well wishes, community connections, prayers, offers of help, food deliveries, porch serenades, gifts of crutches with suspension and snap pants, body work, acupuncture, videos, sunrise photos, and countless other acts of kindness. I have been wrapped in a warm embrace by my community, surrounded by love, reminded, most importantly, that I have an amazingly vibrant network around me, all of which has helped me do my best to channel that energy, all of that positivity, into healing my left tibia. As I make my way through this “mud” of my recovery, I know I will be that flowering lotus again, it’s just going to take some time. But you know what? I’ve got plenty of that right now.