"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go"
Everyone loves a motivating, happy ending. It is challenging to share the hard to navigate, in between where the destination and the journey are unknown. It is this space where the uncertainty and doubt ultimately pave way to allow for that exhilarating happing ending which becomes the inspiration for many to start on a path of change.
We all seek for control and to find the answers that give us peace of mind to navigate choppy seas. Even if you become accepting of the waves, the uncertainty of when and what that will look like when it becomes calm is frustrating.
In 2017 I had a bike accident which in retrospect was fairly simple. Gashes, bruises, some knee bursitis and a broken wrist. Straight forward injuries that needed time to heal but the path for recovery was clear. That doesn’t mean it was easy; hours of physical therapy and restrictions were a challenge; especially for someone whose professional is based on movement.
Back in September of 2019 I had a second bike crash. Being a veteran of choppy seas, I was hopeful and focused on the path of progress, despite having to drop out of the Ironman World Championships. This accident left me with some nasty gauges that took a long time to heal, a broken maxilla and ribs, a fractured shoulder, and ruptured tendons/ligaments in my elbow, wrist and severely in my ankle, with a third concussion. Unfortunately, the excuse of that for my Milly mistakes has long worn out!
Lying in the ambulance I questioned my triathlon journey. To me this was a heathy doubt, as the last accident did not leave me with any fear. But even the next day I spoke with my coach and continued to make lemonade out of lemons realizing that yes the world championships were over but there was still hope for the 2019 season.
After following up with the orthopedic PA two days later he said it was actually not a fracture but instead just a “soft tissue” injury and instructed me to move and strengthen despite pain. Tell an athlete to push through that and they will do that to the max! After a week of extreme R&R with thanks to my Mum and boyfriend, Matt the superficial wounds had healed and my spirits were high.
My shoulder continued to get worse, after another follow up appointment with questions of a labral tear, I sought out a second opinion from Dr. Corrine Van Beek who I cannot speak more highly of. She explained in detail what I was experiencing, the possible outcomes and the best course of action, all with the greatest respect of my athletic and professional goals. We discovered it was indeed a fracture and three weeks of forcing range of motion and strength had created a displaced fracture. I rested it with a sling for four weeks but balanced that with keeping what range of motion I had and nerve damage in my elbow.
There were countless hours of physical therapy, my daily routine was about an hour of rehab, not to mention the hot/cold contrast baths for my foot, icing for my shoulder, and as much soft tissue work as I could handle. Dr. Josh Lander my mentor and who I can’t find a one word definition to describe his depth of knowledge and what he has done for me during my recovery. That was a game changer and I started to see huge progress in my strength and pain levels.
Around December, MRI results suggested that I would need ankle surgery to repair tendons/ligaments, however being on crutches with my shoulder presented more challenges, especially when you live up 3 flights of stairs. A second opinion on the ankle explained that continual therapy, a foot brace and an emphasis on trying to regain activity despite pain may be sufficient for an injury that needs at least 6 months to heal. Sufficient to run occasionally, or sufficient to be competitive at the Ironman distance? Only time will tell.
Next comes my follow up with Dr. Van Beek, after two months of PT for my shoulder. She was surprised at my lack of strength and the pain I was still experiencing. A CT scan concluded that I had a greater tuberosity non union- there was a piece of bone hanging off that needed to be removed, and if it was attached to a tendon that would also need to be repaired. So we scheduled a surgery going in with an unknown outcome.
After four months I have continued to remain positive and done everything I can on a given day to stay on the path towards my athletic goals. I am fortunate that my background in workout design has allowed me to be creative with what I can do. Having injuries on upper and lower body is definitely a restriction, but there was always a way I found to break a sweat and work towards fitness, not specific training progression. I missed pushups and putting together fun workouts, I missed swimming and running without pain, but I took each day and did what I could in the moment to stay on the path.
Two days before surgery and after being down with the flu for two weeks, panic mode has set in to do everything that I won’t be able to do: run, write, clean, dress myself!! This has been the hardest stage of the experience, not knowing whether I am looking at a 6 week of 6 month recovery. Then once the shoulder is back to full strength, I can assess the ankle, which if needed surgery would be another 4-6 months of recovery. I could be back to function in 6 weeks or a year. I have come to peace with whichever direction that might be. However, the uncertainty of when and even if full recovery will happen, is daunting. And beyond that will my body be able to handle the volume for Ironman racing anymore? The fact that this is something I might not even have the knowledge for in potentially over a year has been the most consuming part of this experience.
I have always lived a life where you can do anything you want. But today, 2 days before surgery even I am questioning my return to Ironman or even triathlon. I find comfort in that this too shall pass and no matter how long it takes, I will have my answer. I am at peace that there is a possibility of that, however anxious for the time frame and struggling to stay mindful day to day.
This story may not have a happy ending, or rather the ending that I was seeking out. But it is a reminder to me that the journey is the focus, and regardless of where I am, I am still travelling on that. Once I reach my destination, whatever that looks like, I will formulate a plan to make the best of the experience. I don’t have the answers, the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel and that gray area is where most people give up and change the course of their journey. No matter how frustrating, I will stay on this path until I have the answers I need to move further. I will do what I can on each given day to work towards that and deal with whatever waves come crashing down. No, this story is not motivating or exciting as my 2017 crash, turning an accident into a Kona qualifier Ironman in 3 months. But, it is reality, it is applicable to any other life struggle and there will be an ending- whatever that might be.