By Kate Agathon
The frustration of having a cycling season cut short:
Postponing your cycling season due to injury and subsequent surgery can be a devastating experience; especially if cycling compromises a large part of your identity.
This week’s newsletter follows two local cyclists whose cycling seasons were sidelined this year, and captures their recovery process.
Hopefully, their stories will resonate with others undergoing similar circumstances.
If you or another cyclist you know is currently undergoing recovery from injury, this one is for you.
Colorado Avid Cyclist’s Gary Robinson, 61, fractured his patella after slipping on a snowy walkway in early February.
When he was informed that the minimum post-surgery recovery time would be 5 to 6 months, he knew his season was all but over.
For him, this was a huge setback.
He had trained during the last off season and was looking forward to his first full season with Groove Subaru/Excel Sports.
“When I realized that I would be out of cycling, I was very upset,” said Gary
The summer that he had originally envisioned was ambitious indeed: at least 12 races and all of the Outside Events organized rides.
A lifelong cyclist, this is the first injury that has prevented him from cycling. It is also the first time in five years that he has gone longer than a week without cycling.
Exclaimed Gary, “I miss everything about cycling! The training, the racing, and the going out for long rides.”
“The last few months have been brutal, both mentally, as much as physically,” he added.
University of Colorado at Denver senior instructor, Molly Nepokroeff, 57, underwent hip replacement surgery on May 31.
An avid mountain biker, Molly’s summer typically includes the annual family mountain biking trip to Crested Butte (the highlight of her summer), riding in the Bailey Hundo, and perhaps a handful of local races too. For now, however, all of those activities are postponed.
Herself no stranger to injuries (an ACL tear while skiing, two prior surgeries on her Sl joint- all within the last decade) that have prevented her from mountain biking in the past, getting a hip replaced was something else entirely.
“I was really, really exasperated! I had worked so hard to get back into shape after my previous injuries and surgeries and felt like I was finally in a good place,” she said.
Although voluntary, the decision for surgery was somewhat forced.
Specifically, Molly was reluctant to undergo hip replacement surgery, but she realized that she couldn’t continue to endure the pain that she was constantly experiencing.
Due to her position as a university instructor, she had to wait until spring semester was over to schedule the procedure. Alas, mountain biking this summer was not going to happen.
After she received literature from her surgeon’s office describing the procedure, her dejection about not mountain biking morphed into fear.
“I totally freaked out! I guess I had not thought about what was actually involved in the surgery. It seemed so common; why worry? Then I learned that the top of my femur would be sawed off for starters… this more than anything held me back. My leg was actually being dislocated!” she exclaimed.
An entertaining Youtube clip of Steve Carrell talking about his hip replacement experience helped her get through her initial terror, though. Because he “…looked totally normal after his surgery,” if he could do it, so could she, Molly resolved.
After searching the internet for cyclists who could successfully mountain bike after hip replacement surgery, she feels fairly optimistic about eventually returning to the sport that she loves.
This spring, Gary learned that the road to recovery would not be as straightforward as he had hoped.
He had never broken a bone before, and any prior injury he had experienced always seemed to have had a direct route to recovery.
This time, however, was different.
To his mortification, three months into recovery, he learned that the bone had not healed properly.
Consequently, he had to undergo another surgery to remove the patella that had broken and fused to the tendon.
“I wish I could have been told, or told myself, ‘Hey, this could really suck. Hope for the best, but be ready for it to suck.’ I was not ready for the reality that after another surgery, there would be no comeback mid-season; no cool recovery,” Gary said.
Unfortunately for him, it was back to square one.
Recovery isn’t easy
Recovery has proven to be a formidable challenge; both physically and mentally.
“The physical part is tough, especially after the setback. Watching my leg deteriorate, and wondering if my strength will return at my age… The other frustration is the weight gain and putting on 23 pounds while being sedentary- this really sucked,” sighed Gary.
“The mental part has really been tough as well. Not being mobile, at home, no work, no cycling… it is pretty much all a mindf*k,” he admitted.
Despite the initial disappointments that he has endured, he has made some progress. Earlier this week, he was given the green light to use his indoor trainer and Zwift; 30 minutes, easy revolutions.
Celebrating milestones such as increased mobility is part of the entire recovery (both mental and physical) process, as well as setting new goals.
“I know that with the hip replacement surgery, it is really important to stay positive and not compare your recovery to that of anyone else,” said Molly.
Additionally, her experience with past orthopedic surgeries have helped to manage her expectations in terms of patience and time.
Molly has found that positive feedback and acknowledgement about reaching milestones helps immensely.
“I do think a lot of recovery is mental (maybe even half)! After a major surgery like this, one tends to feel like an invalid and the fear of pain keeps you from doing things that you might actually be capable of,” she explained.
Recognizing the reality of recovery (i.e. everyone’s recovery is unique; and that the overall experience is punctuated with both negative and positive moments) is the biggest step, she maintains.
Still in self-described “rehab mode”, Molly’s goals are to ride her indoor trainer, do PT and strength exercises, and then continue the process until she is cleared to do some easy single track.
“Getting on my indoor trainer felt great! It felt really normal to be back on the bike. More importantly, it made me feel like I could get back in the game. It’s all progressive steps,” she said.
For Gary, sacrificing all the events and races that he had been training for and replacing them with just the Tour of the Moon would have been unheard of not too long ago.
“I have always been very goal-oriented, but now more than ever! I actually do have some short-term riding goals that include just being able to finish the Tour of the Moon in September,” said Gary.
While no speed PRs will be made, he half joked, just reaching a fitness level to do a solid ride and then being able to sucessfully cross the finish line is more than acceptable for him.
Long term goals? Gary already has a theme.
Summer 2023 will be entitled, “Rinse and Repeat”- the year he achieves the goals he set for this year.
If you live and bike in Colorado, for some, there is a likelihood of getting injured and being temporarily unable to ride.
Like Molly and Gary, it is even more difficult when cycling makes up a large part of your identity.
“Have patience (a lot of it) and listen to your body! Revise your expectations for your season!” advised Molly.
Her takeaway is that the recovery process is neither linear, nor smooth. Furthermore, she maintains that it is normal to experience both highs and lows- despite having the experience of past surgeries.
Embrace the suck.
As you recover, acknowledge all your feelings that you experience in the process. Even the negative ones.
Gary’s advice to fellow cyclists experiencing the agony of the seemingly glacial post-surgery recovery process:
“We all want the happy ending, but sometimes there is some real s*t in between the beginning and the end that is both mental and physical,” he said.
“It (recovery) is not a movie…it does not always work in a linear way. So, when it sucks, do not ignore it. Just embrace it and move through,” Gary concluded.
Both Molly and Gary found personal cheerleaders within their spouses and families.
Who better suited to celebrate all moments big and small? Share your goals and build that at-home support structure where milestones are acknowledged and celebrated.
Our featured participants use indoor trainers as part of their recovery. Learn more about how indoor trainers like the Wahoo KICKR are changing the injury recovery game.
Optimize your support by going online. For example, Molly discovered a Facebook group for active hip replacement. There are other Facebook groups such as Cycling Performance and Injury Support Group to provide additional support if needed.
As summer slowly bids farewell and the leaves begin their vibrant transformation, there’s no better time to explore the breathtaking beauty of Colorado on two