This diary has been provided by Liv ambassador Sarah Riley, who has patiently done all her recovery work for 12 months, to find herself ready to race again.
These last few weeks, as I head toward 12 months post-accident, have lead me to reflect on the factors that have kept me strong, focused, and most importantly happy through this last year.
As I lay in the pre op room waiting for the surgery to have the IM nail removal I was very aware of the next hurdle I faced. However, I was so calm and ready because I was so focused on getting back to life.
The thing about an injury like this is that all you end up thinking about is your injury. . . first thing when you wake up, how is my leg? Walking up stairs you think how strong am I today? After my ride, how has the leg pulled up? Every day this leg has been my focus. The reason for my calm disposition as I lay there waiting to have the rod removed from my femur was because that last ride I did pre op was showing signs that I was coming back stronger than I had been before my crash, which was really encouraging. This made me ever more focused and desperate to get back to training and racing!
With the operation only supposed to take half an hour but ending up over 1.5hrs it was apparent the somewhat routine surgery had not happened in my case. I’d healed the bone so well the rod was stuck inside the femur well and truly! I had mentally prepared for a 6-week recovery but with post op bleeds and bruising worse than the initial crash, to be back to almost the beginning, pain and movement wise, was not something anyone had expected. But I had coped before and I was going to cope again and the tricks I had learnt the first time could be applied again.
Post-surgery I was back on crutches for 3 weeks and I was again reminded of the need to be patient and let my body recover and heal in its own time. I was back to basic rehab work, pain management and reliance on people. I was however still just as determined and focused to recover the right way.
So as I sit and reflect on the most important components that have got me through the last 12 months of injury recovery, they might seem pretty basic but let me assure you when you are in the situation that I was faced with they offer you structure and a life line.
This journey has taught me so much about myself and it has been my attitude to the situation that has been the most reassuring. You can choose to be a victim or you can make the most of the situation and be open to learning about yourself and how others are affected around you. You discover pretty quickly how strong you can be and what you can tolerate in terms of pain, physically and mentally. In the hospital bed the night before my first operation I had already decided that if I was to lose my leg I was going to the Para Olympics! This is me all over, the eternal optimist!
Although my self-reliance has been the biggest influence on my road to recovery, you still need the right people around you. Pretty quickly you learn who these people are whether they are practitioners, family or friends. Those people that are closest to you are not necessarily able to cope, so understanding and accepting this and letting those that can offer you support into your life is important. These may be the people in your life that you least expect. This has been the best experience for me, finding “my people.”
Structure in your day is essential during recovery but remaining dynamic enough that you don’t become anxious or agitated if something disrupts your day such as pain, delayed doctor’s appointments, or cancelled rehabilitation sessions. One of the ways in which I found control, calm and also very useful with pain management, was meditation. I started the week I got home from hospital and I have continued it through to today. There are many apps you can download for your phone and taking just 10min-15min a day has made a massive difference to my life, health and I believe my recovery. Nutrition also works well into structuring your day. Making sure you eat your regular meals as the energy demands of healing are massive. You want to maintain as much muscle as possible while at the same time aiding the bone, muscle, and vascular healing. Your immune system is also very much compromised in this early injury state so correct nutrition is imperative.
I spent a lot of time during my recovery on injury management. Initially this was just focusing on muscle activation, self-massage to break up the contusions, and help promote lymphatic drainage as well as icing. This then progressed to range of movement exercises to try and restore movement in the knee and hip joint, core and stability exercises. I would set aside time to do these exercises diligently every day . . . I always said I was the busiest injured person. Stretching is also crucial not only in injury management but also athlete management and I am still continuing to ice after every ride or demanding rehab work out as it helps with swelling and pain management.
The last thing that I can offer up about surviving injury in happy and healthy ways is to keep moving forwards. This can be done by setting hourly goals, daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals in your recovery and for me it was a goal to recover in under 12 months and get back to racing. Early on my big goal for the day would be to get out of the house and sometimes this would take until the afternoon to amp myself up enough to get out. The energy to move my body in this state was massive and a short trip outside would exhaust me for the rest of the day. . .not to mention my leg would turn black because I didn’t have any circulation. Scary! Each week and month my goals would change to match my ability and every time I reached my next goal I had a good sense of achievement and felt fulfilled. Learning to walk again is to date my biggest life achievement and let’s just think for a moment, that is, with my own leg and not a prosthetic . . . how lucky I am!
So at 12 months I now look forward to my first race back tomorrow at the Mitta Mitta to Mt Beauty. I’m excited to see how my cycling will progress from this point and most of all how grateful I am to have come out of this journey stronger, more focused and happier than ever!
Sarah ‘Ninja’ Riley