By Cori Parks
On December 3, 2012, I was almost giddy, standing on the podium having taken third place for the women’s 100k-bike race around Cambodia’s breathtaking Angkor Wat temples. Two weeks later, while riding my bike home after teaching a Spinning® class, a motorcycle sped through a red light. I never saw him coming and to this day, some eight months later, the only image I have in my memory is his headlight just before our front tires met.
Most disturbing to me is remembering the sound of my helmet crunching upon impact: the squeak of the Styrofoam liner, the crack of the plastic. I still can’t account for all of the moments that followed the initial impact. I do remember bracing myself to be hit by oncoming traffic in that busy intersection, and I do remember a stranger taking my phone and calling my husband. I don’t remember walking off the street with the assistance of total strangers.
Setting a New Goal
For years I have joked with my non-cycling friends that while there are some risks of riding a bike in Cambodia, such as the lack of emergency medical service and apparent lawlessness on the road, there are absolute known risks to living a scared, sedentary life. So I choose to ride. Building confidence is one of the best Spinning class benefits. Despite the trauma of the accident I continue stand by my commitment to exercise and push myself physically.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I had a conversation with my surgeon. “Well,” he said, “The good news is that this is my favorite injury.” Heavily medicated, I leaned in to pay close attention to what he was saying. “The better news is that the extent of the damage to your shoulder — your rotator cuff is 80% torn off — is so massive, I’ve cleared my schedule for this afternoon and I’d like to fix it today.”
Yeah, I guess that was good news. But he went on. “Honestly, at your age, it intrigues me that you could have this much damage to your shoulder and have no skin damage. You obviously went straight up and straight down. Good core control.” “At your age,” he said. Yeah, at my age, I take a compliment where I can find it.
When checking out from the hospital some days later, I told him that I had been planning to do a triathlon in May—five months following total reconstruction of my shoulder. He told me that he didn’t think I could do it, but to let him know if I did. My physio agreed. “Why not just reschedule the triathlon? Do one later in the year.” But I had a plan. After all, aren’t the richest, most fulfilled lives led by those who do things that terrify them…those who set impossible goals?
Determining a Plan of Action
First I had to get off my drugs, but I enjoyed not feeling pain. I experienced the sort of pain that takes your breath away and makes you see purple.
Second, I knew I needed to get my diet in order, so I focused on clean-eating and eating whole-foods.
Third, I needed to commit to the tri, so I signed up.
I made a collage of all the photos I have of my being strong and athletic—I needed this as my screensaver and constant reminder of where I was headed. I surrounded myself with like-minded people who were cheering me along the way.
I asked if I could start teaching Spinning® again, even if off the bike. I was eager to start feeling the Spinning class benefits to my health again in any way I could. I knew that if I could motivate and be inspirational to others I would reap the rewards myself. Off-the-bike coaching was great, but I craved putting my own heart rate up.
Getting Back on My Spinner® Bike
Swimming, walking, and certainly running were out of the question because of the jarring and the swinging that would affect my shoulder.
The Spinner® bike would be my ticket! I started slowly at first, asking friends to be with me to make sure that I was safe. I was very diligent with my physiotherapy, never missing appointments and listening (for the most part) to the instructions to be patient, to listen to my pain and to take baby steps. Gradually the pain diminished, the range of motion returned and stability and strength came back. I’d say that, at eight months post-accident, I was 95% better, physically.
Crossing the Starting Line… and the Finish
I have to admit that I’ve lost a little of that carefree cyclist that used to set me apart from my non-cycling friends. Sure, I did my triathlon. I was nearly last out of the water. I passed a lot of people on the bike and ran with a makeshift sling on so as not to swing my screaming arm. Only five people came in behind me. Only five people—but I felt like I had just won Kona when I crossed the finish line (this is what I mean when I talk about Spinning class benefits). I needed that impossible goal to get me back in the game.
You see, the finish line was never my goal. I really had no idea if I would finish the triathlon. The starting line was my goal. And finishing the tri is what really cemented the notion that this accident was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I now understand pain, fear, depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and how it feels to struggle up from sedentary weakness. I feel like I have a membership now that opens me up to an exclusive club of people who truly don’t know if they can persevere. The Spinning class benefits can hardly be overstated.
I would not advocate people starting back into Spinning too early following an accident, but when the time is right it is a perfect stepping stone over the river of insecurity that flows from a major accident. My shoulder is nearly recovered and I continue to ride, confident that there are no headlights running red lights as I recuperate my spirit.