The Darker Side of Sport: Dealing with Injuries

Most people who love to ride mountain bikes are ambitious, fun-loving, and positive people. We love to dream of shredding down trails with our friends, flying through trees and over rocks. Some of us dream of racing and standing on podiums. Some of us dream about teaching our kids to ride and enjoying those moments with them.

None of us dream about what happens when things go wrong and we become injured. We don’t like to think about the pain, time spent off the bike and away from our riding friends, and missed work. We don’t like to think about having to come back from injury and dealing with the fear of losing our nerve on the bike, losing our fitness, and getting hurt again. It sucks to think about, and many people would rather not talk about it.

Worrying about injuries is not what we want to be doing when we’re out shredding. At the same time, burying our heads in the sand and hoping it doesn’t happen to us isn’t the way to go either. Not talking about injuries is only going to make them more scary - and more likely. For better or for worse, mountain biking is risky. That’s part of what makes it fun and exhilarating. Crashes happen from pushing our limits. Overuse injuries happen from spending so much time on the bike. But it doesn’t have to be scary, and it doesn’t have to consume us.

The scariest aspect of injury, by far, is the unknown. Having a healthy awareness of the possibility of injury can actually be empowering. Knowing how to deal with setbacks that arise - physically, mentally, and emotionally, can make us more confident that we are strong enough to get through them. Most importantly, being proactive about all the different ways we can help prevent injuries is a great way to ensure that we can have fun riding our bikes and pushing our limits without living in fear or denial of the sport’s darker side.

As a physical therapist and a coach, I have helped many athletes deal with and rehabilitate from injuries. As an athlete myself, it was not until this past year that my number came up and I experienced my first major injury after six years of racing. I was involved in a high-speed crash at the marathon national championship race last summer, and as a result needed a surgery that took me out of training and racing for nearly nine months. It was an eye-opening experience that changed not only my own life, but the way I practice and coach.

For all of the highs and lows that I experienced (and am still experiencing!) throughout the injury process, I can easily say it has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I am certainly stronger, smarter, and actually more confident since my injury. I have learned firsthand how to mitigate risk, how to deal with fear, and how to be smarter and more conscious about decision making on the bike. Most importantly, I can now pass on to others what I have learned - not just through education, but through experience.

If you’re participating in the Beti AllRide Clinics in Keystone or in Crested Butte, I will be hosting a discussion about preventing and dealing with injuries after Saturday’s bike sessions. I will share some insights that I have learned throughout the years, and I’d love to answer any questions that you might have. If you can’t make it, stay tuned - some tidbits may pop up in future blog posts. 

See you on the trails! - Liz Sampey