Few things are more frightening to a cyclist than a bad crash. Dealing with the physical injuries and the rehab is bad enough. Then there's the struggle to gain back your confidence.
Last fall, Chicago cyclist Dan Meyer had a nasty run-in with a patch of ice. His injuries were so bad he was wheelchair bound over the holidays. But thanks to hard work, determination, and a supportive spouse, Meyer came back stronger than ever, and crushed a little gravel in celebration.
By Dan Meyer
Last year, in March of 2014, I completed my first bike race. I really had no idea what racing would be like. I had only previously been a commuter biker for the past three years in Chicago, mainly riding on the lakefront path. I had just started training on a stationary bike trainer indoors with my spouse, Erica (Gaddy), who was a category 3 women racer. I was terrified I was not going to make it the entire 24 miles of the race I had picked. The week before my first race I rode my bike up and down lake shore path like a mad person multiple times. I think this was over 36 miles of hard biking that day, I had no bike computer, so I really had no idea how far I rode that day. Towards the end of my crazed lake shore path “training” ride I conked out about 14 miles from home, stopped at a grocery store and ate eight Cliff bars and rode the ‘L’ home exhausted. When I got home, Erica told me I was more than ready to do the race…I felt way better with her encouragement and somewhat ready.
Finally race day came, I was doing the 24-mile section of the Barry Roubaix Killer Gravel Road Race. The race was a lot quieter and peaceful than I had imagined. I felt pretty good through the race, except for during one hill climb, where I thought my head was going to boil, so stupidly I stopped to take my hat off and put my helmet back on. I remember watching a bunch of people pass me as I took my hat off. I also remember the high speed gravel down hills being pretty terrifying. Also I did not corner well on gravel or pavement and I rode off the road and partially into a ditch around one curve...I went slower on subsequent corners. The final section of the Barry Roubaix winds through the downtown area of hasting MI and I remember this mountain biker ahead of me just going nuts with sprints and high speed cornering. I thought for sure he was going to wipe out...he didn’t and went flying over the finish line with a nice jump. His jump inspired me and I hopped over the finish line myself. That day I finished in 23rd place in 40-45 Men out of 66 riders with a rate of 14.7 miles per hour. I was really happy that I made it through the entire race and was surprised that I finished in the middle of my age group.
I didn’t do any racing the rest of the year until August, when I did a cyclocross relay race. I had planned to do some more cyclocross races and practices, but didn’t. I did continue to cycle to work a few times a week and did some stationary bike training. I also did a bike clinic which greatly increased my cornering skills.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, I wiped out on my bike on the way to work. I slipped and fell on some black ice. I remember thinking I just dislocated my arm and hip. But no, I had broken both my hip and shoulder on the left side of my body. The road that I slipped on was so icy the ambulance that picked me up almost slid off the road.
Both breaks required surgery. I wound up having three screws put into my hip, plus a plate and 11 more screws in my shoulder. I was in a wheelchair for a month and half. It sucked to go from being so active to so injured.
Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
Fortunately by January, two months after my surgery, I was able to get back on my bike and start pedaling again.
Back on the horse: Dan commuting to work for the first time after his injury.
I could barely reach my handlebar with my left arm at first, but my Physical Therapist, Eric, helped get me there. I also started attending Pedaling with a Purpose (PWP) with my Erica every Sunday. PWP is lead by coach Kristen Meshberg and her positive words during training sessions helped me want to keep going. At first I could only lightly spin my legs for one hour of a two hour workout session. But with words of encouragement from my wife Erica, next to me each workout, I moved up to pushing myself hard. By the end of March I was cranking through an entire PWP two hour workout.
When the last weekend of March rolled around, it was time for a true test of my recovery: the 24 mile section of the Barry Roubaix Gravel Road Race. Despite being nervous about my injuries, I was excited because I knew what the race was going to be like.
At the start line, I positioned myself up near the front of my starting group. The buzzer went off and I went off the line hard, but quickly found a pace I could sustain for 24 miles. I focused on pushing myself hard but relaxing my upper body arms and neck as training had taught me. I also took note of the riders around me.
On one of the first gravel down hills, there was a rider who flew into the ditch and paramedics were helping him, I hoped he was alright, and had a flashback to my accident. Then I started asking other riders if they would like to work together with me. I got shut down a few times asking. Then just before the start of the paved road section of the race a rider said yes to my request to work together. We took turns drafting on the flat and downhill sections of the remaining gravel sections. By the time we hit the road portion, we were used to working together. We hit the paved road hard and really sped up, we took turns pulling, it was awesome! Then we started to get passed by a large peloton and we joined it to draft off the back. We both got dropped on a steep hill by the peloton, which sucked, but we quickly started working together again in the last zig zagging roads leading to the finish. It was awesome to use the skills I had learned in the cornering clinic to keep my speed up in these final stretches. The rider I was working with out sprinted me across the finish line. I had an awesome race! Charlie, the rider I worked with introduced himself to me and we chattered excitedly about the race for a moment.
Dan thawing out after the race (photo: Erica Gaddy)
I then went my car changed into warm clothes and waited for Erica and her Half Acre Cycling teammates to finish their longer 36 and 62 mile races. It was great seeing them finish their races and hear them talk about their race experiences.
When the results posted, I learned that I finished in 17th place in 40-45 Men out of 77 riders with a rate of 16.5 miles per hour, a much better position than last year!