My Road to Recovery – Maddie Woolley

As an athlete, training and competing is so common and habitual, that it essentially becomes a part of who you are. However, when an injury, or accident occurs during training, or competition, that feeling of normalcy that usually comes from sport, can turn into an almost hellish ordeal. Part of being an athlete is learning how to overcome these seemingly impossible obstacles, and return to the sport that once made you feel at home. At times, it seems, that the most difficult part is that there is no set timeline for recovery; that almost no one is the same and that returning to “normal” can take anywhere from weeks to years. Being an athlete that has had to overcome setbacks themselves, I know this is SO much easier said than done.

Over a year ago now, I crashed by bike during a typical cycling practice. I was doing something I’d do almost everyday: reaching for food in my back pocket. Little did I know that doing a simple task would take my attention away from the reflector I was about to hit, and take me out for the rest of the season. When I hit the ground, I did what any true cyclist would do, and I asked how my bike was. What slipped my mind, however, was to ask how I was. Full of adrenaline, I felt like I was fine, and the “doctor” in the group thought the same. I later found out that the reason my well-being slipped my mind, was because I’d hit my head pretty hard on the ground during the fall. Since I had a helmet on, I thought nothing of it, and continued on with the ride. Thinking back now, that’s probably the worst thing I could have done. However, I’m so glad I did because that would be the last time I’d ride on the road for a month.

At first I struggled immensely trying to adjust to the restrictions that came with the concussion. I’d go through days on end of sitting in a dark room alone with only my thoughts to keep me entertained, which wasn’t good because thinking hurt. It hurt to think about how much I missed my friends, school, riding, and it literally hurt to think. Even when I could manage to go back to school, I could only handle half a day, and I had to beg my teachers to work with me so I could keep my grades up. Although, it was challenging, I had hope of returning back to condition I was in before the crash. And I did, 4 months later. I’d gotten to the point to where I got noticed for my race results, and invited to a training camp at The Olympic Training Center, which was an accomplishment that I’d dreamt about for years. I was SO excited, and then 3 days before I was scheduled to leave, I crashed again. This time, I landed on my shoulder, and had to go to the hospital. My worse case scenario possible happened, and the doctor told me that I broke my elbow and that I wouldn’t be able to ride again for 3 weeks. Heartbroken, I went home, and wondered what I had done wrong to deserve all this bad luck in doing the sport I loved. Exhausted, I decided to take the rest of the year off and try again next season.

As the 2018 season rolled around, I found myself at a plateau, with no real results to show for my efforts. I was training really hard, but when I went to races, I still had the fear of crashing in the back of my mind. The season went along and I was overwhelmingly frustrated with my consistently average performances, but no real podiums or wins. I felt like something was just missing from my races that I’d had a year prior. To my utter disbelief, I came home from practice one night, to find that I’d been invited back to the same Training Camp that I felt had been robbed from me a year earlier. It felt like I had been given a second chance to get back to where I was, and to break the spell that had haunted all my races that year. I had an incredible experience, met people I’d only seen on TV, and heard how they overcame their own battles that were very similar to mine. I came back from Colorado with a newfound love for the sport and motivation that I’d never had, even before the crash. I took advantage of the skills that I learned from the best, and ended the season with 6 podiums and 4 wins; something I hadn’t had in a long time.

This time last year, I had no idea why I couldn’t catch a break from injuries. I felt like the world was moving on without me, and that I’d never be able to return to where I was in the sport. I felt like I was getting a clear sign that biking just wasn’t the right thing for me, and that I just needed to quit and figure out something else to do with my life. But as tough as it got, the one thing that helped me keep my hopes up, was the love for the sport, and the belief that I might get a second chance to do the thing that made me happy. Sometimes I feel like I had to go through everything I did, to truly appreciate cycling and all that it has does and continues to do for me, and to help others get through similar situations. So if there’s one thing I could say to athletes who are struggling to overcome a traumatic injury or accident, it’s to remember why you love your sport like you do, and to never give up, because it’s so much better on the other side, and it’s so worth it.

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