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Churning Out the Miles

There was never any question about getting back on a bike after my crash. Not riding would have been like not breathing.

“So David, do you plan on breathing again now that your accident is behind you?” Silly questions are just that — silly.

When a teenage driver, barely old enough to shave, careens into you at 35 mph, damage is done. Bones break, tendons tear, and brain injuries come to pass. And when the battle lines are drawn between a cyclist and a few thousand pounds of speeding metal and glass, the cyclist rarely wins.

But I survived. We aren’t called “survivors” for nothing.

For the first few months after my crash, I was relegated to the basement on a stationary cycle. I watched way too much Dr. Phil as I spun for an hour or so every day. Driven by some urge deep within me, I kept up my daily exercise regime and waited for my bones to mend.

And the day finally came. I ventured back onto the streets of my town.

Learning to live in a body powered by a damaged brain takes time, lots of time. And so it was for me for those first few months. Frankly, I didn't know what I didn't know.

Putting on my cycling clothes started the adrenaline engines. I was pumped up before I even left my driveway. Cruising through my neighborhood felt great. I was still so innocent, still so new to all this “TBI stuff.” I was going to beat this — or so I thought.

And then it happened. I came to a road with a solid yellow line, two lines of traffic stacked up in front of me. I froze in my seat.

I’d like to share that I crossed that road and continued my ride, but such was not the case. My PTSD, which I didn’t fully understand at the time, was now calling the shots. And it spoke to me quite loudly at that intersection. “Thou Shall Not Pass!”

It took me more than six months to be conjure up the nerve to cross a street with a yellow line, so ingrained was my abject terror of anything metal and fast-moving. But time passed as it inevitably does, and inch by slow inch, my world expanded.

Fast forward to today.

I cycle 20 or more miles most every day. It’s been a couple of years since I felt “yellow-line terror.” Yearly, I take a short ride from our home in Southern New Hampshire to drop by my mom and dad’s house. It’s actually not that short … at 100 miles. Not bad for a middle-aged, brain-damaged guy.

A few months after my crash, a member of the medical community shared with me that pumping highly oxygenated blood through a damaged brain speeds healing. While that alone is motivating, there are so many more reasons to stay in the saddle. By cycling most every day, I am taking an active role in my own recovery.

I am one of the fortunate ones. When TBI brain fog and unfathomable mental exhaustion mean that time at work is done, I can still hop on my bike and ride for a couple hours. My tired brain has a chance to rest and recharge a bit as I leave behind me things that exhaust me; phone calls, conversions, email, I leave them in the dust.

And pretty consistently, somewhere around the 15-mile mark, gratitude washes over me. It may be something as simple as passing a few cows, or cycling through a pine grove, but my senses awaken.

Living with a traumatic brain injury is the toughest road I never expected to walk — or ride.

But I’m doing it — one mile at a time.



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