Keep Moving Forward

Blog, Cycling, Reader Stories

Denise back in the saddle, WY.

Denise back in the saddle, WY.

By Denise Hawkins

My journey back to cycling since my hemorrhagic stroke (a brain bleed, not clot-related) in December 2012 has not gone like I had imagined it.  When I was in the first few months of my recovery, I looked ahead to the end of Summer 2013 and figured I would be riding 65-mile day tours just like I had at the end of Summer 2012.  But my body has not recovered exactly like that.  This reality has forced me to analyze my attitudes about goals and what they really mean to me.

The first time I got on a bicycle after the stroke was about five months into my recovery. My left leg was still pretty wobbly, and I knew I wasn’t ready for my road bike. I ventured out on my old hardtail mountain bike, with my husband and son in tow.  Everything felt marginally okay, until I had to stop.  I put my leg down to stop, and it crumpled up underneath me. I realized that my body and my bad leg did not remember how to stop.  It’s hard to explain, but my muscles didn’t know what to do.  Although I knew in my head how to stop, knew what it felt like and could envision it, I had to start over from square one like a child riding her bike for the first time.  I learned to think through the stop from start to finish, step by step. It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of practice.  Time passed, and finally I was ready to try clipping in on my road bike.  I spent over an hour starting and stopping in my back yard on the grass, so I could fall without getting hurt (which I did a lot).  Finally, I was starting to get it again, awkward as I was.  My long-term goal of just going out for a ride was waylaid by this whole start-and-stop problem that I didn’t expect.

Last summer I was a 42-year old,  in the best physical condition of my life, enjoying my 6th year as a recreational road cyclist. Multi-day tours with mileage averaging 60-80 miles, day tours of at least 65 miles, and training rides of 20-30 miles were my norm until the stroke. I even finished my first century two summers ago and planned on doing more.  These are humble accomplishments in the cycling world, for sure.  But to go from that state of physical condition to where I am now has been a dramatic adjustment. I really had to change how I envisioned my recovery. ‘Out’ was the unrealistic goal of riding the 65-mile Tour of The Moon my husband and I had enjoyed so much in October 2012, or most of my other favorite summer tours. ‘In’ was the goal of completing a ride without falling on my mountain bike. Next goal was getting back on the road bike. Next was completing a training ride without falling, and so on. Right now I’m up to about 35 miles on my road bike, no falls and getting more and more confident with starts and stops. My last riding goal for the summer is to simply participate in the Venus de Miles Colorado for the sixth time. I won’t be able to do century or metric century as in years past, but I can still ride it. Small goals, small victories.

I’ve gone through most of life with big goals, and not ever had a problem with how I’d set them or attained them. If I worked hard enough, I reached them. This time though, I don’t have total control over how my body is healing. I can only work very hard and let time do the rest. We’ve all had failures and have to learn how to deal with them in our own way. Failure doesn’t have to become a reality, though, when goals are just a little smaller. Reaching those small goals is just as satisfying as reaching the large ones; the important thing is to keep moving forward.

Keep moving forward.

Keep moving forward.

Those three words are what have kept me grounded throughout this entire recovery. Those three words are what reassure me that no matter how small my goal might seem, it’s worthwhile and fulfilling to reach it.  No matter how little a step forward might seem, it’s still further along than before. Whatever your goal was or is, try not to dwell on looking back or worrying about the far-ahead future.  Step by step, one small accomplishment at a time, you will get to where you need to be. Just keep moving forward.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Denise is a freelance graphic designer who lives and works in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She is married to Mark and they have two teenagers, one in college and one in high school. Besides road biking, Denise enjoys photography, hiking, skiing, and gardening, and is hoping to recover well enough to ski again someday.

Last modified: September 18, 2013

11 Responses to :
Keep Moving Forward

  1. I had a stroke (VAD) at 43. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. lorriehess says:

    Ride on, Denise! Thanks for sharing and reminding me to keep going forward.

    1. Olivia Voltaire says:

      I had an ischaemic, stroke,seven years ago, and it left me with chimiplegia,and,left-sided,weakness, but I want to ride again I am now 48 years old my babies,are now twelve,and fourteen,but, they have never had an active mom,since this happened when I was 41,and they were five,and seven,but, if it’s the last thing I do we will become active once again!

      1. Ishka Bibble says:

        Good for you, Olivia! You’ve got a great attitude. I’m a few years older than you and it’s been 5 yrs since my stroke that also left me with left-sided weakness. My Physical Therapist back then told me I’d never be able to ride a bicycle again and another Therapist recently strongly advised against it suggesting it could be dangerous. But I’m determined to do it. Going to put on my helmet and get on my one speed, foot pedal-brake bike and try to ride it on the grass. It won’t be pretty but I’m going o do it. I wish you the best!

  3. Silvana says:

    Stellar strength …ride on!
    I sustained a traumatic brain injury 3 1/2 yrs ago when a car hit me on my bicycle. It took a lot of pleading to my doctors and loads of practice on a stationary bike before I could get on my mountain bike again. After 6 months of that I was back on my road bike and now I try to get in 75-150 miles a week. Big tours and large group rides are out for now, as it takes too much brain power to deal with many riders. But pedaling through, country roads and happy thoughts keeps me going.
    Thank you Denise and I hope women keep sharing their stories of daily survival through traumatic events as it helps encourage and support us all.

  4. Richard Covington says:

    This is a great story of reality. It seems to encourage hope. Not too long ago I encountered two strokes.The first was over night. When I woke up to do my daily 1 mile jog my wife asked me why my face was twisted. I looked in the mirror and was shocked. I decided to do my one mile jog anyway. During the 1 mile jog it seemed like I was trotting instead of jogging.Something seemed to be pulling me to the left but I completed the afterwards I began to wonder if I suffered from a stroke. A few days past and my brought home a bad virus from her job which gave me constant chills and shivering. I checked into emergency room.Blood test were normal so I mentioned stroke and doctor said that I suffered a skem (small stroke). I passed all their physical test, was given 800mg of ibuprofen for high fever and discharged.

    One month later I suffered a more aggressive stroke where I had to learn to walk again. My shoulder feels slightly frozen but can ice it and apply heat to it for increased movement.I can’t jog but can 2 miles 4 days per week. I’m still wondering if I should try to ride my bike? There’s a lot of traffic here. I don’t know if my inherited sleep apnea or hypertension caused my strokes? God is good!

  5. Nancy says:

    How are Denise and everyone doing with your recoveries and returning to your bikes? 8 weeks ago I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bike accident (front wheel seized up when tire got stuck in brake, throwing me onto pavement face first) and I though I don’t have stroke-like symptoms, and my broken skull, face and clavicle will likely heal ok, I’m really scared to ride again and horribly sad about what that means. My brain is still healing from hematoma and hemmorhage, and I don’t know if it’s safe to go back onto the road. Don’t know if the evaluator, whoever that is (neurospych?) will be willing to make that call. I’d really appreciate hearing stories from you brave women (and men!) about your return to the bike after stroke and TBI. Thank you.

  6. Mike DeLong says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading both your article and many of the comments. I suffered a TBI 7 months ago due to a bicycle fall. I’m just now contemplating riding an upright bicycle again and am trying to regain some of my former flexibility. I’ve built back some of my strength by pedaling a recumbent trike regularly over the last few months. I strongly recommend trikes for people who have balance problems. Even though I still don’t walk normally yet, I have felt in complete control from the first time I even test rode the trike. Your article was very encouraging and rings true based on my own experience. I just wanted to mention the rehab value of trike recumbents.

  7. Gary Brown says:

    Thank you for sharing. I had a stroke due to a brain bleed 2 months ago. It is very hard not to ride when I do every day. Been thinking about soon. Whole left side was hit. I am only 48. Ben thinking about this weekend but am not so sure. Plan on using bike paths to gain confidence before returning to the road. Glad to hear you returned to riding.

  8. Dennis Ray says:

    I just read your article and am highly interested in what has happened since. I am 74 years old Ann’s was a very avid mountain bike rider until six months ago when I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke while skiing. My recovery has also gone much slower than I first anticipated. I recently got a petal-assist e-bike, and believe it will make a huge difference. Now just taking short 3 to 4 mile rides, but think I will be able to lengthen these in a few weeks. Your “keep moving forward” philosophy is critical. Keep up the good work and keep writing.

  9. randal stubbs says:


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