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.