Injuries suck…but they’re part of our sport, and whatever the injury, riders still crave getting back on the bike. Can injuries be justified, or rather, can they make us better people? I think so. Just look at our mountain bike community, full of awesome people! Dealing with injuries makes us grow-up, and this article explores that growth, from the physical, to the mental, to the spiritual.
|Having to temporarily give up what I loved most forced me to grow in ways I never otherwise would have - both outside sport and even with riding. - Kris Holm|The Physical
Well used crutches.
Humans tend to navigate in life by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. Not in mountain biking. The two live closely together. This may be part of the attraction, knowing pain could be just around the next corner. We’re animals. We still have that primal animalistic energy within us, so at a physical level the closer we can flirt with pain while avoiding it the more pleasure we’ll experience. If someone says “you’re killin-it”; they’re no longer referring to the hunt of killing an animal, it’s now you overcoming the challenge of a trail with style and feasting instead on glory. Mountain biking wakes us up, makes us feel alive, that is, until we get taken out, and pain seeks its due respect through injury. How we deal with an injury is crucial, it’s an opportunity.
|I love it when someone says I'm 'riding like a beast' or that I'm 'attacking the trail like an animal'. The truth is they are on the mark more than they ever could know...I'm always tapping into the ancient system of 'fight or flight'. - Stacy Kohut|The Mental
Stacy Kohut fighting hard for his flight
An injury prevents us from releasing our physical energy which is a HUGE challenge for athletes. What do we do with that energy? It needs to be taken control of and directed, otherwise it will direct you; and if your mind fights the reality of your physical affliction, you’ll suffer. Thich Nhat Hanh often says: “Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional
”. Embracing and fully accepting the injury will expose mental health and growth opportunities.
|I was trying to get ready to race Crankworx and I wanted to heal faster than my body would let me. - Sarah Leishman|
Early in my career I tore my ACL, it made my world small. No more trials shows or filming videos, I was trapped in a body that couldn’t ride, it was my bike skills that gave me comfort in the world, riding was how I communicated. While injured I tried to keep my mind occupied by doing weird things like plucking hair off my legs with tweezers, but eventually I did learn to face the injury and thus began the initial roots of a relationship with my mind.
|The unknown: As a racer, my life has been structured around racing and training, I always have a set training schedule and goals to accomplish. Without being able to plan, schedule or set goals for myself I've felt lost. - Catherine Vipond|
That’s the mixed blessing of physical injury, there is no other way to deal with it than to go through it. Many challenges in life can be avoided or bypassed, but not your physical health. No matter how desperate your mind is to ride, your injury calls just as loud, and the only healthy way forward is to further integrate your body and mind.
|You learn about yourself and get time to work more with your head. - Mislav Mironovic|
When I was in my mid twenties I began dealing with a recurring bulged disc, I knew something had to change in my riding style if I wanted to keep progressing as an athlete. I had to face the truth that my mind often used my body for egoic gain, so I quit big drops to flat and refined my technique to be smoother–mind and body working together for goals beyond just reputation. A big breakthrough for yoga practitioners is when they develop a conscious relationship with the muscles they’re stretching, rather than fighting and forcing a tight muscle to loosen; this conscious relationship allows the muscle to relax and thus lengthen, it takes practice, and recovering from injuries provides rich opportunity for this deeper body mind awareness to grow.
|So at that point I just surrendered to it and it has been one of the easiest recoveries I've ever had actually. - Bryn Atkinson|
At the moment of injury I’ve had the thought: “Oh my God I’m not invincible
” or “I’m such an idiot
”. Injuries show us that we’re mortal, and if you go deeper, that our bodies are slowly breaking down toward an eventual death. Wrestling with our own fragility and mortality can give us a strength that is much more potent than any ballsy physical expression; embracing not only injury but our impermanence seems to make one feel more alive. Those I know who have had long term effects from an injury seem quite wise, they’ve had to deal with harsh physical constraints, and are forced to contemplate the deeper meaning of their existence.
|Struggling with life changes it could / would bring, knowing career path would likely have to change immediately...It made me who I am today. Adversity builds character & strength. - Darren Butler|
As I transition away from being a full time pro, I am left with lingering neck and back issues, along with knees that are great candidates for arthritis. It forces me to consider what is of ultimate concern, or in other words my spiritual intelligence (SQ). Cindy Wigglesworth teaches about SQ and describes it as: “…the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace regardless of the situation
.” Though my ability to live by these words far from common, I do credit the SQ I do have to the ups and downs of my 20 year riding career. Living through injury, wrestling with mind, contemplating existence, and actively working to integrate all three is liberating, and I find doing so loops back to an expanded capacity to enjoy each ride. What injuries have you or are you dealing with? How do they require you to grow? Please share in the comments!
To further explore your own growth through injury, I'll recommend these books because they influenced me in a good way:
For the Physical I recommend:Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
For the Mental I recommend:Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
For the Spiritual I recommend:
The LIfe We Are Given by Michael Murphy and George LeonardRyan Leech is sponsored by Norco Bicycles, Ryders Eyewear, Kenda, and RockShox. He performs trials shows at select special events and schools. Intimate with the benefits of yoga for a thriving pro career, he got certified to teach and just released a new Yoga for Cyclists Video and offers yoga and mountain bike workshops around the country. As a Professional Integral Coach™, he works privately with people, such as pro athletes, during transition to help them discover what’s next more quickly and with less suffering. Subscribe to the new ProVisions PodcastThe ProVisions Article Series:ProVisions #1: Are you Crazy?ProVisions #2: On a Crash Course?ProVisions #3: Free Your FreeridingProVisions #4: I Am the TrailProVisions #5: Strava Unbound