After the Fall - Riding the Injury Cycle with Steffi Marth

Jan 4, 2017
by Steffi Marth  
A good day out on the bike is a day when the medics don’t end up cutting you free from your jersey. It’s a morbid truth and it's my new-found perspective… When the worst happens, the typical order of events for a broken rider is something like this: the rider hits the ground, they feel the first of the pain, get carted off to ER for x-rays and finish the day either in a cast or headed to theatre for a touch of metal-work. Then, after a strenuous rehab, they inevitably return to life behind bars. It’s an exhausting and ugly cycle, one that we hope not to ride ourselves, at least not for a little while longer when it feels more ‘fair’ that we should again ‘pay our dues’. But in truth, this routine is the one that plays out if we’re lucky… in the ‘good’ cases. In 2016 we seemed to receive an extraordinary amount of bad news from the top, with a scary amount high-profile accidents. We read these painful announcements with a macabre interest… as a deterrent that will never quite be strong enough to keep us away. Unless it’s all gone sour for us before, we seem to harden to the stories.

Injury Story. Photo by Nathan Hughes.
Cut to ribbons by paramedics. The way we all hope never to see our own riding jersey.


Feeling a little ashamed that I'd never done so before, this winter I felt compelled to donate to the Road2Recovery charity fund… The horror stories from pro BMX riders Scotty Cranmer and Sam Willoughby and moto-X racer Jessy Nelson left me feeling far too unsettled not to take some kind of action. I can now imagine their situations all too vividly, especially having come to the horrible realisation that a fall to the ground does not mean you have hit the bottom; the worst times are yet to come. The last five months of my career have been some of the toughest in my life and I’ve had to dig deep to find the ‘good’ in a big heap of ‘terrible’.

Injury Story. Photo by Nathan Hughes.
Steffi was out in front in the final of 4x national championship in Germany last summer when disaster struck, crashing trying to ride 'safe' on a large step down she had ridden several times already that day.

After the Fall. Photo by Nathan Hughes.
Injury Story. Photo by Nathan Hughes.

Injury Story. Photo by Rick Schubert.
The moments of shock following Steffi's crash and a visibly very broken arm the realisation her race and her season were over.

As soon as I had my accident I was receiving messages from friends and family… ‘Get well soon’. I appreciated the thought obviously, but suddenly it seemed a bizarre thing for somebody to say to me… Get well soon? I was about to have the craziest and vivid of nightmares from the ketamine and hours of waiting and uncertainty before undergoing surgery and the longest recovery of my career. The sh*t hadn’t hit the fan yet! There’s also a mental war that soon begins… the 'it could always have been worse' philosophy helps for a while, but you tend to come back to thinking of all your friends and competitors who went home just fine that day! In my mind were now all the niggling questions and ‘what ifs’. ‘Why did I have to go to that race?’, ‘Would I still have crashed if I did this or that?’ and the more troubling thoughts, ‘will I ever ride again’, ‘will I lose all my sponsors’ and ‘how can I still make a living?’. Questions on questions, with no satisfactory answers. ‘Getting well soon’ comes so much later and it arrives with an even greater fear of it happening all over again.


Injury Story
A broken scaphoid, radius and crushed ball head of the humerus...
Injury Story
...all in place of competing at Crankworx Whistler and a photo trip in BC.

What kind of imagery do names like Soderstrom, Nicole and Lehikoinen conjure up in your head? As unbelievably talented as these riders are and however many good times they've shared with us on two wheels, after so many terrible accidents and comebacks I struggle not to see x-rays, screws, blood and bandages in my minds eye… Some riders have it worse than others and only the miserable ‘dancing wheel of chance’, can be to blame. Until my injury this summer I always took in the list of injuries from any event as if they were the results alongside them, as many of us do. Often we can simply wait a few weeks or months and then expect to see these riders back in competition, we never think very deeply over what goes on in their lives in-between… we never have to. It’s an ‘icky’ business, other people’s suffering, but remember that we can help each other take the rough with the smooth and get through the dark times away from our bikes if we make a little effort.

Injury Story
Injury Story

Injury Story
After surgery in North Eastern Germany, Steffi found the best care for her hundreds of KM away in Munich.

For me it has now been five months. I’ve had three surgeries on my arm, consulted seven different surgeons and stayed at a rehab clinic for a month. I travelled regularly 500km away to Munich and cannot count the physiotherapy hours. I’ve learned how lucky those are who fall and are injured, only to find themselves back on the podium some weeks later. I’ve learned how crucial it is to have the right insurance, the best doctors and the top therapists.



bigquotes I cannot recommend enough to become a specialist yourself of your own injury; no one else will care as much as you do - Steffi Marth



Watching the short documentary ‘The Mental Key’ with Redbull athlete Pavel Alekhin, things felt a bit familiar… Following an emergency procedure to repair his femur at a dubious hospital, Pavel almost lost his leg months later when it was discovered the operation had been disastrously inadequate. After my first surgery at a hospital a few miles from the race, I sent a mobile phone pic of my arm X-ray to a doctor I know in Munich. He was dissatisfied and told me to immediately insist the results of the surgery were checked with a CT scan, which the hospital was not happy about because they considered it unnecessary. Days later, after I'd already packed up to leave hospital after all the typical sickness and discomfort, they told me I needed another operation to realign the plate and screws that they now accepted were not correct from the new CT. In my case there would also be further complications; struggling with loss of sensation and muscle wastage in my hand it turned out that my ulnar nerve was badly damaged and doctors had overlooked it having given priority to the bone breaks and I found myself back in hospital one again in November with diminished chances of complete recovery.

Fortunately it seems I've now found the right doctors and a therapy route to get myself back on track, but I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to hunt for the perfect treatment for your own case and to talk to as many people you can who have been injured similarly. I’ve used more copy paper than I ever did at university, just through researching, printing x-rays and forms and writing to insurance companies!

Injury Story. Photo by Nathan Hughes.

There is light at the end of the tunnel… It turns out I too am one of the ‘lucky ones’. I’ve been training, day to day my arm improves and I plan to be back on my MTB by March. The longing for those beautiful days in the mountains gets even stronger, which is a great motivation and important fuel in the healing machine! I will probably still have to struggle with the consequences of a millisecond error in judgement for much longer, but I’ve been taught so many lessons. Bikes can bite back and although we shouldn’t forget it, the fear of falling can do worse damage… some things can’t be done cautiously. Above all, there is no better feeling than being healthy.

Injury Story
Steffi's wrist after surgery number 3 to repair her ulnar nerve.
Injury Story. Photo by Nathan Hughes.
Back on the bike at last... well turbo trainer for now.

Injury Story. Photo by Nathan Hughes.

Thanks to all those who have supported me and all the other broken riders in healing. Ride safe, not too safe!

Views: 9,504    Faves: 20    Comments: 1


Flashbacks to better times in the mountains with Steffi.


MENTIONS: @natedh9 / @trek



Must Read This Week

52 Comments

  • + 44
 heres to hoping you heal up better than ever. work hard, be patient, listen to your doctors and trust your body. high level athletes know what it takes to find success, and the same fundamentals will be required in any road to recovery. the body is an amazing machine and when treated properly, is capable of incredible things. this all might sound kinda syrupy, but myself and so many friends have had to follow the same path while participating in this goofy sport.
  • + 14
 Absolutely spot on. We know that this sport is extreme regardless of riding level, it's all relative. I was giving a mountain bike tour this past weekend and went down hard in an area that I have ridden dozens of times but riding the same trail at someone else's pace changed my lines and position which caught me off guard, instantly OTB onto boulders.

Out of all the contact sports that I have participated in my life (football, boxing, martial arts, etc...) mountain biking has given me the most injuries, yet, I still come back for more. I am sure most of us have stories to share about small and or major injuries, but what matters most is how you come back from every setback that this extreme sport hits you with. If I know the Steffi that spent a summer riding with us, she will come back strong. Aloha Malama Pono Steffi
  • + 12
 healing vibes to Steffi Smile

from a former athlete with an entertaining medical history and now a Bikefit Pro - I see a lot of injuries presented by clients during bikefits.

I'd highly recommend using a gyro type rehab tool (Powerball) when recovering from upper body injuries, especially hand / wrist and forearm

simple piece of equipment but huge difference very quickly after learning to use it; following months of me not being able to grip the bar without shooting pains and spasm in left hand after fracturing left scaphoid in bmx slam

best wishes for healing well and happy trails!
  • + 4
 @hampsteadbandit: Powerball = awesome. Tried and tested
  • + 1
 @topsedit: yes, I was very skeptical but a friend kept recommending it. it was about £30 from a posh chemist behind Oxford Street in London...once you learn the technique its very satisfying and a surprising full upper body workout at high RPM. the youtube videos of weightlifters using them shows the amount of force involved
  • + 2
 @hampsteadbandit: agreed. amazingly good,never had a stronger grip or bigger forearms,even when pushing weights when I was younger. Motorbikes broke me,Powerball fixed my arm
  • + 1
 SPOT ON, I just need to change that diet.
  • + 9
 her story should sound a word of caution for the rest of the non pro riders / readers.
How many of us have the luxury of taking months off from our work (having one nowadays is already a miracle in itself)?
How many amongst us have full medical insurance plus money on the side to go through a better rehab process than what is usually recommended by whatever hospital (and therefore financially covered by the insurance co)?
At the end of the day I think we should concentrate on "ride safe, don't ride afraid ad respect the trail and the body".
Healing vibes, Steffi... Toi,Toi,Toi, mach's gut!
  • + 5
 @UncleGroOve

good point about insurance. some years back I was riding semi-pro as I was not making salary, mainly media appearance fees and product flow..so still working when not riding, to pay the rent.

after seeing a serious accident in a UK bike park which caused permanent high level spinal injuries for that rider, it woke me up into making sure I was covered if I could not work again (or for months) and needed expensive ongoing care. It took some time to find a specialist insurer, but it worked out only £40 a month, nothing really for peace of mind..just in case.
  • + 12
 awesome lady, that steffi.
  • + 4
 Head up girl, you got this! Was stoked to meet you at CW 2010 in Whistler, and have been a fan ever since. I have recently just gone through shoulder surgery, and am back on the bike now, and still building strength, I know the feel! Get after it, you'll be fast again in no time.
  • + 3
 2 weeks out post op from some schmuck plowing into me on the ski area. Ruptured quadriceps tendon. Insurance sucks. Can't work. I'll be OK to ride again though. Nice to know I'm not alone in all this. Heal well sister!
  • + 1
 5 months post op from being a schmuck and popping my collarbone on a tiny jump and needing some serious hardware to put it back together. couldn't work for a month, still regaining feeling in my man boob, i can ride again but im slow from being off the bike. we might not know each other but i feel your pain. watching everyone else have fun while you sit on the couch sucks. being afraid to get back out there and send it while everyone else shreds sucks. paying medical bills sucks. but........ throwing a leg over the bike for the first time since you got hurt and getting that first pedal stroke in is the best feeling ever. it makes the pain, the soreness, the medical bills, the dealing with doctors offices SO WORTH IT ALL
  • + 7
 Yoga works wonders. wishing you a speedy recovery.
  • + 4
 Couldn't agree more. I was skeptical at first but yoga has done wonders for my overall fitness, flexibility, and recovery time after harsh rides and injuries. Make it part of your routine even if you're not recovering from an injury.
  • + 4
 Whoa...I have the exact same plate and screws in my wrist. A little freaky waking up to "how did my x-ray end up on PB?"

A really good hand therapist is key. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
  • + 8
 Wow she's always sexy
  • + 10
 Not sure what the neg props are about. This is girl is beautiful in both spirit and looks. Rock on and speedy healing.
  • + 3
 I know, a girl that shreds like that! = SUPER SEXY!
  • + 4
 @SacAssassin: today's generations have lost all masculinity. It's sad. We can't even appreciate a woman being desirable anymore without making someone cry.
  • + 0
 @shaun-ridefast-michael: and her physical traits. That's a huge part of it.
  • - 2
 @Wouldhaveletmego: yes. It is not just her looks that make her sexy, it's what she does and how she does it. If she were a cheerleader, it think she wouldn't be nearly as sexy.
  • + 9
 @Wouldhaveletmego: I highly doubt it has anything to do with an utter and complete lack of masculinity. I would be willing to bet that the majority of the people that would be attracted to a female, regardless of sexual preference, would think to themselves, "man, she is really attractive". That said, the majority of those people also took that thought one step further and thought, "hmm, would commenting that this person is attractive add anything, anything at all, to the conversation?". The answer is no.

You lament a loss of masculinity, while others lament your lack of maturity. It is just a different perspective. Many people have developed past the point where they just yell the thoughts in their heads out loud all the time. Don't worry, it's ok if your not there yet, you might get there one day.
  • + 2
 9yrs after snapping my femur and my leg still isn't 100%
My quads on that leg don't work properly anymore also and I get a tendon every now and then slip over the top of a bolt.

Took a while before I would do anything big on my DH bike again - definitely reserved in my older more crippled age Smile
  • + 2
 How well do those powerball devices work for wrists with nearly no mobility? My wrist injury destroyed a lot of my joint surface. I had to have it reconstructed with grafts. Now I only have about 10% of the normal range of motion.

I'm trying to find things to help me build up wrist strength but at the same time limit impact on the joint itself as I've been warned of imminent arthritis considering how little joint surface is left. Primary issue is trying to hold something heavy and the wrist drooping and giving out long before the arm will.
  • + 1
 Not sure if I should say this, I can only say I would've wanted to hear it clearly from someone 3 years ago. I am probably too late anyways so here goes: I had ulnar nerve damage (without fractures) at my left elbow. The damage was from pinchment not trauma like in your case and (being at the elbow) it was more proximal which is bad for prognosis. I also had to undergo 2 unsuccessful operations before the third was finally successful, so my case may be worse.

However, since for you there also was a considerable delay between the damage and successful treatment and as muscle atrophy has clearly started as I see from the picture where you're sitting at the desk I think you should not get your hopes up too much about full recovery. For me, the atrophied muscles have maybe recovered 30 per cent of their mass and 50 per cent of their strength. My doctor's apart from botching two operations were also pretty dishonest about the chances of recovery and I would've very much appreciated a more realistic prognosis.

The good thing is though it is almost no hindrance to my biking. The ulnar covers mostly intrinsic muscles. Only when it is very cold and my muscles are very tired I sometimes cramp or lose some grip strength.
  • + 2
 HAHA, I've been there too many times but have never been given Ketamine! Enjoyed your take on the dark side of our sport. At 5 mos and given what you went through, it looks like you're progressing very well!
  • + 1
 I cannot recommend enough to become a specialist yourself of your own injury; no one else will care as much as you do - Steffi Marth

WORDS TO LIVE BY - I've found that doctors sometimes disagree on what is best. NEVER see just one for a serious injury. Get three opinions before committing to a plan. I've even found after becoming nearly an expert on my personal injuries that some doctors were giving bad advice.

Good luck Steffi
  • + 1
 8 weeks out from a really bad MX crash. Broke both my tib and fib, full separation of the ankle as well as tearing all the tendons, broken pelvis, 6 ribs, collapsed lung and to add insult to injury, my foot peg tore a 12" hole through my abdomen and left elbow. All my gear had to be cut off me. I told the paramedics I think my left ankle was broken and they said that's the least of your concerns...

Happy to say that after 3 surgeries and the help of my amazing wife, kids and doctors and nurses, I'm alive, happy and well, slowly walking without my cast and go back to the gym starting tomorrow and PT next week.

If anyone likes scar pics and X-rays, feel free to check out my IG: www.instagram.com/twelve02/?hl=en
  • + 2
 I had same injury Plate and nine screws. Hope you have a fast recover. You will be faster and stronger keep working. great to see you on a bike!
  • + 1
 I had a broken rip, that's nothing for years and years of fun. But the risk of have a broken back make fell afraid some times.
  • + 3
 I have the same plate in my wrist, that s#*t sucks!
  • + 3
 I broke both wrists a couple of Summers ago. One very similar to this with surgery and lots of hardware and the other just a couple of minor fractures that I elected to let heal on their own (I really wanted to be able to feed and wipe myself, albeit with a lot of pain). I've not been the same rider since. It really does suck and recovery is slow.
  • + 0
 @spiniak:

Do a lot of push ups to strengthen wrists after you are healed. Push ups are the best thing to strengthen wrist in order to prevent injuries in this area. In the meantime, until your wrists heal: swimming can help the healing process but don't over do it.
  • + 3
 @barbaricht: You haven't seen me swim. That's a sketchy prospect in itself.
  • + 3
 @spiniak: get a Powerball (hand gyro) for your home rehab, I found it brilliant after months of recovery following wrist fracture at skate park. Within 2 weeks of using it I could grip my bars again and within 4 weeks built good grip strength and function.
  • + 2
 Me too! Did mine in May this year along with 4 vertebrae.
  • + 1
 Comes with the territory.. came out fighting,back to top level MTB in her heart
  • + 1
 All the best for your ongoing recovery!
  • + 1
 Heal well, Steffi. Pedal hard, and give 'er!
  • + 2
 All smiles
  • + 0
 I wonder how a Serian would feel after reading this kind of article?.....
  • + 1
 very dramatic this who.... ou look Brangelina are getting divorced, so interesting!
  • + 1
 NICE
  • + 0
 I wonder how a Serian would feel after reading this kind of article?.....
  • + 0
 Babe. Neg me.
  • + 0
 HOT
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