The B-Side: Sidelined

Aug 21, 2014
by Danielle Baker  
The B Side Header

When, as a mom and a wife, Marilee decided that she needed something just for herself, she found mountain biking. It provided her with an identity outside of the home. As Marilee fell in love with riding, she introduced her then four year-old son Jake to it. The pair rode a loop of hills, roots, rocks, and berms year round – even in the snow. It helped them form a close and unique mother-son bond, a strong relationship that would help them survive the break up of their family and would continue to span many years and many bikes. Three years ago, after a failed shoulder surgery, Marilee discovered that she would never ride again and is now assessing what a life without bikes means to her.

At home.
  Marilee, at home, is appreciative of the time she spent on bikes.

Jake was five when they moved closer to the trails, and six when they started riding the park. Two years later, at eight, he and his mom entered a local grassroots race together and he became the youngest participant ever. Over these years riding together, the twosome cultivated a family culture of riding trips, race weekends, after school trail exploration and independence. They became recognized contributors to the mountain bike community that they were embracing.

bigquotesI have this one picture of us in the gondola in Whistler from when Jake was 7. The look on our faces said it all, does it get any better than this?

Matching abilities for a few years, Marilee still remembers the exact moment that she realized Jake had surpassed her. “It was my last summer of riding and we were on a fairly technical trail in the bike park, and sudden he was just gone. He always had me when it came to getting air, but I had him for a long time on tech.” She adds proudly, “Now he is riding at a level that I have never been at.”

Super D - NSMBA Ripper 2008
  Marilee and Jake, participating in a 2008 Super D.

Four years ago Marilee was just dropping into a trail when she hit an innocuous patch of ice, went over the bars and dislocated her shoulder. It was a fairly standard, short-term-in-the-big-picture kind of injury. Her memories of that time are a little foggy, but she remembers going to a party that night in a sling and not being too bothered about being off her bike since it was winter anyway.

During her following season Marilee experienced discomfort in her shoulder when riding. “It wasn’t that bad,” she recalls. “At most, I would have to take an Advil after a day in the bike park.” But her doctor recommended surgery to repair the torn cartilage in her shoulder and she acquiesced in October of 2010. She recalls leaving her office for her procedure and announcing to her coworkers that she would be back working the following Monday. She did not return to work though, and has been on medical leave from her job for the last three years.

Super D - NSMBA Ripper 2008
  Jake, age 8, and Marilee.

Marilee and Jake
  Marilee and Jake, six years later.

Marilee had been living with a rare form of arthritis, but she had it under control with medication and it had never affected her lifestyle. When the surgeons got inside her shoulder for a look they realized the effects of the inflammatory disease combined with the damage caused by her crash had left a mess that they could not repair. During this medical exploration something caused Marilee to develop a syndrome called Central Sensitivity where your body sends a continuous pain message to your brain. “Structurally my shoulder is not perfect, but the pain I experience does not add up to what is wrong with it.” Three years post surgery and Marilee still has not been able to ride her bike.

bigquotesIt is amazing what having a little bit of hope does for you. I just try to be realistic about it.

At this point she has been through every doctor and procedure imaginable, and is currently managing the pain with a recommended combination of medication and physical therapy. In December, doctors tried one last procedure that offered a lot of hope, but her body couldn’t tolerate it. Knowing that there is nothing more that can be done at this time has made the last few months challenging. There is a point when acceptance starts to eclipse hope, and when coping, over curing, becomes the focus.

She has grieved the changes in her life, and the loss of years riding with her son. Marilee now just wants to be the best person she can be in this situation. With a social network developed around riding, it is especially difficult to be injured in a sport that offers no rink or field to hang out at. This is where she now finds herself, sidelined in a community that she can no longer participate in. Now remarried, to a mountain biker, she is living in a home that is still as bike centric as it was before her surgery.

BC Cup Fernie 2013
  Jake, now 15, races on the BC Cup circuit.

bigquotesI really miss being able to ride with Jake, that was magic.


Marilee is in a position that would easily warrant self-pity and resentment, but she refuses to use her pain as a crutch or to let it define her. She balances her propensity to put a smile on and pretend that she feels fine with being honest and genuine about her situation. “Most of the time I just don’t talk about it because it really isn’t that interesting.” And she still identifies as a mountain biker, her biggest fear is that she will become that person that people only go for coffee or lunch with, and she does not want to be relegated to being an indoor friend.

She continues to encourage Jake and her husband’s riding and embraces race weekends as the one place that she can still be immersed in bike culture without participating. On these weekends she has the opportunity to feel connected to the community, to be around bikes and talk about bikes. Race days are long though, and it can take a week for her to recover from the time on the road. She explains her pain as a snow globe, “it takes some time to settle after you stop shaking it.” But she refuses to give them up, explaining that the pain and exhaustion is worth the chance to be involved, and to see Jake ride.

BC Cup Fernie 2013
  Pictured here with her husband Colin and Jake, Marilee refuses to give up race weekends despite discomfort.

bigquotesIt is not what defines me.

Marilee stays focused on the future, and doesn’t often allow herself to think ‘What if?’ She and Jake will go for walks in the woods to spend time together and she has memories to sustain her. She smiles as she dreamily recounts a time when she was sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, bikes laid over the tailgate, bumping along a logging road. Sweaty and dirty, with dust swirling everywhere, she was eagerly anticipating her next run. And she recalls thinking ‘I can’t believe this is our life’. Then she says “And I had that. A lot of people may never even have that feeling in their lives, but I did.”

Posted In:
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39 Comments

  • 62 2
 What a fantastic story. It's amazing how simple this beloved sport of ours is - which I guess makes it so easy to take for granted. To suddenly lose the ability to get out there on the trails would be so immensely difficult. To lose it when it was something you could actually share with your youngster would be harder again still. As a parent, finding common ground with your kids is precious indeed. Marilee's story is both inspirational and a timely reminder of just how special this sport is.
  • 4 0
 You said it best! I got into mountain biking to help cope with the break up of my family. I hope doctors can find a way help so she can get on the bike again!
  • 23 0
 Sooner or later this day will come for all of us. So sorry Marilee's had to be sooner. I can't see myself not being into bikes anymore when I can't ride either.
  • 11 0
 Yup, this day will indeed come for everyone. But as great as biking is, there are so many other great things out there. Only when the sun sets do you see the other stars.
  • 3 0
 been living and riding with a shoulder that has been dislocated more times than i can count or remember, ive been scared of surgery and now i know my fears are justified. it does hurt every once in a while but at least i can still ride, i cant imagine losing mountain biking only at the age of 23, my thoughts and prayers go out to her that hopefully one day she can ride again.
  • 21 1
 Had a similar thing happen to me. I was a bike mechanic and loved my job. Loved it so much that I would work extra long hours,16+ hour days 6 days a week during the busy season. I would take that one day off and go ride. After doing that for 7 years I developed tennis elbow in my dominate arm, but I loved my job so I kept working the long hours and started going to physio. The problem got worse so I cut back my hours and agreed to have surgery. After a long recovery, Sept.-Jan, I was given the OK to return to work on light duties and only working 4 hours a day. 4 weeks later my elbow was right back to where it was before the surgery. I then went through a platelet rich injection treatment. That was the most intense pain I have ever felt, but it did nothing. Over this whole surgery, recovery, next treatment period I was unable to ride my bike. Even a quick jaunt down the block would make my left arm and hand useless for the next week. Last year I had a second surgery on the same elbow, went through the long recovery period and had no improvement, if anything it got worse. In the end was given a list of permanent restrictions that will keep me from doing the job I loved and the pain I experience prevents me from ever riding again. Finally this year I had to be realistic and I sold both my DH and trail bikes. I miss the days of riding and wrenching on bikes, and am still trying to adjust to this new life style.
  • 12 0
 That's tough man, real tough. Bear down and get through it, good luck.
  • 3 0
 That's tough man.. Just remember you will find something else you love to do once you get used to your elbow not functioning correctly. It will just take being open to trying new things.
  • 1 0
 I turn 50 this fall and my work life has involved wrenching in some form or another. I do have college education in electronics technician, but once I got into the field I realized that it wasn't for me. I am currently trying to get into a mechanical engineering program so I can maybe get a design job in the bike industry, or set up a small CNC shop and serve the small boutique bike market with limited production full custom items.
  • 1 0
 That's so unlucky dude, I really feel for you - have you thought about teaching bike mechanics maybe? It could be rewarding passing on your many years of experience and expertise to a new generation of mechanics and even riders Smile
  • 18 3
 Jake better be good to his mum.
  • 2 16
flag Satn69 (Aug 21, 2014 at 1:39) (Below Threshold)
 ^maroon
  • 11 0
 All right, you got me with this bit of writing: And she recalls thinking ‘I can’t believe this is our life’. Then she says “And I had that. A lot of people may never even have that feeling in their lives, but I did.”

1st class person and a rock star mom! Good for you, Marilee
  • 5 0
 Just when I'm at home with a broken collarbone and could easily whine about not being able to ride for a few weeks, this and the Nick Geddes video really put in perspective how minor of an inconvenience this actually is and how lucky I am. Best of luck to Marilee.
  • 4 0
 I often think of what it would be like to suddenly not be able to ride bikes and snow boards, and I know that there will come a day that is true. Kudos to Marilee for her courage and hope in what I imagine is at times a very difficult day-to-day situation.

And, just to throw it out there, as a grassroots community-organized bike club, our local chapter (and I imagine all the countless others out there) has enormous needs for folks willing and able to handle projects like landowner/manager relations, trail day planning and logistics, grant writing, you know the general glue and soul of riding that (for the most part) doesn't happen on bikes. It all needs doing, and those that do it are heroes of the local zones they enable to thrive. It's not the same as riding, though spending as much time these days in these activities as on the trails, I can say that in many ways I'm more hooked in to the riding community...hope that gives some ideas and stay positive!!!
  • 4 1
 Been there.. A knee injury forced me out of basketball, then retired as a player and get into a coach mode. Then i fell in love with my old sport, mountain biking. This keep me going on and enjoy my outdoor air. Getting back from an unrepairable injury is sucks, but that's life, c'est la vie.. BIG PROPS to you Marilee..
  • 5 0
 Very well written! I couldn't imagine not riding for so long, it takes a truly strong person to keep going.
  • 2 0
 A while ago I saw a pic here of a rider with only one arm, couldn't it work for her? Maybe not for trail riding, but maybe light cross country...
If there is one thing I am truly afraid of it is to not be able of riding my bike!
  • 2 0
 Being in BC and light cross country doesn't mix well. That being said, there is a guy here locally that only has one hand. He has compensated for the lack of balance and control and rides some nice all mountain trails. I'm sure it can be done, but is it worth the pain and even further permanent damage that will inevitable be done? That's up to her to decide. It sounds like she is still dedicated to the scene even if she can't ride. Good for her and I hope she gets to the point where she can at least take an easy spin with the family.
  • 2 0
 Moving to say the least, thanks for sharing!

I guess this is something we will all have to come to terms with in the end, over 15 or so years of riding and i have picked up many injuries, most heal and are never an issue again, but at 30 years old i've noticed i'm not quite healing as fast/well as i used to, some of the bigger falls/injuries are having longer lasting effects, my right shoulder hasnt been the same since a crash over a year ago, and i get the feeling it never will be as strong, dosnt stop me riding yet but it sure as hell aches a lot more than it should after a days riding, my knees and ankles, click crack and crunch way more than they should, i'm sure i'll get many more years of riding out of my body yet, but i can already feel that i'm gonna have issues later in life. i'm not going to let that thought effect what i do now though, i'm going to enjoy it whilst i can, and i suppose i can just hope that by the time that happens medical techniques will have improved enough to solve any issues i have. Smile
  • 1 0
 One wise old man once said "there is
No use for having an old body that
Isn't worn out." Good read. I'm dwn
Wit a swelling knee since march; docs
Gave me anti-inflammatory's but at
40 I realize I may need to quit too.
  • 2 0
 I am proud to know and to have ridden with Marilee .I loved riding with Marilee as she was like me and liked the steep tech lines.Such a awesome lady how many other wives would spend there first wedding anniversary at the race track cooking up awesome breakfast burritos for whoever wanted one and cleaning bikes. And all the time that big smile that comes with everything she does.I miss riding with her and I hope someday we will ride together again but for now I will have another breakfast burrito served up with a big Marilee smile. Marilee's Husband Colin is in Norway right now for the worlds masters. Wishing you a good run and Keep the rubber side down
  • 1 0
 Injuries are something we all face as athletes but to have to come to terms with losing the ability to do the sport we love. That takes courage! I wonder if Marilee investigated one of the various forms of stem-cell injections out there? I just recovered from a torn labrum in the shoulder with NO SURGERY! It was incredibly regenerative and under $1k to do it. I read about folks healing up from even worse injuries than mine as well using stem-cell injections. Just a thought. Best wishes!
  • 2 0
 That is true passion for life and the people you love. A reminder to not take anything for granted and to do our best to move forward. Best wishes and happy vibes to you, Marilee.
  • 1 0
 Beautiful story. You got to bond with your son. Sharing an experience you both have a passion for. Its is a tragic experience to have your passion taken away from you. Fortunatley you get to support your son and watch him grow knowing you can truly relate to his riding scene. I live with back pain every day. Some how riding gives me temporary relief. Suddenly I feel very fortunate to be able to ride at all.
  • 1 0
 Research the "Egoscue Method" it is revolutionizing modern therapy, so F-ing doctors don't sideline us with invasive surgery. "Oh you got a hang nail? Going to have to put you under the knife to eradicate the problem".....sign here!!!
  • 2 0
 wow marilee, didn't realize you were in this situation. PM me if you want to go for a hike on the mtb trails during the day! better then coffee! Its what I do when I can't ride.
  • 1 0
 Really great, thought provoking article. For me riding is the sport I turned to after 25 years of commitment to rock climbing and mountaineering.. a big fall (broken back, pelvis etc) and years of hammering feet and ankles resulted in surgery to fuse my left foot and meant I just couldn't climb anymore. This led to my discovery of the world of mtb and a new passion! Sometimes in life you just have to adapt to the hand you're dealt and embrace new sports and experiences with all the enthusiasm and joy that that brings. For me just being out in the hills and mountains working hard to get to the top and then shredding all the way back down gives me exactly what I need to make life wonderful. Best of luck to Marilee and I so hope she can find something that will give her the same joy in life that riding did.
  • 1 1
 >Sooner or later this day will come for all of us.
These are the words that making me thinking to stop jumping.
I don't want that day!!!!

Very often happens the things that are not predictable anyway ever. And I wonder - "HOW IT COULD HAPPEN ? I've done very well landing...where the hell this wood appeared from ?"

These all mountain biking/jumping/dh_ing is VERY SERIOUS things.
It's not just "have fun and be happy", "do all you want", "fly like an eagle", "be happy with your bike" and all other glamourish-stupid-kidding blablabla!

It is first of all A THINKING and ANALYLSING.
So you'd better grow up and start to think.

I'm not pro jumper or so. So I'm personally THINK a damn LOT before to make a bigger jump or so, and listen to myself a lot.
I started look more videos with that pro's falling. And also the videos with them training.
And if I have no opportunity of training landing to batoot or latex I will never try to do it in reality.

That's not a big deal to NOT to have some or more fun on the bike this day or ever. That's just a fu..ing bike, not much!
But it appears a big deal when you are broke some bones or teeth and have no way to return to the point before braking them.
And that are YOUR BONES!!!! They are unique! They are not selling like a bike parts.

Do not be crazy fanatics, man!
  • 2 0
 Just beautiful..
  • 3 0
 Great read, should be mandatory for all PB users to have a go at this article.
  • 1 0
 What a great read. I'm really sorry to her about your pain my sister is living with via similar condition I'm her legs where some days wearing sweatpants hurts everytime she moves.
  • 1 0
 great story...totally pulled in wishing the absolute best for Marilee , Jake and Colin! 2nd that great writing to Danielle Baker. Well beyond expectations...
  • 2 0
 Great write up. I'm facing the same problem with a bulging disc. I'm trying to stay positive and be optimistic.
  • 3 0
 I recently had surgery to fix a herniated disc. Be just been told I will be able to ride again. Hope that helps
  • 2 0
 Thanks dude. Trying to keep my eyes on the prize.
  • 2 0
 Great story. I look forward to riding with my son when he gets a bit older.
  • 1 0
 Happy to have shared many rides with Marilee and Jake before her injury. Have seen Jake go from tiny grom to now winning DH races. Great article Danielle.
  • 2 1
 I wish my xl cove jersey fit me as well as theirs do... (5'10" 240lbs)

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