The Purity of Effort

Discussion in 'Road Cycling' started by bulaboy, Jan 21, 2010.

  1. bulaboy

    bulaboy New Member

    Jan 5, 2006
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    He was an athlete and he loved to compete. Running, skating, swimming, baseball, tennis, he could lose himself in any one of them. But when the front bumper of the Pontiac station wagon smashed his leg against the engine of his motorbike hard enough to crack the engine casing, things changed. His athletic career got derailed. After emergency surgery to clean things up a bit and assess the damage the consensus was that the leg should be amputated. The doctor in charge of his case was a young internist who ignored the advice of his peers and did not amputate the leg. That could always be done later. Why not explore some options first? But the doctor told his patient that he would be lucky to ever walk again. The young man endured skin graft surgeries and bone graft surgeries, more than half a dozen in that first year after the accident, but eighteen months later he walked again Not without pain and not without a limp but walk he did.

    He pushed himself. He became addicted to the pain medications and he struggled for some time before he got off the drugs. He no longer competed against others so much as he competed against his own limitations. For the next fifteen years he tried to participate again in the sports he had loved, but his injuries were too extensive for him to ever be competitive again at anything close to his former abilities.

    Fifteen years after his motorcycle accident he discovered the sport of bicycling. Cycling can be a cruel sport even for those who come to it in their youth with sound bodies, and it didn’t come easy for him, but because it is a non-weight bearing activity it wasn’t as painful as other sports. He still had some obstacles to overcome though. To begin with he lacked two essential ingredients necessary to become a quality cyclist, speed and endurance. And there were physical and structural imbalances which became apparent when he began to train on the bike. He had another surgical procedure to correct a neuropathy in his knee. Still his training lacked consistency. At times his pain would become too much to bear. His results were meager but he didn’t quit.

    Sixteen years after taking up the sport he had what he hoped would be his final surgery. It was a major reconstruction of the leg. This surgery was called an Ilizarov procedure and it was the most difficult of them all. A dozen wires, about the size of bicycle spokes were drilled through the bones of his leg and attached to a series of rings that encircled his leg and foot. The rings were connected to each other with threaded rods. The bones of his leg were rebroken. As the bones were healing the threaded rods were turned and his leg was stretched apart. This was done because the damaged leg was still shorter than the other. Another goal of the surgery was to correct for crookedness in the leg. That was done to help with the knee pain. The stretching of the leg went on for weeks and it hurt. The wires would tear his flesh as the leg was lengthened. The nerves of his leg would be stretched and that caused pain as well. After the stretching, came the consolidation phase where the bones were supposed to grow strong again.

    Finally after what seemed an eternity the contraption came off. More fun ensued as he began the process of rehabilitation. He was highly motivated and pushed himself despite the fact that his leg was still very painful. Turns out that the reason it hurt so much is because he had what is called a nonunion. The bones had not knit themselves back together. For six weeks he walked, did range of motion exercises, tied himself to a post with elastic bands and pulled as if he were dragging a sled, and he rode the bike again... and he did it all on a broken leg.

    Now he had real problems. He went to see the top orthopedic doctor in Chicago. The doctor looked at the leg for about two minutes and said that in his opinion, the best course of action was to amputate the leg. The other alternative was to undergo a second surgery like the one he had just gone through, and there was no guarantee of success. He saw another doctor, one of the best, for a second opinion, but the news was no better.

    This wannabe athlete went home to consider his options. Stunned he sat on the couch in his living room and thought back to all the struggle, all the pain, and it comes to this. Finally, tearfully, he made the decision to have his leg amputated.

    Meanwhile his wife, who it must be said was a tremendous source of support through the last fourteen years of this, was doing some research. She found another orthopedic surgeon who specialized in these kinds of cases, and encouraged him to go for another opinion. This doctor was much more optimistic. The solution was still the same, another long and painful Ilizarov procedure, but the decision was made to try to save the leg.

    The months crawled by. This was the second operation of this type and it came right on the heels of the first one. Mentally it was hard, but ultimately the operation was a success. The leg was sound. Less than perfect to be sure, but it was functional. He could walk again, not without pain, but he could walk, and he could ride the bike. He had been laid up for a year with the two surgeries and he was weak. It was time to go to work. He did the rehabilitation on his own. He had become an expert by this time and he knew his body. He was still limited by pain caused by arthritis in his ankle, and he experimented with diet to diminish the pain so he could train.

    It took years. There were times when he lost his focus and lost faith in his ability to come back. There was depression. But he didn’t know what else to do. Always he would get back in the gym or get back on the bike, clean up his diet and continue to work. After a while he began to feel a bit like an athlete again. It was a good feeling. He began to ride the bike a little better. On his good days he could even hang with some of the better riders in his bike club.

    It’s too cold in the American Midwest for outdoor rides in January so this winter he is riding his bike on a trainer in his basement. Sometimes while doing long intervals he gets lost in the rhythm of the riding. It can seem at times as if he is riding in a trance. Forgotten are the problems, the pain and the years of struggle. It occurs to him that there is a certain nobility in pouring your energy into the bike this way. No doubt it’s like that for athletes in other sports as well. For him though it happens on the bicycle. It is elemental and satisfying to simply be able to do the work. He has difficulty putting it into words. The best he can put it is to say there is a purity in the effort.

  2. slovakguy

    slovakguy Active Member

    Mar 17, 2006
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    sir, if this is your story, then chapeau, sir! chapeau!
    (and if this is the story of someone you know, then, still chapeau to him.)
  3. roadhouse

    roadhouse New Member

    Aug 2, 2009
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    awesome, just plain awesome.
  4. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

    Jan 5, 2004
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    Nice one Bula.

    When I am dying on a spin, I will try to recall your post for the required inspiration.
  5. Scotttri

    Scotttri Member

    Oct 11, 2005
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    I't makes you realise just how good you have it sometimes. Very inspirational