Recently, I read that an optimist is someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward isn't a disaster, it's more like a cha-cha to success. As of right now, I embrace this quote and constantly remind myself that this is the pattern of life. Up until a month ago, I was incapable of practicing this positivity and I felt like my negative funk was inescapable.
It all began last year. In 2014, a growth spurt caused me to have extreme back / hip issues despite my commitment to yoga and strength training. I spent three weeks off the bike right before Nationals. I recovered in time to compete, but I lost too much fitness to be a top three contender. To make matters worse, one of the best friends passed away the morning of my race. At the time, I thought that was the worst thing to ever happen to me (read more). Little did I know, that was just the first domino in a series of devastating twists and turns.
In the Fall of 2014, during my off-season, I had my wisdom teeth removed. I ended up getting an infection with two serious side effects. I woke up in the middle of the night with itchy bumps on my head and I was sweating all over. Thinking I must've been bitten by a mosquito, I tried to go back to sleep. Over the next few days, this escalated to a head-to-toe case of chronic hives. My skin was scorching hot and I had them everywhere. It got so bad, the doctor eventually prescribed a dangerous antihistamine dosage. The pharmacist almost wouldn't give it to me even though I was balling my eyes out in public and pleading for relief.
Most of the medications didn't do anything except make me drowsy. This didn't help since I was already sleep deprived to the point of complete irrationality. I was convulsing on the ground and shaking uncontrollably for hours. I couldn't leave the couch because the bottoms of my feet were tender with hives. I took shockingly cold showers to numb my whole body and laid ice packs directly onto my skin because I didn't know what else to do. My skin turned black from the ice and I had scraped the skin off of my neck and stomach. Again, I thought things couldn't possibly get any worse.
I was convulsing on the ground and just shaking uncontrollably for hours.
In the midst of this nightmare, another side effect arose. I developed an autoimmune disease called reactive arthritis, which is quite frightening. I remember sitting on the examination table, waiting for the doctor. Suddenly, I looked at my mom, horrified. I tried lifting my arm and it wouldn't move. A sharp pain shot through my shoulder. About 30 minutes later, my shoulder was back to normal; however, the pain moved to my hip and I couldn't walk up stairs. It continued to move around from joint to joint throughout the days and would just come out of nowhere. The unpredictability made me scared to move at all.
The pain and the lack of sleep drove my mind to terrible, terrible places. I wanted someone to shoot me, knock me out - anything to end the suffering. I would scream during the night and my mom would come out and restrain my hands with an iron grip so I wouldn't scratch myself. I needed help, ASAP.
The pain & lack of sleep drove my mind to terrible, terrible places. I wanted someone to shoot me, knock me out - anything to end the suffering.
After a few failed medications, my parents took me to Akron Children's Hospital to get an IV drip of Benadryl so I could get some sleep before my body shut down completely. But we all knew I needed to find a real cure. My mom, being the proactive person she is, jumped into research mode. She spent hours on the computer - sometimes not even sleeping - trying to educate herself and make sense of it all. She finally came up with a plan. She ordered an ALCAT blood test and the results were shocking. The doctors told us that, according to my bloodwork, I should be paralyzed. This knowledge scared me because I wondered if that would happen to me without warning.
The doctors told us that, according to my bloodwork, I should be paralyzed. This knowledge scared me because I wondered if that would happen to me without warning.
They said I'd have be on six strong meds for at least six months to rid my body of sky-high inflammation and protect it from further damage. While I was taking all those pills, my mom also implemented a strict anti-histamine diet (which only included a handful of foods), a tremendous amount of water, and a huge Shaklee vitamin regimen. I had to do this through Thanksgiving and Christmas, making it even harder. In the end, the diet worked. Within two weeks, I was off all meds and my symptoms began to subside. Within 6 weeks, I was in complete remission. It was absolutely miserable but I'm thankful that my mom dedicated herself to finding a natural healing method. The doctors still can't believe that I wasn't in a wheelchair from the looks of my blood test results. All I thought was, things really could've been worse.
The doctors still can't believe that I wasn't in a wheelchair from the looks of my blood test results. All I thought was, things really could've been worse.
Once my symptoms started to subside, I eased into base training. The doctor said I could still do physical activity as long as I could handle the arthritic pain. It affected my grip strength a lot because my wrists and fingers were weak and achy. I couldn't really squeeze the handle bars, but I didn't have to if I trained on the road. Keep in mind, this was in the dead of winter. That meant my weapon of choice would have to be the slowest moving one for the least amount of windburn. So, I rode my fat bike... on the road... in below zero temps. Not an ideal training scenario, but it was my only option. Nothing was going to keep me off the bike. After 6 weeks, my achiness faded and I was able to incorporate strength training and take the fat bike off-road a little.
In April, things briefly turned for the better when I returned to California and won round 3 of the series (read about the race here). That was a well-needed boost before my next big competition across the border.
I could feel the weight of my mom's emotional and physical stress, but I barely had any time to process the situation before I had to pack my bags again. I was chosen to represent the USA in Canada at a 10-day junior development camp (2 races) in June. This was something that I had been dreaming of for a long time and I was motivated to prove myself. The terrain suited my technical skills and I had a good feeling about how things would go.
Boy, was I wrong.
I won't sugarcoat it or draw it out any longer. The gun went off and my fuse burned out like a firecracker. Girls were passing me left and right and I couldn't understand why. I was like a sloth on Benedryl. I didn't have any power in my legs and I burned up in the first 15 minutes. I thought it must've been from my long travel day 2 days prior. But I couldn't dwell on this for too long, because I had to focus on recovering for the next race.
The next race rolled around and I wasn't fazed by my last result anymore. I loved the technical course and I was pumped to show what I was capable of. Annnnnnd, my legs were duds. I had never been so embarrassed in my life. I just finished at the bottom of the barrel with USA on my jersey. I wanted to run and hide.
Something just wasn't adding up. I put in way too much training to be doing this poorly. Even on my worst day, I should have done better.
Something wasn't adding up. I put in way too much training to be doing this poorly. Even on my worst day, I should have done better.
The original plan was to spend a single night at home and then fly back out to the west coast for a road trip that I had been looking forward to for a year. I was to meet my team in Montana, attend two more ProXCT races, and travel with them for an elevation training camp leading up to Nationals. This is what I worked for. This is why I trained in harsh conditions. I really felt I earned that trip.
Based on my inability to assimilate training and sustain high power in races, I was encouraged to skip the first week of the trip and get my blood tested for low iron. My fear wasn't that I would discover that I had low iron, but that I didn't. I didn't want to find out that there was no valid explanation for the level of suck that I was demonstrating. Then I would be left wondering, what is wrong with me?! I convinced myself that, even if I had to skip the next two ProXCT races, I would still make it to Nationals. I couldn't fathom a scenario that didn't involve attending the biggest race of the year. It just wasn't an option. Period.
I couldn't fathom a scenario that didn't involve attending the biggest race of the year. It just wasn't an option. Period.
I spent weeks in the worst emotional state of my life. Every morning, I would just lay in bed because I felt like there was nothing to look forward to and no reason to get up. I felt like I was on the verge of having a meltdown all day and I would just erupt into a storm of tears and anger and hatred for what my life was like the last two years. I had truly lost all resilience and positivity. I felt my friends, teammates, and connections would forget all about me and I would be absent from a world my life had revolved around.
I feared that I would never be able to prove what I'm capable of, especially when I was lucky enough to have the support I needed. Above all, I was afraid to set my dominos back up in fear that they would just get knocked down again.
What flipped a switch In my mind and how did I escape the negative spiral? Very soon I'll post PART 2 about how I coped with everything that happened and found purpose again without racing.
To my readers : do not fear! I have not lost my humorous side through all this. Keep an eye out for a funny new publication on bikemag.com sometime next week :-)
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Thanks for reading.
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