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A (triumphant??) return to racing after TBI

Hi all. It’s Mel. I’m back! Well, we’ll see how much of me is back, but here we go! I’m sitting on a plane right now with Chelsey, heading for the Niseko Expedition Race in Japan. Normally this wouldn’t be anything to write about, but this will be my first race after a massive accident, one that has pushed me mentally, physically, and emotionally, more than I care to admit.





On September 5, 2022, I went to my local mountain, Mt Spokane, to do my last gear and body check before departing for the USARA Nationals in California. The weather was perfect, I felt great as I climbed the mountain faster than expected. I stopped at the Vista House at the top of the mountain for a picture, quick bite of food, and descended down beautiful flowing single track. It was an amazing day. The trails were perfect and popped out on the gravel road I parked on in record time (for me). I caught sight of my car and looked down at my watch: 12:20. Then, lights out. My next memory, about 45 minutes later, I am surr by firefighters and EMTs. What the…?!?


The answer to that question, I will likely never know, but what I do know is a nice dude on a dirt bike found me unconscious on the road and called 911. Apparently he woke me up and we had a conversation (I have zero recollection of) and he had me call my husband (which I also have no recollection of). I know I hit the ground HARD on my left side, bounced on my head onto my right side and skidded to a halt on my right shoulder and chin. Oh, and I snapped my handlebar on the right side and injured my right wrist. This I’ve put together based on the damage to my body and bike. Needless to say, it was an intense shower of scrubbing gravel out of all limbs that night!





Miraculously enough, I broke nothing and the CT scans showed no evidence of a brain bleed or stroke. I was discharged from the ER after a few hours to get started on my long recovery.


At first, I thought I could still race. I would just have flesh wounds to deal with - and who hasn’t raced with a few of those, right? Then reality, and the dizziness set in. Like serious vertigo. Laying in bed, the room spun. The next day I got up to go to the restroom and collapsed against the wall, skidding down to my bum, unsure of what direction was up. That’s when I knew I needed to call Jason and Max Kong - with one week to go, I had to drop. It was one of the hardest calls I have ever had to make. To let my teammates down is a serious offense in my book.


They were, of course, very understanding and managed to find a great substitute last minute. Ironically, the morning I was scheduled to fly out for the race, I ended up back in the hospital, convinced I had a brain bleed. The headache was the most intense I’ve ever experienced. After throwing up in the parking lot of the hospital, the CT scan came back negative. Huh. No bleed.


For weeks after the accident I had vertigo episodes. If you’ve never had that before, I don’t recommend it! If you get it, make sure to check out the Epley maneuver. It resets the crystals in your ear that have been knocked out of place. My best friend suggested that I try and I was like “I’ll try anything to get this to stop!” Boom. Magic.


Now that my world wasn’t spinning out of control and I (sort of) knew which way was up, I gently worked back into light workouts, not pushing myself too hard. Then I thought it would be a good idea to do a nice easy ride with friends, my first time on 2 wheels since the accident. We (Dave Adlard, Tom Ambrose, Andy Tucker, my husband Guy, and me) went out on the rolling hills of Northern Idaho. All was going well. I borrowed Dave’s fat bike for a little more stability, and was feeling great in the way out. Wow, it was fantastic to be on a bike again! Then, on the way back, someone’s competitive nature came out. I’m not saying whose competitive side started it, but all of the hills turned into races to the top. Haha. Who is surprised?!? My heart rate climbed into zone 4 (80-90%) and the dizziness was back. What?!? It happened on the first climb, so of course I had to try again to verify. Yup, with an increase in heart rate, the dizziness set in.


I don’t understand the connection between HR and the dizziness (maybe someone smarter than me reading this can educate me), but there it was. Over the past six plus months, I’ve continued to push little by little and the dizzy spells have mostly disappeared. So what does an adventure racer do when you aren’t dizzy anymore? Sign up for a race, of course. So here we are, in Japan, getting ready to hit it hard. I am in equal parts excited-to be back in the woods doing what I love with great company (Chelsey, Lars, and Sachiko of Team EastWind) and terrified-that my body won’t be able to keep up or stay upright. I have no idea what will happen with sleep deprivation, hours and hours of constant motion, or any of the other trials we face in adventure races. Guess we’ll see. If there is a part 2 of this blog (the after blog), you’ll at least know I survived! Wish me luck and I’m so looking forward to seeing you all again soon!


Mel



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