1 year post-op (nearly)

I'm 1.5 weeks from my 1 year post op date (Feb. 9th).  It's really hard to believe it's almost been a year since Chris and I woke up at 4am for me to head into surgery.  The scariest part (to me) is I'll be turning around and doing it again on Feb. 8th for my left side.  

Driving home from surgery.  The anesthesia knocked me OUT!

Driving home from surgery.  The anesthesia knocked me OUT!

I wanted to take some time to reflect on the past year, and since I'm jet lagged in Europe and I woke up at 6am this was the perfect time to do it!  

Heading into surgery I had an idea of what to expect of recovery based on those I talked to pre-surgery.  I didn't know what the surgery day would be like, IE, how I was going to get put under, or anything like that, and honestly, that scared me the most.  I felt mentally ready to recover like a champ and put all my energy into healing.  I had that under complete control (kinda of...at the time), but the anxiety I felt going into surgery was like nothing I've ever experienced.  The nurse was kind and kept talking to me and asking me questions, I'm sure trying to take my mind off of surgery, but I just wanted to sit in silence and be scared, so I didn't really respond to her much.  

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Honestly, the first week post-op wasn't bad at all.  You can read more about that here if you haven't already.  What becomes challenging as the process of recovery continues, is your inability to do what you want, at the level you want.  Your body doesn't meet your mental expectations and it becomes disheartening and frustrating.  You get stuck in this circle of "what if's".  What if I don't heal?  What if I re-injure myself?  What if my hip is worse off than it was before?  Basic movements that used to be second nature, became frightening.  I was scared of any type of repetitive active flexion movement for a really long time (we're talking at least 8 months).  I didn't start feeling comfortable in the gym doing different type of exercises besides PT and stabilization until recently, at least 11 months.  I still haven't done any heavy loading on my hip.  I do feel that I could add in more heavy strength to the hip, as mentally and physically I'm ready, but being in season for CX, it doesn't make sense to start up that type of strength training right now, plus when I do anything heavy, it actually flares up my left hip.  So I'm kinda of in this conundrum with heavy strength right now.  I miss it, and I'll get back to it...some time.  

I can't deny heading to Europe in November (10 months post op) and crashing hard twice on my surgical hip wasn't brutal.  My hip definitely regressed a good amount after those crashes.  We're talking...regression back to how it felt in August.  It was a really, really, really big bummer mentally.  I had a few freak out moments and thoughts, but none-the-less, I worked to stay positive about the whole situation.  I had to have known pushing my hip to it's limits week in and week out would at some point regress it.

My leg looked like a peg, and my butt was saggy.  This was when I realized (even though I already knew this, but it took me seeing it on myself to realize) muscle is boss

Having surgery was mentally so tough, but the saying goes, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.  I hate cheesy things like that, but I'll tell you what, having surgery changed me, and changed me for the better.  I was kind of a head case in August as I was preparing for the season, but as the season approached I set my expectations low, and realized I was just happy to be there.  Surgery opened up my eyes to what our bodies are capable of.  We spend too much time hating ourselves, trying to get our legs to look slimmer, wishing our butts were a little smaller, dying for that flat stomach, trying to lose that extra pound, because once we shed that pound, we'll be happy.  We all know that's not how it works.  With surgery, I learned to appreciate my body for what it went through and how it bounced back.  I learned to love my body for how far it got me in 32 years.  I learned this body is a gift I was given with my life, and I need to treat it respectfully, not only with movement, but with nutrition, and my mental attitude.  I needed to love my body in a positive manner in order for it to heal.  

Being on crutches and 20lbs weight bearing for 4.5 weeks, your muscles atrophy.  My leg shrank and my butt dwindled, to the point that for the first time I can remember, my butt (okay lets be honest..my right butt cheek only) ACTUALLY fit into my swim suit.  

Guess What. 

I hated it.  I hated the way it looked.  My leg looked like a peg, and my butt was saggy.  This was when I realized (even though I already knew this, but it took me seeing it on myself to realize) muscle is boss.  Muscle rules all.  There are all these stupid campaigns out there about "strong is beautiful" "strong is the new skinny", they make me want to vomit, especially because when you look at them...it's pictures of skinny girls!  It kills me every time.  Strong is functional, strong is stable, and strong should be your goal in life.  Strong is your key to a long healthy amazing quality of life up until the day your die.  Movement, without our bodies and our strength, we wouldn't be able to move.  I grew to appreciate this mantra to myself throughout my recovery, it allowed me to stay positive and keep my head up. looking towards the light and the "end" of my recovery and onto bigger and better things.  

Nationals.  (Sorry I forgot to snapped this photo.  If it's yours let me know and I'll plug you in).

Nationals.  (Sorry I forgot to snapped this photo.  If it's yours let me know and I'll plug you in).

The season was a mystery, but my mind was in an amazing place, and my body performed when the time was right.  Having surgery was the best thing I could have done for my racing.  Sounds crazy right?   I missed out on a lot of fun over the Spring and Summer.  I missed out on my long soul rides, mountain biking with friends, lost adventures, but because of this, I had a sense of calmness about the season, in a really strange way.  For me, I was just happy to be there and racing my bike, pain free.  This calmness helped me have more focus, fun, and less stress.  Because of this, I out did myself with every step throughout the season.  I didn't imagine a top 20 at either of the US World Cups.  I finished 20th and 12th.  I didn't imagine any UCI win's this year.  I won twice.  I didn't imagine a trip to Europe this year.  I went twice.  In August I wasn't going to race Nationals, I finished 4th.  I didn't imagine making the Worlds team, I did.   

You guys, the sky is the limit when it comes to your mental shift in attitude and positivity and how far you'll physically go with this shift.  The past year was hard, insanely hard physically and mentally.  Hip surgery seriously sucks.  I don't look forward to doing it again at all, it actually really bums me out.  The thing is, if I gained this much strength and knowledge from 1 hip surgery, I look forward to seeing what I can conquer with hip #2.  

You'll hear from me on the flip side!

An unpredictable season

Whoops, I haven't blogged since the end of September, and as we're past nationals, I thought it would be the perfect time to post!  

Cincy CX "Pan Am Plunge" Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

Cincy CX "Pan Am Plunge" Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

First off, can I say "Happy New Year" to my readers!  It's 2018,  so insanely baffling, I'm 32, going on 33 in March, where.does.the.time.go?  Seriously.  I remember in 5th grade receiving a white sweatshirt that said "Class of 2003" on it, and had everyones name that was enrolled in the Mercer Island School District in my grade on it.  At the time, they were the coolest things ever, and I remember thinking 2003 was SOOOO far away (after all, I think the year was 1996), and here I am nearly 15 years after graduating high school wondering where the time went, not really where I envisioned my life, but wouldn't trade it for the world.  

2017 was a wild ride.  It started off with a bang at Cyclocross Nationals, finishing 5th, making Worlds, going to Europe, finishing 15th at my first World Championships in the snow and ice.  10 days later I went in for hip surgery and so many things changed.  Spring was hard, Summer perked up (except for the news of needing another hip surgery on the opposite side), and then racing commenced!  I committed myself to a lighter schedule at the start of the season, not knowing how either of my hips would fare, and wanting to have the ability to focus a bit more on training at the beginning of the season versus racing, since my training was a bit delayed compared to others.  The season started out with a BANG!  Seriously, I was shocked, a top 10 in my first UCI race back, a C1 leading up to the Jingle Cross World Cup with top international talent.  At that point I knew my season was going to fare better than I anticipated, but I still held my reserves.  

Nationals Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

Nationals Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

August 2nd I sat in my surgeons office reviewing my MRI from my left hip (the non surgical one), discussing options, and we both agreed that because I had been feeling it since the previous Fall (you can read about it here), and it didn't get better with rest (you know the 4 months I spent doing nothing after surgery), then it probably wasn't going to get better, and surgery would be my best option if I wanted it fixed.  Given how well I responded to the first surgery we agreed it would be a good option for me, but first, we race.  Time and time again he told me my hip wouldn't feel good, I wouldn't feel normal, and I shouldn't expect a very good season this year, and that I should look forward to the following year to have a good season.  I believed him.  Call me a fool, because I know myself better than that.  When someone tells me I can't, I tell them I can and I will.  It's just my nature, it's who I am.  Well, since believing him, and having very very very low expectations for the season (like hoping to get a top 30 in the US World Cups), I originally planned to have surgery in December on my left hip.  I figured that way I would get some racing in, and get a jump start on my recovery for the following year, which would mean I could get some mountain bike racing in!  Plus, I had met my deductible already, so it all just made sense...at the time.  

Life is never what you expect.  

Winning Day #2 at Boulder Photo Credit: Ethan Glading 

Winning Day #2 at Boulder Photo Credit: Ethan Glading 

Turns out, I kinda kicked ass for having had hip surgery in Feb. and not really starting any formal training until July.  Season goals changed, and I realized I was going to salvage this season I thought was a lost cause.  An outsider looking in, someone who doesn't know the back story, a stranger to the cycling world, my season would look normal, just about right, lighter racing schedule than last year, but you could say it was on par to last years season, or even slightly better.  This person wouldn't refer to my season as magical, like I do.  Magical, like a unicorn.  A fairytale story with a weird tragic ending for a twist.  

World Cup racing in Europe in muddy.  I love the mud.  

World Cup racing in Europe in muddy.  I love the mud.  

The past 5 months have been nothing short of magical, and I'm thanking those that have been a part of it, those that supported me, believed in me, and helped me get where I am.  The last year has been a journey, a challenging experience (I'm so lucky to do AGAIN, but we can talk about that later), and while I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, yet I wouldn't change it for the world.  Looking back on my post from September, I raced with more heart this season than ever before.  I had more fight than ever, and more to smile about than anyone else out there.  I stood on 7 UCI podiums, raced in 4 World Cups (1 to go), won 2 UCI races, I finished 4th at Nationals and have been selected to race World Championships in the Netherlands in 2 weeks, all within less than 1 year post hip arthroscopic surgery.  This didn't come easy, but I proved to myself that I could do it, I can be the 1% to come back stronger, better, happier.  The odds weren't in my favor, I was told I shouldn't count on anything.  I look forward to my final 2 races of the season, and I anticipate another challenge of coming back from yet ANOTHER hip surgery.  It's not something I want, but it's a story I'll hold onto for a long time, it's a part of my journey to become the best I can be.  

The "I did it" face to Chris.  Photo: Cathy Fegan-Kim

The "I did it" face to Chris.  Photo: Cathy Fegan-Kim

A journey of tears, joy, work, and perseverance

They say a picture is worth 1000 words.  This...there are no words.  Photo credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

They say a picture is worth 1000 words.  This...there are no words.  Photo credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

When I finished the first day of Jingle Cross, I burst into tears.  Not from pain or discomfort, but from sheer joy.

8 months ago when I had surgery, I believed I was super human.  I believed I could heal faster than anyone out there.  I believed I would get back out on my bike and start racing by late Spring, early Summer.  

I believed rules didn't apply to me.  

I believed if I did nothing for 2 months, I would heal and be good to go.  I believed I could race in June.  I believed I was special.  Word to the wise. 

You're not special.  

I've blogged about my recovery, I've instagram'ed it galore, I've tweeted, I've posted on Facebook.  I tried to keep my posts as positive as possible.  What wasn't seen, was the ocean of tears that I shed in the first 3 weeks of recovery, and again at 3 months.  I struggled with wondering if I made the right choice.  I struggled wondering if I would ever get back to racing.  Every feel I felt in my hip, it made me cry.  I struggled, and I struggled big time.  

Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

I almost threw in the racing towel...many times.  I didn't think I could do it.  I had a midlife crisis amidst my recovery (what am I doing with my life?!).  No matter what someone may think, until you do this on your own, you don't know what I went through.  You don't know how special that moment was when I finished my first UCI race back, and I finished in 10th.  I shed more tears across that finish line, from a smile one second to a complete break down, knowing the hard work I put in the past 7 months paid off.  Knowing that all my questions were answered after that 1 race.  Yes Courtenay...you CAN race.  Your body knows exactly what it needs to do.  

Someone asked me last weekend what my recovery and time off the bike looked like.  In retrospect I knew it was a lot of time off and I knew it was hard (obviously, I lived it), but once I said it out loud to someone who wasn't there, I realized...it was A LOT of time off.  For the first 3 months post-op I wasn't allowed to ride longer than 1 hour, easy, flat roads, no hills, no standing, NO sprinting, only spinning.  At 3 months I was allowed to slowly add time.  

This brought me joy. 

At 3 months my back blew up and I couldn't move.  I was scared to get out of bed.  I couldn't sit, or lie down on my back without extreme pain and discomfort and pressure through my low back/sacrum area.  My back muscles went into spasm.  I couldn't stand without extreme pain.  I iced, I heated, I did modified PT exercises.  My hip flared up.  I was relegated back to the trainer, no more riding outside.  

I found my spot back on the couch, and I cried.   I cried out of fear, frustration, and sadness.  I was scared of what I did to myself, I was frustrated that my body was failing me at a time I needed it most, and I was sad because I felt my recovery came crashing down.  

While my back pain improved, it was always there...for way too long.  Close to 4 months, I stubbornly decided it was time to ride outside again.  I started at 1 hour, flat, easy, spin.  My back didn't like it, but my mind did.  I continued to press on and ignore my back, hoping if I got back to more "regular" things, it would settle itself out.  

At 4 months my surgeon released me to slowly start pushing it.  I was given the green light to start running again (with a return to run program), I could start to ride longer than 1 hour (since that didn't happen at 3 months), I could ride hills, I could stand, I could try sprinting (don't worry...I didn't).  

So proud of my hip for jumping over those barriers like a champ!   Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley

So proud of my hip for jumping over those barriers like a champ!  

Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley

In June I started building.  I rode every other day while I tried to get my back to continue to calm down.  I tried my mountain bike, I started a return to run program (1 minute intervals 5x).  Mid June I went for my first 2 hour ride, I couldn't even average 15mph, and my heart rate was sky high.  July 4th I went for my first 3 hour ride on my mountain bike.  July 27th I did my first LT effort.  That first week of August, it marked my return to real intense, hard training.  

Mid August when I tried my first dismount and fake jump over barriers, it occurred to me, my hip wasn't ready.  Into the gym I went, 2-3 days/week working on my range of motion, trying to mimic the motion of a remount as much as I could.  I worked on my plyometrics, proprioception, jumping, take off, landing.  I started on a firm, predictable surface, and worked my way to unstable surfaces.  I started with flat jumps, and worked my way to jumping onto platforms.  I taught my hip everything it used to know, but needed a reminder on how to do it.    

Just because I was able to do these things, didn't mean I could jump right in and be okay.  Every time I tried something new, I had to rest the day after.  Every time I did a "new" (to my hip) thing, it left it achy.  I spent months reintroducing my hip to things that used to be second nature.  You see, when you have hip surgery (or any surgery for that matter I'm sure) you can't just assume you can pick up where you left off.  You have to build yourself back from the ground up, starting with a very dedicated Physical Therapy program.

Photo Credit: Jeff Corcoran

Photo Credit: Jeff Corcoran

I should have logged all my PT hours during my recovery.  I spent well over 3 hours/day of physical therapy work for many months.  Between my exercises, stretching, rolling, muscle stim, acupuncture, physical PT appointments, chiro visits, and massage.  I'm 8 months out, and I STILL dedicate at least 1-2 hours/day to PT work (hip mobs, stretching, rolling, glute activators).  My hip became my life, and when I couldn't put my energy into training, I put my energy into healing and rehab.  

I'm sure there were times Chris wanted to punch me for my dedication.  He rolled his eyes and chuckled at every new PT tool that showed up, because I "needed" it.  I dedicated our office to my PT room, I wrote my PT out on a giant white board.  Nothing mattered to me, except my PT, my healing, and getting to where I needed in order to perform at the highest level of the sport.   

My surgeon told me I would be fine to race by September.  He told me I wouldn't have a good season, and that it wouldn't be until NEXT year that I would notice a difference in my hip.  He told me have no expectations.  I told him about Lea Davison's comeback from the same surgery in 2014, and he told me that would never happen to me, he told me that's not normal, that I shouldn't count on being very fast and fit.  My coach (who has had a similar surgery sans labral repair) told me I would be where I needed to be when the time was right.  I put 100% of my faith into my training.  I worked harder than I ever have, because I learned physical activity is a gift to not be taken for granted.  Even though my lungs and legs burned from the efforts I put forth in my training, I pushed harder, I dug deeper, I craved the pain that comes along with training.  I craved the fatigue, mental and physical.  Every ride made me smile, and every ride felt like a privilege.  

When I crossed the finish line on that Friday night, the past 7 months flashed before me.  The tears, the joy, the struggles.  For me, every race this year isn't about being the best.  It's not about standing on the podium, it's not about trying to win.  My racing this year is about the journey I spent getting to the start line.  My racing this year is about racing form my heart because I love it, not because someone is making me do it, not because someone (i.e. myself) is "pressuring" me to do well.  My racing this year is about the gift of being capable.  It's about the hard work I put into rest and rehab to be the best I can I be.  My racing is about the comeback journey, proving injury isn't debilitating and even when someone says the odds are against you, you can be the 1% to prove them wrong.  

This is the spot I slid out on during the last 1 minute of the race.  Oops!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

This is the spot I slid out on during the last 1 minute of the race.  Oops!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

When I was riding in 10th on the last lap at the Trek World Cup I almost cried that I was there...within the last 1 minute of the race I slid out and lost 2 places.  Last year me would have been frustrated and it would have been the only thing I remembered about my race.  This year me, smiles with extreme joy because it showed me anything is possible.  It proved to me I CAN, and I AM capable.  

This journey has proven to me, when you put your mind to it, anything is possible.  Dream big, don't let anyone hold you back, smile, cry, persevere.  This is YOUR journey.

It was a hot one in Waterloo!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

It was a hot one in Waterloo!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon