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Sarah Riley: My trail to recovery

23 Dec 2016 By: Nienke Oostra 0 comments
Sarah Riley: My trail to recovery

It is not until you look back and reflect that you realise the enormity of what has just happened and what you have been through.  So on this the 30th week of my injury recovery, my 7 month anniversary, I will share with you what my journey has been about. . .

Laying on the side of Falls Creek waiting for the ambulance, the enormity of my injury and the journey I would undertake, I just could not have imagined.  For those that don’t know, I suffered a spiral fracture to my femur while mountain biking on a school camp.  This was such a slow speed arbitrary crash but with massive consequences.  I have now learned how high is my pain threshold and how abnormally so as I lay there calmly doing a self-assessment and diagnosing the injury, at much disbelief of the ambulance member that attended the scene 1.5hrs after the accident happened. 

With the swelling in the leg, which I was later told was actually blood and the x-ray as shown above, the severity of this injury was realised.  My most memorable thought laying waiting for my operation was that if for some reason I was to lose the leg, I made the decision then and there that I would go to the Para-Olympics as a cyclist.  Operated on the next day to insert a titanium rod down the middle of the femur and three screws to hold it in place, I would start my life as a bionic being.  I’d have to say realising what is inserted inside you at this point is quite confronting but as I have learnt along the way, you have to accept things you cannot change.

After being discharged home, rather than to a rehab hospital (as I was too competent on crutches), my next challenges were pain management - using Panadol as that is all I could stomach, showering, dressing and feeding myself.  Only those of you that have had serious injury or witnessed partners, parents or siblings with serious injury can realise how hard this is.  The best way I can describe this ‘survival state’ is what I imagine it is like being in prison, but in this situation your prison is your body and mind. . .This is THE point when you make your decision about how you are going to approach your injury situation.  You can make it a positive journey and learn from it or you can become defined by your injury and your approach will become a negative one.  I am very fortunate that I am naturally a positive person and it doesn’t matter how much you throw at me I don’t seem to understand how to be negative, for which I am truly grateful.  I have every understanding that injury could very easily lead to depression and that would then add a whole extra battle to be fought on top of healing.    

So off on my little journey I went . . . #rehablife

I started off with my home rehab program combining my own core strength, range of motion and activation exercises for 5 weeks until I was able to get into the rehab hospital.  When I was able to get into the rehab hospital I was going there twice per week with one hour of physio and one hour of hydrotherapy . . . by this point the relief I felt by being able to move in the pool was amazing.  Walking in the pool was so strange to me after 6 weeks of not weight bearing . . . it felt as foreign as walking on the moon.

I focussed all of my energy into doing the best rehab that I could.  I craved calcium rich foods for bone healing and I ate high protein meals for muscle building and recovery.  At 8 weeks I was allowed to touch my foot to the floor and at 10 weeks I was able to swing my leg over my bike that had been sitting patiently in the wind- trainer waiting for me.  I did all that I could to be the best rehab person I could be!   And then I had my 12 week X-Ray.  Did I mention at this point I was still only touch weight bearing and on two crutches . . . 3 month on crutches!  

In my head at 12 weeks I would be told that I wouldn’t need crutches anymore, I would be able to walk, to ride and get back to everyday life.  This is certainly not the case, this is where the hard work begins!  Learning to walk has been the hardest thing to re-learn.  I now have some insight into children learning to walk and the way the brain guides your behaviour and controls what you can and can’t do.  The strength and movement patterning associated with walking is unbelievable and although I had managed to build up muscle on a leg that wasn’t weight bearing this meant very little when I tried to put it into use!  With diligence and my biggest help in learning to walk, the antigravity treadmill at the rehab hospital, I can now fool most people that don’t look too closely into thinking that I can walk like a pro

My moment of real achievement and #injuryrecovery came with my first ride on my road bike outside.  I did this on my own and it was governed by an overwhelming urge to do it right then and there!  To me this was the defining moment where I was OK and that it was time for me to move on. . .

So sitting here at 6 months and reflecting I can tell you there is a lot more to this story and a lot more to come!  An injury doesn’t just affect the injured person.  In my journey my family, friends and my community have been as much involved and invested as I have been.  The lessons you learn, if you allow yourself to learn them, the friendships you need and value above all others and your sense of self and self-reliance are all amazing positives that can come out of a seemingly horrible situation.  And so I face my next lot of challenges with a big hard fist pump because nothing is going to stop me!

Sarah “Ninja” Riley

About Nienke Oostra

Nienke Oostra is a fierce competitor with big dreams. She started cycling late in life as until her early thirties she let her veterinary career lead her all over the world until her dream of becoming an elite athlete took over. Her goal for upcoming season is to qualify for the UCI MTB Marathon MTB World championship’s again and better her ranking from last year. And after 2 bad triathlon seasons she wants to feel good again and have fun again.

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