This past weekend, the O-cup #5 MTB race took place in Naughton Hills, Sudbury. Steven and I had never been to Sudbury so we were excited to check out some new trails and visit a new city. The granite walls that decorated the side of the highway were a good indicator that Sudbury was built on rock.
After a 5 hour drive we reached the park. I was excited to stretch my legs and see what this new course had to offer. The course started with a long stretch of double track leading into winding, root-covered singletrack. Weaving through the first part of the course, it became apparent rain had not been plentiful. The trail was so dry, it had the consistency of baby powder. Any rider in front created a cloud of dust with zero visibility for anyone that followed. It also left the mouth pasty and desperate for water. As the course weaved along we headed into the second half and discovered the exposed lunar landscape I had heard about. There were huge open sections of whale-back style formations of blackish-coloured rock. Trees were limited and blueberry bushes, full of ripened berries, framed every high-point of the unusual landscape. If the rock wasn’t solid, it was broken chunks of knife blade sharp pieces. Many sections were filled with the tire eating, tube flattening pieces of granite. Prior to setting out on the ride, I was warned of the tire/tube munching landscape and the consequences of low tire pressure so we set ours higher and the recon was fun and uneventful.
The latter part of my pre-ride day, I spent riding with friends and helping a rider conquer her biggest fear; a man-made, steep bridge that seemed simple enough but had consequences should a rider crash!
Race day arrived and I was excited to have another session on the trails. It was my kind of course…rocky, rooty and technical. All I had to do was get through the long sprint at the start (not my strong suit) and all the rest would be a blast. Sean Ruppel from Chico Racing yelled, “Go” and I had one of the best starts I’ve ever had. Leading out front, I was eventually passed by Rhonda Guzda Stickle in the 30-39 category. I held my spot behind her into the single-track and I was happy the sprint was over.
As I raced through the diverse trails, I felt like they were designed for me. My Fhast 29’er floated through the terrain and I was on fire. Coming through the first lap, my body was ready for ten more. I had put a 30 second lead on the racer behind me and it was time to put the hurt on. I hammered and pushed steadily. My body responded with every demand and as time passed by, I began feeling even stronger than before.
The second lap was flawless and coming through into third lap I have never felt better. My body was warmed up, my lungs (albeit filled with dust) felt open and ready for more pushing. I got my bottle of cool-down water from my husband, dumped it on my head and the goose bumps covered my skin. A quick little shudder and then I told myself “only 8 km left Jany. Disconnect from the pain, now go!” I felt like I needed more gears I was punching it so hard. My legs and lungs kept saying “bring it on!” Flying through the single-track and hammering the rocks like they were buttery-smooth, the bike did it all. The lap was coming together perfectly and I was 1 km from the finish, holding first place with a good lead.
Twisting and turning through a rock-riddled single-track, I entered into the steep bridge descent I mentioned earlier. As I began to descend this man-made feature, my world instantly changed. I suddenly became aware that I was flying over my handlebars and going head first to the ground below. I can only tell you what the witnesses told me. It appeared that while in the air, I reacted by doing some type of kung fu kick off the railing of the bridge with my left leg, changing my body angle. My left arm shot out to brace for impact. I did a tuck and roll when I hit the gravel covered double-track beyond the bridge. I heard someone say, “call an ambulance!” as I lay on the ground. Sitting up, I felt searing pain in the back of my left leg. I felt around it and I figured nothing was broken. Feeling shaken but sure of myself, I thought, “Good, nothing broken! Time to hustle! Just ignore the pain.”
I looked up at a gentleman standing over me and he asked if I was OK? I nodded and he put out his hand to help me up. I went to stand and I dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. The muscles in the back of my leg were screaming and scrunched into a ball. It felt like a charlie horse to the tenth power. I tried to stretch and rub out the spasming mess and the pain seemed to ease. Attempting to stand again, pain riveted through my thigh and I hit the deck a second time. Sitting there for another minute, massaging my leg, my mind was searching for positive thoughts. “Find happy thoughts, happy thoughts, Jany!” I told myself. Then a fuse went and my brain was screaming, “SCREW THE HAPPY THOUGHTS!!!! GET OFF YOUR ASS! IT’S JUST PAIN! GET UP DAMN IT AND FINISH!” Following the directions of my screaming dialogue, I grimaced from pain as I struggled to get up again. I turned around to see a crowd of people staring at me. They looked frightened and shocked. I knew then my crash must have been quite the show.
Stumbling to gain my balance with my trusty gentleman friend by my side, I saw the front of my bike lodged into the side of the bridge part way up the structure. It became apparent that I did a superman, cleared the bottom portion of the bridge and impacted beyond it. My fork was jammed into a gap between the bridge and hillside that ran parallel to it. The rear of the bike remained on the bridge and my back wheel was no longer attached. Limping up the bridge, I muscled my bike out of the jam with the power of profanity and raging bull mentality. My lack of focus made it a struggle to get my wheel on. (For those that don’t race, a competitor is not allowed to accept help from a spectator on the course or they will be disqualified). With a scattered head, I thought I finally had success. Slowly mounting my bike, I began pedalling with my functioning right leg as a surge of adrenaline was racing through me. I could hear applause from the crowd that I was stubborn enough to attempt to carry on.
My bike didn’t sound right and I looked down to see the wheel was not perfectly mounted. Knowing it had to be redone, I stepped out to the left, my usual dismounting leg. I quickly discovered that side was not a good idea. Placing my leg on the ground, my leg surrendered to the pain, I screamed and tipped over. I stayed sitting on the ground, with my left leg lying poker straight. Frustrated that standing wasn’t an option, I remained seated while I flipped my bike over and got the wheel set properly. At that point, Robin Kay who had been chasing me, passed by. I told myself, “It’s not over til you cross the finish line Jany, keep going!” I used my bike as a crutch to stand then flipped it to rubber side down. Staring at the hill ahead of me, I knew attempting to ride it was futile. It would be impossible to get started with a gimp leg. The witnesses were clapping and yelling words of encouragement as I limped my way up to flatter ground. Back to pedalling one-legged, the ride became an on-and-off the bike ordeal. Every uphill was an angle of torment that required right leg dismounting and stumbling, while every downhill technical section was oddly, a moment to ride with a small level of relief. I watched as many of my competitors passed me expressing concern as I struggled.
Coming into the final stretch of the twisting course of hard-packed bumpy grass, my left leg was fully spasmed and my right leg was fed up with my warrior mentality. It was the last three hundred feet and my “never surrender” drive kicked in when I heard my husband’s words of encouragement. My right hand pressed down onto my right leg to get the remaining pedal strokes necessary to make it to the finish. From the crash to the finish was the longest one kilometre stretch I have ever experienced in my life!
Many of the female racers were waiting at the finish line for me. Linda Shin, Rhonda and Robyn Duke surrounded me as I dropped to the ground after the finish. It was incredible seeing them band together, along with all the other racers, doing everything they could to try and make me comfortable. A medic appeared and told me he saw the crash. Two medics aided me to the tent and packed my leg in ice. Feeling better lying down and craving a beer (they didn’t have any of those), the medic explained what he saw. I was extremely fortunate to have not been gravely injured. At the end of our chat he told me I was the toughest woman he’s ever seen for getting back on my bike after such a horrific crash. I’ll take that as a compliment!
Eventually, I left the medical tent and spent the next 6 1/2 hours in the car as my amazing husband drove home. The hours were spent trying to evaluate what had happened and find a comfortable sitting position (there weren’t any). There was only one meltdown which occurred at a Tim Horton’s in Barrie. My leg seized while attempting to sit on the toilet. The spasm forced an immediate reaction and I kick-boxed the washroom door accidentally frightening the person in the next stall. I left the building in tears, moaning and moving only a few steps at a time. It was not a good moment!
Searching the results after I got home, I came to discover that I managed to hold 6th place. I didn’t care if I came in last, I just wanted to make sure they had me listed as finishing!
The hamstring is a mess and my leg is swollen. Walking is a challenge so there will definitely be some recovery time necessary. My arm is healing perfectly although there was still some gravel embedded in it the following day. The rest of me is great. I am cancer free, psyched to be alive and I’ll be back to racing soon enough.
A big thanks to Chico Racing for finding such a cool venue and running so many great races, the medics that took care of me and all the incredible mountain bikers that provided endless support.