This is the final stage of Jim’s three-part recovery with stage 1 ‘The Swelling Stage’, stage 2 ‘On My Feet Again’. Jim managed to get back up and busy recovering at what seemed like a miraculous rate. Going through highs and lows, the frustration sometimes out-weighing the achievements along the way. Jim’s goal from the start was to make it, to ride the first Legends Old Skool Reunion at Bike Park Wales, seven weeks after the time of his crash. Did he fulfill his goal and what troubles did he encounter along the way? Again Jim speaks of pain, small victories and his determination to recover at a worrying rate.
I was soon at Harris & Ross, Manchester’s top physiotherapists, their HQ situated nearby the posh Manchester United footballer’s millionaire houses. As I hobbled in, without the air-cast on, I was impressed by the very posh looking gym and Harris & Ross’ array of signed Olympic, rugby and soccer merchandise hanging on the wall from various clientele over the years. I had a double appointment, firstly being assessed, then hydrotherapy in the pool. The assessment really put my mind at rest. I was sure I had been doing too much, but was happy to find out this kind of speedy recovery was the norm in athletes used to this treatment; although I was apparently healing quicker than most! All I was told to avoid was sharp pain and extra swelling, this is when your body is telling you to take it easy! Once assessed I had my injury fully explained, calf painfully massaged then it was off to the pool for lots of quite painful exercises done by the lovely Laura; she helped get Josh Bryceland up and running after his foot disaster last year and also travels the World Cup DH races with the Athertons. All the exercises are about regaining supple movement and strength in the ankle joint and taking it out of it’s defensive state; there was a lot to do!
After three weeks from the accident I did away with the annoying air-cast, that being three weeks before I was meant to ditch it, according to the hospital. The evening before the appointment I had managed a 50 minute steady session on my spinning bike with the air-cast on. I was missing taking my boy riding on his new bike, so decided it was time for a steady spin on my MTB, after approval was granted from one of the guys at Harris & Ross. Tod (my son) and I managed a steady ride around some local smooth trails, exactly four weeks to the day of the crash; people gave me some weird looks riding with the air-cast on! This first ride was a big victory for me, I decided the following week was to involve an hour spin bike session clipped in, if I could manage this then the next ride was to be without the air-cast. I acquired some Doc Martins for more support, plus I’ve always wanted an excuse to buy some! The limp was getting less and less as the days went on, but the flexibility and strength was still pathetic; the odd sharp pain being gradually replaced with a constant steady dull ache.
In the fifth week I managed an hour session on the spinner, actually stood up trying hard at times, this session was finished off with no extra pain at the end; the proper ride was on for the following weekend! I was now managing to walk with a lot less of a limp, almost looking normal at some stages, the weekend’s ride couldn’t come quickly enough, I looked forward to it with a mixture of excitement and anxiousness. Friday night saw the UK weather turn and the next day at another local trail, LLandegla, there was a thin spattering of snow and the temperature in the open bits was down to -2. I had been sent a 661 ankle support, but unwisely forgot it, so I set off very tentatively around the loop, using flat pedals for the first time in about fifteen years! I really wanted to enjoy the ride, but it was so tough, the mixture of the injury, having a cold, lack of riding for five weeks and the low temperature made it so difficult. I felt like a total beginner, every climb was tough, jumps made my sphincter work overtime, most of which were just rolled over instead of launched. I was riding so defensively in the dangerous conditions, especially as I was on my own. It annoyed me that my first ride back hadn’t been fun, but I got round the 20k loop and got the ride in the bag!
The following day I took Tod out again, this time I was equipped with the 661 ankle brace and riding with my best mate, what a difference it made having the support and company; I felt good again. Now having the confidence of an enjoyable ride, things started to really look up.
For the next two weeks I had more appointments at Harris & Ross, where they worked my ankle more and more each time, slowly moving onto strength and impact exercises too, I even managed a solo night ride up my local hill during the midweek. One week after my ride with Tod and I was back out again, this time with my mate Stu, this being my first proper ride with a mate at mate’s pace. This ride was a different story all together, I felt exhausted after a while, desperately trying to hide my lack of fitness. At one point I had a pretty big crash trying to shake a local shredder down one of the trails; fortunately I didn’t hurt the ankle, so that was another confidence boost.
Another week gone and the time had come, the Old Skool Weekender was upon us at Bike Park Wales. All us 90’s riders met up and rode all around the place for the weekend. Saturday saw me having to stick to the blue and red routes, as just one run down the black and some sharp pain was prevalent. Sunday saw a little bit of an ankle mishap, as I couldn’t resist just one run of the amazing ’50 Shades of Black’ trail. It was awesome, loose slate, big rocks, slick loam and roots. Riding down it was the most fun, but that doubting voice in the back of my mind gave me a big “I told you so” as I landed off a drop and my bad foot slipped forwards off my flat pedal, stretched my foot then banged it hard into the ground; ouch! I had hurt it a bit, not enough to worry, but enough to stop riding for the day. I sat it out in the café with some mates who had drunk too much the night before; the throbbing slowly abated.
I may have overdone it at the Bike Park Wales, but I had done what I had set out to achieve, been back on my bike for one of the best events of my year exactly seven weeks after my fracture/dislocation, plate and screws. My next ride is going to be back on the clip pedals, as my confidence is now growing by the day. I’m still nowhere near back to full strength and I think my Thai Boxing and winter XC running will have to wait a while more, but I know it’s coming soon. I’m so happy now to be back riding and working fully and am sure it wouldn’t have been possible without the laser treatment, physio and a positive mental attitude. So if you do happen to do yourself in after a crash, don’t think about how long you will be off for, more like ‘how soon can I be back’, it worked for me!
Words | Jim Buchanan Photos | Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan