My last post for Recovery Pump left off following a track sprint camp in Colorado Springs in late April. I had plans to race overseas with the US National Team, I had set new PRs in the flying 200m at the LA Velodrome, I was working with a new coach, and I was excited about the summer leading into the last round of qualifying for Rio 2016. Everything seemed to be falling right into place, following my incredible world cup season.
I celebrated my 25th birthday on May 9th, which was also my three-year track sprint anniversary. I was taking off for Germany two days later. I woke up the morning of May 10th, (also Mother’s Day), grabbed all my race gear, and headed to my final training session. Not long after, I left on a body board in the back of an ambulance.
When I look back at it now, I had no idea how hard this was going to hit me. I was riding at my absolute best. I’d just hit some HUGE PRs, and I was riding faster and better than I ever had in my entire life. And in a split second, that was all taken away. Fracturing my L5 in my back was a challenge in itself, but I had no way of preparing myself for the months that were lying ahead of me.
I broke my collarbone in three places. When I arrived in the Emergency Room, they scheduled a surgery immediately to repair it. While lying there, they also discovered I had fractured and dislocated my wrist. There was also evidence of meniscus and ligament damage, but I didn’t receive surgery on that until two weeks post-crash. And lastly, I sustained a concussion, one that left me with a chronic pounding headache five months later, into October.
As an athlete, I’ve experienced physical pain, and mental stress. But like I said before, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. Just as racing season was getting started, I was a swollen beat up marshmallow sitting on the couch. The house emptied out, as my boyfriend took his athletes for two weeks of racing in t-town in June. I was home alone, less than two weeks after surgery, with our three large dogs, a nest on the couch, and my own thoughts to battle with. I fell into a state of depression those around me weren’t prepared for. I saw my lost training time, medical expenses, and not to mention that my bike frame was cracked, my rear racing wheel had a hole punched through it, my front racing wheel literally exploded, and my helmet was cracked. But as soon as I could, I climbed on my Wattbike, got a fork mount stand for my rollers, and got in the leg press in the gym.
Two months later, I was driving up to Seattle for the Marymoor Grand Prix. After months of sifting through UCI points, selection criteria, and calculating what I had to do to make the Pan Am Championships team. Only one keirin spot was open for Team USA, and I was determined to have it. This was my only chance, with less than a week left before the point cut off deadline. I pinned on a number, wrapped a splint around my arm, pushed myself a little too hard, but I won. I accumulated 90 points, became world cup eligible, and retained the #1 ranking for a US sprint female in the keirin and match sprint. I was then qualified, after only two races.
I continued through physical therapy, and as the US National Championships approached on my home track in LA, I took a hard blow realizing I couldn’t financially afford the entry fee to participate and defend my national titles. But, with my ultimate goal on Rio 2016, and nationals having no part in team selection, I wasn’t worried. As we left for Chile in September for the Pan Am Championships, I was excited. Racing in South America is dirty, rough, and full of contact. I was nervous, but I was excited to show that I was back. Here’s an exert from my blog about my keirin,
“I felt like a pinball. Getting bounced around, getting thrown to the back. What just happened? But it’s ok. There is a rep ride. This was my first real keirin back from crashing at 66kph straight onto my face. I got the first one out of the way. And this is South America. You aren’t going to get this much contact anywhere else. It was time to line up again. I was ready to get bumped this time. I was ready for all the illegal moves that are somehow legal in these countries. And I went through, by the skin of my teeth. You could feel the lack of belief in the air. But that just made me more pissed off than hurt. And I was going to prove everyone wrong, because of it.
I was ready for the second round. My hip was still in its place. I wrapped my wrist tight, pushing the pain aside. I had two more rides. And I was going to make it happen. The motor pulled off and I went straight to the front. 500m to go. I pushed the speed higher, and higher, and higher, and at one lap to go, we were going. I stood up, but there was nothing left, we went into corner one, and I held that black line as hard as I could. Still in the front going down the back straight, I told myself, “Just keep pushing. This is just like training,” I pushed. Coming around corners three and four I could feel them breathing down my throat. But I led through the finish, and won my semi-final, putting me into the 1-6 final for gold. Just like the world cup in Colombia. That was the first time I felt like my old self again. I wasn’t timid, I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel the pain. I was just, me. And I was proving them wrong, one pedal stroke at a time.
One more ride. I’ve been sitting on the floor of our hotel room applying for jobs, grants, and setting up interviews. I’ve been fighting with insurance companies and hospitals. I didn’t go through all this to give the doubters what they were looking for. But, I fell one place short. A 4th place finish burns worse than finishing 6th. One step from adding to the medal count. One step from a Pan Am Championships.”
I did it.
Back from Pan Ams, I took on three new jobs: Teacher at a tutoring center, coaching with Big Picture Cycling, and working at ERO as a fit specialist. Since then, finding the balance between training and working became harder and harder, as my goals became centered around becoming financially stable, and paying the bills related to my crash in May. Making this transition was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, after reaching out to my NGB and other resources, it became a reality that I just didn’t have the means to continue living the life of a professional track sprint athlete. But…I’m absolutely in love with what I’m doing. I’ve taken some time away from the bike, but now I’m back riding, and pursuing a few new goals. Without being able to attend the 2015/2016 World cups, my Rio 2016 Olympic dream is a little derailed, but I do believe everything happens for a reason.
Over the past five months, I have experienced an unbelievable amount of support from my sponsors and supporters. The rollercoaster of winning national titles, fracturing my L5, winning a world cup medal, and having my world turned upside down shortly afterward, again, has brought me back to the roots of why I loved this sport.
We might think we have our lives planned out, but in a split second, everything can change. It is how well we adapt to those changes, and become stronger and better because of it. I’m proud of everything I have accomplished, I’m proud to represent Recovery Pump in those efforts. I can’t wait to see what the future unfolds for me, and I welcome it with open arms!
-Missy Erickson, US Track Sprint Cyclist & #RPInspiration