Devon Balet shares the secrets to surviving an extended period off the bike
492 days since I’ve ridden my mountain bike.
Spread out on a large concrete picnic table, everything is within reach: cameras, water, coffee and food. A cool breeze blows over my laptop as I punch away at the keyboard with a canyon-edge view above the Colorado River and Ruby Horsetheif Canyon. Over the past 500 days I have learned how to slow down.
I still haven’t put my leg over a mountain bike for one simple reason; my body wasn’t ready. People would ask me when would I get to ride again, as if there was a defined date. The bone that I broke, the scaphoid, is one of the smallest in the body, and one of the most crucial for a proper functioning wrist. I put hours into rehab and therapy for my hand daily.
During the 500 days I also withstood two more bouts of hand surgery. My wrist is now held together, and totally immobilized, thanks to a titanium plate and eight screws that are with me forever. My wrist will never bend again. It isn’t the bones stopping me getting back on the bike, it’s the rest of my body – and my mind.
When the wrist is broken and doesn’t heal, the upper body takes a major toll. The injury-side arm and shoulder deteriorates from lack of use. The other side becomes dominant, the only fully functioning limb for grabbing, lifting and holding so it is easily over used. After 60+ weeks in this predicament, it’s obvious the injury has gone far beyond affecting just my wrist.
Patience became my most powerful tool, recognizing that my body was starting from ground zero. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish away the injury and subsequent surgeries. While the pain was very real, both physical and emotional, I have grown immensely from this. Even though I wish it hadn’t happened, in some ways I am thankful it did. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it helped me learn and grow in ways that would have never happened without the injury. Learning to slow down, listen to my body and give it what it needs is something I was quick to overlook before the accident.
Since that day of self reflection on the side of the Colorado River, I have had the joy of returning to mountain biking. For weeks I couldn’t ride more than a few miles before my hand would be completely fatigued, unable to grip the bars. A ride I’d normally consider a warm up would leave my hand swollen and sore for days.
After 500 days off the bike, I fell in love with the sport all over again. Funny how soreness and pain feels good when it is caused by riding. Now, feeling my strength return, I have returned to riding technical trails and completing long rides again. When I was set free I went all in, completing in several major efforts: a 180-mile solo ride in January, a 24-hour solo single speed race in February, a 5-day stage race in April, the Grand Junction Off-Road 40-mile race in May, plus thousands of miles of riding both on and off road.
Being on the bike brings me joy again, but the important lesson was that it’s not about the bike. While my love for riding has only strengthened, I have also learned that variety in activities is the true key to happiness.
I am sure that down the road of life my hand and wrist will bring me trouble. But today, here and now, it brings me strength and the ability to ride hard. While my wrist will never function normally again, I have learned to accept what I have and be thankful for it. Focus on what you can do, do what makes you happy, that is the key to getting through a tough injury.
I certainly don’t have the perfect formula to keep from losing your mind when locked out of the sport you love, but I have learnt how to fall gracefully and move forward in life with integrity, allowing those things you cannot control – to be.
The key steps to contentment in the face of injury:
I wish to thank you for allowing me to share my story. My hope is that my experience may serve as a guide for those experiencing a life changing injury. Heck, even if it is just a minor injury. We may not get to choose what happens to us, but we always have control over how we handle ourselves. As someone that has a handicap, it makes it easier to deal with day-to-day knowing I can be of aid for others dealing with their own injuries. If my experience can be an example of how to stay positive in the face of adversity, then this injury, my fused wrist, is worth it.
Share your experiences with dealing with extended periods off the bike below.