Aaron Smart is a Wearwell Seasonnaire based in Seoul, South Korea. A packed calendar in 2018 would see him participate in the Masters Cycling Tour and the DMZ Rally plus a host of other races and challenges thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately for Aaron his plans were cruelly cut short. Here is his story.
Ride a bike long enough, ride often enough, ride aggressively enough and you're going to crash. It's a regrettable and unfortunate reality of the sport, but one that rarely finds its way to the forefront of the cyclist's consciousness. We know it can happen at any moment, but at no point do we ever really fear it. It's just a truth that exists in the background somewhere, like knowledge of the inevitability of death. It’s this thing we know, this thing we should do everything in our power flee and avoid, but inexorably move closer to instead. We inhale and exhale, we turn the cranks, we spin our wheels ever onward toward the unavoidable fruition of the fact that crashes happen.
As I write this now I am recovering from injuries sustained in my most recent crash. I have a fractured cheek bone, sternum, and shoulder blade; I suffered various bone contusions, most severely to my right ankle; and I am still dealing a bit with post-concussion syndrome.
It's been four weeks since the crash and I'm healing well, but I still have several more weeks of recovery ahead of me. At this point I am, for the most part, pain free. Sure, there are certain movements of my upper body that cause the sternal fracture to stretch, which causes some pretty severe pain, but otherwise I'm getting on well. I've even managed to get out for a few short, casual rides around my neighborhood to pick up the groceries or visit a cafe for a coffee. And really, this is the worst part of the recovery process: the fact that I feel mostly okay.
You see, it’s easy to keep off a bike when every movement you make is agony. It's easy when your arm is splinted and you've got a soft cast on your foot. It's easy when you're concussed and too much activity becomes vertiginous and causes vomiting, and bright lights and loud noises cause pains, like lightning, to shoot through the skull. But when those pains subside to the point that you feel basically normal, despite the fact that you know your body is still literally broken, staying off the bike becomes like torture, torture that manifests itself at times as depression, at others as anger, and still at others as an impatience and frustration that cannot be mitigated. And this is the true test of recovery.
After the crash (downhill at 65kph, head first into the ground, helmet cracked in three places), nearly every cyclist I know asked me if my bike was okay. From an outsider’s view, a non-cyclist’s, I imagine such a question seems callous at worst and indicative of misplaced priorities at best. But as a cyclist I understood the question: the body heals, a bike frame doesn't. And that's the thing about recovery. The body, indeed, heals. In fact, it heals rather quickly, which makes the most difficult aspect of recovery a mental one. As the body starts to feel again like its normal self, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the urge to get back at it, especially when you know that during the time off you are losing whatever gains you had recently made and your friends are all out getting stronger. And that's where I'm at now.
These days I feel the urge to get out and ride burning within me, and it's becoming harder and harder to sublimate it. It's like there’s this dragon within me unfurling its wings and breathing its fire, and I am fighting to keep it inside, to keep it tied up and tethered within, but I'm fighting against a force of nature far beyond any that I've ever fought before, and I don't know how much longer I can keep it up. And as it gains more and more strength and my body feels closer and closer to normal, I am also finding that it is a fight I would rather not fight. I want to set the dragon loose. I want to be free. I want to burn shit to the ground. I want to get back to the hills. I want to get back to the team rides. I want to race cars through traffic. I want to mash out for new KOMs. I just simply want to get out and ride. And then, when I think I can resist no more, when I'm ready to give in, when I'm ready to set my desires free from their restraints, to mount my bike and turn the cranks, I pull open a heavy door or reach up to the top shelf to retrieve something from the cabinet, and pain shoots through my chest and clavicle and into my shoulder, and I am reminded that the dragon inside me has broken wings and its fire is mere embers, and it’s not ready yet to be free. So I let out a heavy sigh, take a few pills, and resign myself to four more weeks of recovery.
Yeah, crashes happen. I have about two per year, the byproducts of my inherent lack of caution and occasional tendency to court disaster, but this is the first time I've required considerable recovery time. I'm not sure what the long-term result of it all will be on my riding. Will it make me more careful? Will it make me a bit less aggressive? Will I do anything at all differently in order to avoid such injuries in the future? I doubt it. Because in the end crashes are simple inevitabilities that skill and caution can help to prevent, but which will eventually happen. And just as I don't worry every day about death possibly lurking around the next corner, I'm not going to ride with the fear that the next crash might be waiting for me somewhere around the next bend. And you shouldn't either. Crashes will come, just as death will. So in the mean time, get out and ride, get out and live.
Aaron’s goal is to be healed and back in shape for the King of Track Crits in September in either the fixed gear or road race criteriums.
Aaron Smart is a Wearwell Seasonnaire for the 2018/19 season. For more Seasonnaire Stories visit our blog at www.wearwell.cc/blogs/blog