Culture

Letters from Larssyn: A painful education

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve received several e-mails from people asking whether I’m alive. So it’s clear, I am way overdue with a report. The last month or so has been rough, both physically and mentally. Three-quarters of the way through April, while racing here in Bern, Switzerland, in a 1.9.1 UCI race, I had a bit of misfortune. On the last lap, while trying to move up through a corner, I found myself staring at a median and a pole, straight ahead. I tried to move to the right to avoid it, but the field had spread out too much in the turn and there was nowhere to go. A second after

By Larssyn Staley, Andeer Cycling Team

Gymnastics and  bike racing don't mix

Gymnastics and bike racing don’t mix

Photo: Bill Cass

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve received several e-mails from people asking whether I’m alive. So it’s clear, I am way overdue with a report.

The last month or so has been rough, both physically and mentally. Three-quarters of the way through April, while racing here in Bern, Switzerland, in a 1.9.1 UCI race, I had a bit of misfortune. On the last lap, while trying to move up through a corner, I found myself staring at a median and a pole, straight ahead. I tried to move to the right to avoid it, but the field had spread out too much in the turn and there was nowhere to go. A second after I saw the pole I practiced some bad gymnastics and wound up flat on my back in the middle of the street, in the pouring rain.

Our mechanic came running with wheels, but when he saw I couldn’t even move, the wheels were tossed aside, an ambulance was called and I was taken away on a stretcher. I spent the rest of the day in the hospital.

They suggested I spend the night because at one point I fainted, and they stuck all kinds of tubes up my nose and in my arm and put an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. But I wanted to go home, and said that since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 6:30 that morning, if I could only eat something I would be fine. The nurse was sure that my IV had enough nutrition, but I knew better. My team director fetched me some chocolate-chip banana bread and a soda and what do you know? I could stand up like a big girl all on my own, without fainting. So I left the hospital with positive thoughts of a quick recovery.

I couldn’t walk without holding onto someone or something, though, because my ilium sacral joint had been compressed, pinching off my sciatic nerve, sending cramp-like sensations all the way down my left leg and into my left shoulder, and blocking all my strength from my left flank area. My sacrum was fractured, too. But I was determined to resume training. I was scheduled to race in Tour de L’Aude with the U.S. national team, and there were less than three weeks to prepare.

For the first week all I could do was spin for an hour each day. I don’t think my average speed was ever higher than 20kph. It was rough going, and not good preparation for racing my first stage race of the year, with the best girls in the world, too! In the second week I could do more, but the pinched nerve was still blocking any use of strength from my left flank area. I had no acceleration whatsoever – I couldn’t get out of my own way when starting up from a red light.

I tried to race two weeks after my crash but didn’t make it through half the race because of this problem. It wasn’t about the pain – I can fight pain – but my muscles wouldn’t respond when I told them it was go time. I had been seeing chiropractors, having massage, stretching and icing, and two days before Tour de L’Aude something finally gave – once again I was able to apply what was left of my strength after three weeks of what I consider non-training.

I had been looking forward to L’Aude for a long time. It was a big goal for me this season. I left for L’Aude still limping and not at all in the form I wanted to bring into the race. I hoped and prayed that I would be stronger at the end of the tour if I could survive the first part.

The first days were hard as my legs took a good beating and started to wake up. I remained positive, though I can’t say that our accommodations were ideal for recovery. For the first four days we stayed in what seemed to be a school for delinquent high school students. The dinners provided to us came in a flimsy plastic container with fish or chicken and veggies. They were left out for us all day along with a microwave. I know I’m just out of junior racing and all, but I don’t think heat-it-and-eat-it fish is race food, especially when the race lasts for 10 days.

Despite the food and accommodations, our GC riders, Kimberly Baldwin and Kristen Armstrong, were right where they needed to be and were patiently waiting for the decisive stages at the end of the week. And despite a stomach bug, I survived the first three days and my legs were starting to feel better.

Next up was a double day. There were tons of crashes. For some reason, a field of more than 100 racers turning from two-lane roads to one-laners the size of goat paths doesn’t work too well. In the morning our entire team was lucky to stay upright, and I was happy to finish in the front group. However, my luck ran out in the first 5km of the afternoon stage. On one of the goat paths an Aussie and a Kiwi went down in front of me. I headed for the grass on the right side, but so did they, and I was once again flying over my bars. This time I enjoyed a soft landing in a grassy field.

Everything was crazy – tons of girls had gone down on the tiny road. I grabbed my bike, which had been tangled with the Aussie and her bike. I was ready to jump on when I decided I should spin my wheels to make sure everything was okay. I caught a glimpse of my saddle. The whole thing was trashed. The rails were still connected to the post but the plastic and leather were pointing to the sky. Our mechanic was running with wheels, and I quickly yelled into the radio that I needed a bike.

They grabbed a spare bike, but I have different pedals than our GC girls, so as all the other girls and team cars quickly left the crash site, I stood on the side of the road while our mechanic hastily changed pedals and raised my saddle. We were back on the road as soon as possible but I’d lost a good bit of time and had to settle into time-trial mode just to finish the stage within the time cut. Near the end of the stage I was able to catch a group of girls, but it had been a long day alone and I was cooked.

On the next stage, I knew right away that I had nothing. It was a very rough day, and my legs wouldn’t go. I was completely on empty. The next day, national team coach Jim Miller pulled me out of the race, saying there were more important things than finishing just to finish. I was disappointed. Maybe frustrated is a better word. Not about being pulled, but about knowing that I was not on form and unable to help the team more.

Despite everything, I did learn a lot from the other girls during L’Aude about teamwork and recovery between stages as Kristen climbed her way to the top. I learned more about myself as well. Earlier this season I was just happy to be racing my bike and to be doing okay. In races you have to take chances sometimes, so I don’t regret crashing, but I did learn that in an instant everything can be taken away from you and then you’re at zero again. Everyone has bad luck from time to time, so I figure I need to cut my losses and work hard when I can so that I am completely prepared for whatever racing comes next.

I have four weeks to the U.S. national championships. There’s work to be done before then and I’m itching for it. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned as well, and right now I’m not so fond of them, but I know they’ll make me better in the end.

Next up I am headed to Poland for the EKO Tour. It should be good preparation for nationals, and it will be a good opportunity to apply what I learned in L’Aude. I am looking forward to it, and will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Ciao,
Larssyn