This is part of a series of guest blog posts about the health benefits of cycling. Guest contributor Bobby Bailey, Director Sportif of The Dealer.com Cycling Team and Head Coach at 1K2GO SPORTS, will provide advice, tips, and more in this regular series. For beginners and lifelong cyclists alike!
My journey back to elite-level cycling did not start with a desire to win, or the drive for success. Many athletes are given great opportunities that they must seize in order to reach the top of their game. Mine, however, begins with the complete opposite: I suffered a horrific knee injury that included a torn ACL, meniscus, and cartilage on my femur.
This injury required reparative surgery beyond ligament replacement that will forever affect the health of my knee. The majority of this I found out after I awoke from anesthesia. I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face when she repeated what Dr. James Slauterbeck, my orthopedic surgeon, told her: “don’t let your husband run on his knee, or he will not be able to walk with your children.”
When I was lucid enough to discuss my rehabilitation plan, Dr. Slauterbeck repeated his concern for my 34-year-old knee. He said that the microfracture surgery performed to repair the damaged cartilage on the head of my femur would become severely arthritic if I did not care for it gingerly. He then told me that I should just ride a bicycle. My eyes lit up and I arrogantly replied, “I can do that!”
So, my desire to someday do an Ironman triathlon was over. But, I was always a cyclist, and I was handed the golden ticket to cycling freedom. According to Dr. Slauterbeck, the forces generated by even an elite cyclist are not enough to damage the work he did to my knee. This was music to my ears.
Before I could walk again, I was on the bike. That first pedal stroke reminded of when I turned 16 and got my driver’s license. It felt like freedom. I began pedaling to physical therapy and riding to my light duty assignments at work. I could see my tiny leg regaining its athletic shape and my dependency on pain medications was waning.
My mindset completely changed when I felt like I was no longer pedaling for rehab. I felt my old strength return to my legs and that began evolving into speed on the bike. I decided that a modest return to racing would be a good thing. Racing forces you to break plateaus. Peers force you out of your comfort zone and the higher level of intensity becomes the new normal. Eventually, the pain that lingered in my knee became secondary to the pain that I felt from competition, but it was a good pain. Cycling, being therapeutic for a knee joint, made me feel stronger. I continued with rehab because there was a time period after riding that made my knee feel less swollen and more flexible. Cycling was primary, but it still complemented my secondary approach of strengthening specific muscles for my knee.
Four years post-injury, and I am proud to say that I function on the bike as an elite athlete. The work that Dr. Slauterbeck performed enabled me to race my bicycle at the professional level. On the bike, I am just as capable as a rider in the Tour de France. I still avoid running and other activities that could jeopardize my knee but that’s a small price to pay so that I can continue my lifestyle on the bike.
Bobby Bailey is a Racer and Director Sportif of the UVM Medical Center Sponsored Dealer.com Cycling Team and 1K2GO SPORTS.