Cycling + CRPS (02.12.2016)
Are there any activities that you loved to do as a child, and have continued to do well into adulthood? Activities that define you, even if only to yourself? That’s what outdoor sports are to me. They’re not something I do, they’re who I am.
As a youngster, living in Montréal, I was lucky to have 2 completely different sets of sporting activities (just like the Olympics!); summer and winter. Until I was about 10, my family would move to my grandparent’s cottage near a lake for the entire summer; my sister and were involved in every water sport available in those days. The lake didn’t permit motorized boats, so the only water sports we didn’t do was water-skiing.
After my grandfather passed away, and my grandmother sold the cottage, my sister and I would more or less live at an outdoor municipal pool – along with all our local area friends. I competed with the diving team (solo), the swim club (solo, relay, and team), the synchronized swimming team, and the water polo team. I also biked with my dad; it was 40 kilometers (about 30 miles) return trip, cycling on a brand new bike path along the Lachine Canal, from our home to the beautiful and touristic Old Montréal area. By the time I was 10, I was doing that ride alone a few times a week while he was at work.
The only water sports I’d continue during the winter season were diving and the swim club. Even before the outdoor pool closed, I’d be at the arena almost every morning for figure skating, as well as time on weekends. When the snow started to fall, I’d be cross-country skiing as well on weekends. By the time I was 13 I’d also gotten interested in target shooting, through the Air Cadet program, so started doing biathlon competitions; a combination of cross-country skiing and (rifle) target shooting.
When I was in college I joined a gym, to stay in shape for my beloved outdoor sports; with classes, homework, and my job in library I was now much less active than I had been. To find the time to work out, I’d get up at 0500 to exercise before school or work. All these years later, I still do the same thing! Whether it’s a summertime bike ride before work, or the gym during the winter months, I drag my butt out of bed between 0500 and 0530 so I can exercise.
At this point, on the days I don’t exercise – because of an early morning meeting, for example – I feel as though I just never wake up all day. So when I broke my arm (a Colles’ fracture; I completely snapped the radius) in March 2016, one of my first questions to my family doctor was: “What kinds of exercise can I do, with this cast on my arm?” He understood that completely, as he’s also dedicated to exercise; he and I happen to train at the same gym, but on different schedules! I’ve been going to that gym for over 20 years; he joined about 10 years ago.
We agreed that I could use a stationary bicycle at the gym (but not ride my bike outside!), and that I’d be careful not to get too warm and sweaty; he was concerned that the plaster cast could degrade if it got damp on the inside, and also that mold or mildew could form inside the cast and cause skin irritations (or worse). He also gave me permission to do my regular leg weights, but told me not to do squats or other movements requiring balance, as the cast would probably interfere with my balance – and he didn’t want me to fall onto my fractured arm. So I biked, at the gym, during the 6 weeks I had a cast on my arm!
A few months after the fracture, when I was diagnosed with a rare – and very painful – disease, I kept going to the gym. Doing exercise is the best way for me to deal with stress and other difficulties in my life, so it would have been the worst time for me to stop exercising. I asked my new specialist (a neuro-anaesthesiologist at my local community hospital) when I’d be able to start biking outside, and he kept telling me: “I think you should wait a bit longer.”
So I waited, and waited… until he went on vacation! While he was away, I went out on my bike. It felt so good to be out on the road again, that it was worth the extra swelling and pain! My regular bike route is along 2 different waterfronts and through 2 nature parks, some farms, and a couple of forests. When I’m out cycling, I also pass an orchard as well as a new vineyard. It’s a scenic and very relaxing route, with almost no vehicle traffic. So I very slowly worked my way up to longer rides. I’m still nowhere near the amount of riding I used to do, but I tell myself that every kilometer or mile I ride is better than none!
In October 2016, my medical care was transferred to one of the large university-hospitals in the downtown area of Montréal. It was further from my home, but with more experience treating my rare disease. When the medical team there was evaluating me, they were stunned to find out that I was cycling on weekends and holidays: “How do you ride a bike, with CRPS in your hand and arm?” (Or cross-country ski, or hike and snowshoe up and down mountains with trekking poles.)
I told them they were asking the wrong question. The question I’d ask would be “How could I not ride?” (or cross-country ski, or hike and snowshoe up and down mountains with trekking poles.) These outdoor sports are so much a part of who I am that not doing them just isn’t an option.