Big Gimpin'

Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content, eRep, Inc.
Monday, May 6, 2024
Big Gimpin'

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The Ride

I live in a town where every road on which I ride my bicycle is uphill both ways. I can't return to my house without having to ride up a particularly steep 15% grade that I call "Cruelty Hill". Despite the pain, the local topography makes for some effective high-intensity interval training workouts.

One day a few weeks ago, I logged off my computer in the late afternoon to take advantage of a sunny day with highs in the mid-70s in order to get a quick but intense training ride in before the Spring rains returned the next day.

I chose a route that provided a few miles of relatively flat stretches plus a few steep but short downhills to get my legs warmed up before tackling a series of steep but short uphill climbs on the way back home.

The Crash

I had one short downhill grade to go before turning onto a side street for the first climb. I slowed down to about 15 mph and veered right. I noticed the patch of sanding gravel on the inside corner at the same moment my tires slid out from underneath me.

As the bike went down, my body was launched airborne (what motorcyclists call a "high side" crash). I tumbled mid-air and landed on my back, smacking the back of my helmet on the pavement.

The whole crash took less than two seconds, maybe less. Several things flashed through my brain as it all happened.

First, as I was airborne and looking down at my bike tumbling beneath me, my martial arts training kicked in and I did a tuck and roll before I landed. I ended up flat on my back without skidding or landing on my hands as most people do when they fall.

The second thing I remember was the moment when the back of my helmet smacked into the pavement. I felt the relative cushion of its plastic and foam absorbing the blow. A moment of thankfulness flashed through my mind, and I realized that I would have sustained a serious head trauma if I'd not been wearing a helmet.

And then everything was still.

I was lying on my back, arms to my side, and my knees bent at a 90 degree angle, as if I had stopped to take a rest to lie in a patch of sunlight.

I conducted a mental inventory of my body. Although I did feel some general pain, nothing felt broken. I gingerly flexed my legs, expecting the worst, but although stiff and a bit painful in my right knee, I was able to bend them.

A homeowner heard my crash and came out to see if I was okay. I was able to stand, although my right knee hurt a lot and was bloody on the inside edge. I looked at my hands and saw that my gloves protected them. All my fingers could flex and my arms seemed to have made it through without a scratch.

"I'm okay," I said, unconvinced. "I just need to sit down, I think." I picked up my bike and rested it against some bushes, then sat on the concrete curb and drank some water from my bottle.

All things considered, I was lucky. I didn't suffer any head trauma, nothing seemed to be broken, no automobiles were involved, and I was close to home (my wife was able to pick me up in a matter of minutes).

At the clinic, X-rays confirmed I had no broken bones or dislocation in my right knee, but we couldn't yet determine if I'd torn any ligaments. Whatever happened inside my knee, it hurt.

The downside is the only position I can find that doesn't hurt is lying flat on my back with my leg propped up on pillows. Sitting upright, such as at my computer desk, causes my leg to swell and within 30 minutes the pain becomes too much to tolerate.

This put a serious damper on my ability to work. I can't stand up or gimp around the house (using crutches) for more than 15 minutes before I have to lie down for at least two hours before the painful swelling subsides.

I am getting better, gradually, and that was the crucial factor. The urgent care physician told me that if the pain lessened and mobility improved within two weeks then I likely didn't tear any of the soft tissues in my knee. He predicted I would likely heal slowly but naturally. If the pain stayed the same or got worse, I'd need to see an orthopedic specialist, get an MRI, and possibly require corrective surgery.

As the physician told me, "It would have been easier if you'd just broken a bone."

Our Individual View of Risk

There are many activities people engage in where the risk of physical injury is a possibility, perhaps even a likelihood. Cycling, skiing, competitive sports such as soccer or football or rugby, and even some occupations like construction or farming all entail the risk of damaging our bodies.

Some people enjoy the risk.

For some, facing the odds of injury or even death and then beating those odds is part of the fun.

It has been said that "Risk plus survival equals reward." Sometimes these folks are called adrenalin junkies for the rush they experience after surviving something inherently dangerous.

Others never leave home because the world seems to be a big scary place with the odds of Bad Things Happening to be too high. The level of anxiety and fear they experience far outweighs any benefit they could receive by engaging in such activities.

Most people are somewhere in between. They choose activities that provide a bit of a thrill while reducing risk by wearing appropriate protective gear, practicing proper technique or getting adequate training to improve skills (motorcycling comes to mind), and know their limits without pushing beyond them.

Accidents can happen to anyone, even the most cautious. Other people can go through life ignoring safety protocols and embracing every risky opportunity that comes their way yet somehow make it through without a scratch (they should buy a lottery ticket considering their ability to beat the odds).

A lot of people's approach to risk is based on their core personality, not just past experience.

Some of us confidently move forward regardless of the situation, resolute in our faith that we will always know what to do when the time comes and be able to persevere no matter the hardship.

Other people are highly focused on assessing risk and finding ways to mitigate it through careful analysis. They identify what's likely and unlikely to happen, and compare that to the big or small impact it would have. These are the valuable people who ensure rocket launches and complex surgical procedures are as safe as possible, so that the brave souls who scrub up or climb into million dollar space suits have the highest likelihood of success.

The Response

Despite the pain and stiffness and swelling, one of my biggest frustrations as my knee heals is the wait to get back on the bike again. I have no idea how long it will take before that happens, but I hope it happens sooner rather than later.

I have already ordered a new helmet with even more advanced crash protection than was available when I bought my first one. I have also learned the lesson that going fast around a corner is not only risky but unnecessary. I'm not racing the Tour de France so taking it easy is the best option.

In theory, I knew gravel in corners was a bad thing. Some things have to be learned first hand before it sinks in, I guess.

Am I afraid of crashing again? Not really. In fact, the odds of me crashing again are lower than they were before my accident because I'm more aware of a common risk (gravel) and can hopefully better avoid it in the future. I also have better protection for my skull with a better helmet.

I'm sure there are people out there who, after having had an accident like mine, would never get on a bicycle again. To those I relate the following parable:

A cat jumped on a hot stove. It will never jump on a hot stove again, but it will never jump onto a cold one, either. The trick is to be smarter than the cat and know the difference.

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.

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