Written by Andrew Ryan, Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Race Team Member
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to participate in the Opus Spring Epic 8 hour relay race as a member of a four man team. I say fortunate as unlike the other members of the Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Mountain Bike Race Team, I ride with a disability. Being able to ride in the 8 Hour relay is kind of a big deal as I have not been able to participate in cycling events for half a decade.
A little background regarding to my situation. Five years ago I was a very promising member of the LapDogs race team and was leading my category in the Ontario Cup Mountain Bike series when things took a sudden turn. I was commuting home from work by bike when I was struck by a driver who ran a red light, dragging and then throwing me headfirst into a curb with considerable force. My bike racing career ended right there.
I sustained a traumatic brain injury, nerve damage to my right side as well as plenty bruises and road rash. My helmet was severely damaged and my bike was destroyed. At the time I was unaware of just how badly I had been injured and a few weeks later attempted to return to work and riding. I very quickly realized all was not well and things were not improving both physically and cognitively as I had been told they should. I was told to stop exercise and work and to just focus on my rehabilitation program as the severe fatigue, inability to concentrate, speech and memory difficulties among other issues I was experiencing was a result of a serious brain injury. It was at this time I started a cognitive and physical rehabilitation program through the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and other medical practitioners that still continues to this day.
Unable to ride and having invested so much time and energy into the Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Race Team I still wanted to give back and stay a part of the team so I caught a ride to some of the remaining events and took pictures of the racers. In the state I was in that alone was very demanding and exhausting, it took me days to recover from such outings and I remembered little of what I did those days. Being forced to be sedentary I got out of shape and put on a great deal weight within a year despite watching what I ate. I was not a fan of that and once I got medical clearance to exercise I set a goal to get back into “race shape”. That took a while.
Fast forward four years to Fall 2013 and I set a goal to return to the Duke’s/ Lapdogs Race Team in whatever capacity my health would allow. I made some changes to my bikes to accommodate some of my physical limitations and discomfort issues. A Pro bike fit at Duke’s Cycle is a must for anyone experiencing discomfort on the bike. I also participated in the LapDogs Boot Camp (aka: the spin class from hell) to get as strong as possible for what lay ahead and dropped forty pounds along the way. It was here that race team member Dan Bandurka suggested that I join him and register a team for the Spring 8 hour race. I was cautious and made Dan aware of my limitations, he was very understanding and let me know that all that was expected of me was to have fun. We registered a four man team for the event with myself, Dan, Adam Zietara, and David Biancolin.
Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs team members Lenka Branichova and Alex Sanchez gave me a ride to the event as I am only able to drive short distances. We ended up getting stuck on highway 400 for an hour due to an accident ahead of us, this almost caused us not to arrive in time for the start of the relay. Luckily Adam took a different route to Mansfield, picked up our team’s registration and took care of the first two laps allowing myself, Dan and David to arrive and get ready. I was the last rider on our rotation allowing the field to be spread out so that I would not have to deal with any crowded trails or aggressive riders.
I ran into a great number of racers from other teams who had not seen me in years but know of my situation, all were very glad to see me and I think I got more hugs than another day on record. The cycling community in Ontario is a great thing filled with many thoughtful people.
I actually have very little memory of my first lap, I know I rode very carefully and was courteous to everyone I came across as that is what I do. My primary concern was to be safe, and upon completing the lap with safety in mind I learned that we were in first place. And I was not as slow as I had anticipated, in fact I was not too far off of my teammate’s times. I completed a second lap and then needed a nap back at the team tent. Due to fatigue issues I rely on medication and nap nearly every afternoon and had been making sure to get extra sleep for several days prior to the relay. The relay format works well for me as I am able to stop and rest as needed.
By the time I got up to do my third lap we were firmly entrenched in first place with a considerable lead over everyone else in our category. Again and Adam repeated it that I “just take it easy and be safe out there”, and that is what I did and cheered on the solo riders as I made my way around the course. At the end of the day we had time for one final lap and I finished it just a few minutes before the 6:30pm deadline allowing us to complete an impressive 16 laps in 08:26:27.
My first mountain bike race back after years of rehabilitation ended with a win for our team. I am very thankful to have ridden with my teammates both for their understanding and for their speed of course. At the awards ceremony afterwards Sean Ruppel of Chico Racing gave me a big hug and told me how “damn happy” he was to see me back and winning again, that meant a lot. I am looking forward to future events and hopefully I get a chance to race with the same guys again as we made a solid team.
I then spent the next three days in a “sleep-coma” recovering but it was certainly worth all of the effort. I want to make sure I get a big thank you out to my amazing and supportive wife Jennifer and our kids, everyone on the LapDogs Cycling Club, at Duke’s Cycle, and of course Toronto Rehab for all of their support and help over years as I could not do this alone.
It is good to be back racing with the pack even if a little slower than before.