DAY OF: Spine L5/S1 Stem Cell Injection

It’s been just 24 hours since a needle was hammered into my hip bone, had marrow removed, centrifuged, and injected into the herniated disc in my back. The procedure itself was nearly pain free thanks to plenty of sedation and local anesthetic. I was awake through the whole thing.

The hammering? Yeah, I didn’t expect that, but I guess to get a needle through solid bone, a little brute force is required. Dr. Martin took about six swings at whatever the needle was that she drove in. No, I didn’t ask to see it. I did however, ask to see the stem cells, which pretty much just looked like blood. 

The actual injection didn’t feel much different from the cortison injection I had a year ago. It was just a lot of pressure in my lower back. Again, thankful for the sedation, and that this time, they didn’t hit the nerve with their needle.

It was all over pretty quickly. They pulled off my oxygen hookup and the drug drip out of the IV in my hand, and then they asked me to get up and sit down in a chair that they’d wheel me to recovery in.

Uh-oh. My legs don’t work like they did when I walked into the operating room 20 minutes ago.

Now the pain was extraordinary. I could barely roll myself over, let alone put any weight on my left leg. I don’t know if I was being the biggest baby, or if it was how quickly my demeanor changed from chatty guy with his ass hanging out in the operating room to reeling in pain, but at first the nurses just stared at me blankly. They got me into the chair, but I nearly passed out from the pain. My blood pressure was at close to nothing when I got to recovery, but they hooked me up to some fluids and I was all good 15-minutes later.  

They wheeled me out to the SUV my parents rented, I laid down across the back seat, and mom drove me home. We stopped halfway to grab a sandwich (my first food since the night before) and while it was painful and I was slow, I was able to move around Whole Foods on my own two feet. I tried sitting up in the front seat, but the pain — especially on the left side, where they did the injection — was too much to sit for the last hour home. 

Today, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck, but I’ve been able to sit at the island in my kitchen and answer some emails. Writing this now, while watching Red Bull Rampage, I’m laying on my stomach, which has been the most comfortable position. 

Stay tuned for the important info: recovery time.

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Stem Cell Injection Countdown

It’s a rainy day in Fort Collins. The apple tree out back has dropped nearly all of its not-quite-edible fruit. Seems like fall has nearly come and gone already.

One week from today I’m going to a stem cell specialist in Colorado Springs for an injection into my herniated L5-S1 disc, after which, I will pretty much in hibernation for the winter.

It’s been just over a year since I herniated the lowest disc in my spinal column by not properly moving a piece of a [fucking] Ikea kitchen cabinet — the kitchen came out great. The initial pain was extraordinary, but of course, I still had a kitchen’s worth of cabinets to build and then catch a flight to Vegas for Interbike, where I hobbled around the Mandalay Bay show floor like the most handicapped rendition of Igor. Not the Daniel Radcliffe handsome version. The hunchbacked clown version.

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I received a cortisone injection at the end of September 2015 and that helped with the pain immensely. I started riding again in December and started working on strength in January or February. With the help of Zack and the Source Endurance Training Center, I was able to make somewhat of a return to road racing in June. Maybe too soon?

I was dealing with pain throughout the fall, winter, spring, and summer. Every single morning it hurt to get out of bed, but this wasn’t out of the ordinary for me. I’ve been dealing with low-back pain since I started riding a bike. The herniated disc was just the tipping point.

The pain reared its ugly head again this year at the Breck Epic, where I pulled the plug during stage two. I’ve ridden only twice since then — aside from riding around town — opting to run, which leaves me sore post-ride, but mostly without pain during the activity. Or at least, my everything else hurts as much as my back, so it’s easy to block out the pain from the disc.

My doctor, Brad Abrahamson recommended I see a stem cell specialist in Colorado Springs, a Dr. Martin at the Spine and Joint Specialists clinic. It’s a procedure that unlike the cortisone injection, should actually heal the disc, rather than just alleviate the pain.

Of course, insurance doesn’t cover stem cell injections, even though had my MRI last week come out worse than simply a herniated disc, insurance probably would have covered a spinal fusion surgery, which is much more invasive and with an even longer recovery time and long-term side-effects. The recovery time and long-term effects of the stem cell injection are a bit of a mystery.

So that brings me to the reason for this ramble of a post – the first in some time – I hope others can learn about these injections through my upcoming experience. There is very little information out these out there and even fewer first-hand accounts from those who’ve undergone the procedure. So I will be doing my best to keep this updated on my recovery status.

Here’s to hoping a long fall and winter of rainy days like today.

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What does it take to “make it.”

What does it take to “make it” in cycling? I sure as shit don’t have the secret recipe. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people be great. It’s just like being great at anything, but bike racing, to be great at the high levels, you’ve got to be something special. Practice doesn’t cut it. Contrary to popular belief, getting by on god given talent doesn’t really work either. To be great requires a talent, a body designed to go fast, but equally it requires a determined and insanely powerful mind. I fall short in both categories. I’m probably a bad reference to be offering testimony on this, but it’s Saturday night, I’m bored and I don’t often write stuff like this unless it’s under 140 characters.

I should still be in Texas. I should be racing the La Primavera Lago Vista road races this weekend, but I flew home on Thursday. My knee started acting up last Sunday at the Pace Bend road race — which was an amazing circuit — and it continued to get worse throughout the week while we were in Austin. Even with easy recovery rides, stretching, icing, and more stretching I woke up Wednesday and it was noticeably worse. I knew that racing wasn’t going to happen, so I hopped a flight home early.

I don’t have the brain to be a great bike racer. Sitting at a host house and watching everyone going out for rides and racing, I can’t do it. Honestly, when it comes to the bike, I’m weak mentally.

My pain tolerance is through the roof. It’s actually scary. I chipped my tibia in a crash two seasons ago at Bike the Bricks, I got up, took a free lap, and won a prime before pulling out because I was getting dizzy from a concussion. Spent that night in the hospital getting pumped with antibiotics. I raced cross nationals in Kansas City a week after jacking up my thumb, an injury that eventually required a pin be inserted into a my thumb. But, a nagging pain in every pedal stroke, it freaks me out. I don’t love my bike enough to give up my life, and sometimes it’s injuries like this that freak me out more than anything.

The guys who are great, they would have waited it out in Austin, taken the start today at Lago Vista, and rolled the dice. I don’t have that kind of focus, to keep myself from getting stir crazy, even depressed, knowing I’m not at 100%. Knowing I’m straight up, inadequate. I don’t have the drive to ride while worrying my knee is going to be jacked up for a long time.

I haven’t been back on a bike at all since Tuesday, and I’m already going crazy. I see my PT twice next week. It’s hard to express pain to people who don’t partake in endurance sports. What we do is hard, no doubt, but there’s worse things. I had someone ask me the other day what the most challenging thing I’ve ever done was. I was embarrassed that my response was about bike races. Yes they were incredibly hard, but compared to real life shit; raising a child, making the decision to put down a dying pet, watching a loved one slip away. Bike racing isn’t shit compared to that, but in the event, during the race, it can be hell. We just can’t see past our physical suffering, our pointless suffering.

So, I started this talking about what it takes to make it. Some people view racing at the Cat. 1/2 levels as making it. It’s good, but we’re not great. Far from it. Some of the guys racing Cat. 1s are great, some of the 2 and 3s will be great, but right now, we’re all mediocre.

The great guys, they’re focused. Joseph Schmalz is a great example. I’ve known Joe for just over five seasons, and the whole time I’ve known Joe he’s been at the doorstep of great. Not because he has the god given talent, but he’s so damn focused. His mind works differently than mine. He’s talented, but he’s earned everything. Worked his ass off for it. Other guys, they’re lucky and have these bodies that were seemingly engineered to process oxygen, and most of the ones I know like this, they don’t have the mind to be a bike racer. They’ll never be great.

Joseph pinning it to tie the lab record at UT.

Joseph pinning it to tie the lab record at UT.

I’ll never be great. I probably don’t get enough protein. I like beer. I’m mentally weak. I get depressed, distracted, I’m that downer no one wants to be around. Guys who are going to make it racing their bikes, they’re different. I can’t explain it, which is why this is such a blabbering shit storm of words. Zack Allison is the same as Joseph. He works his ass off. Zack probably has less physical talent than me even, but he works hard. Harder than I care to.

This sport isn’t for me, but I fucking love it. I talk about it constantly. I’m writing about it at 12:04 am on a Saturday night. If I didn’t have it, I would go crazy. But when I have it and I can’t do it; my knee hurts, my leg’s busted, my hand’s acting up, I probably go more crazy.

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CX Nats:: Walton Brush’s Cinelli Zydeco

On Sunday, just before the start of the Elite Men’s race I spotted Chris and Jeremy from Rapha. While chatting, a rider wearing a MashSF kit rolled up. JD was quick to point out the rider’s frame. I snapped off some photos, and later learned the backstory on this custom painted Cinelli Zydeco. Apologies for the poorly lit images, I knocked this out in about 45 seconds before Brush reported to staging.

Chow added, “I ended up having a little less than a day to do it for Brush, so unfortunately, on that particular bike, I was constrained to the existing, stock graphics; and then working around them/with them to create the design you photographed. The rear-triangle of that bike in it’s stock version is hi-vis, so I needed to cover the whole rear of his bike with black vinyl that I carefully hand-cut and stretched/heat-gunned into place.”

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A Real Off Season

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Another Velo luncher on Wednesday, but this time, in shorts and sunshine.

It’s been too long. All of my writing has been focused on VN.com, and alas, this has fallen to the wayside.

Been taking some serious time away from the racing scene, namely the CX crowd. I don’t even plan to contemplate racing for a couple more months. Training has been loosely structured by design, a design that has me wanting to get on the bike every time I do. Once weather starts to take a turn I’ll be riding more and more.

This weekend, there’s no riding, at least not bikes. Skied Breckenridge all day yesterday with my friend from school, Joe. Was an awesome day on the mountain that found us enjoying the sun and beers on the lodge patio as much as the actual mountain, and it’s lackluster snow conditions.

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Tour de Grove

Its been a week since I got back from the Tour de Grove in STL. It was a long drive each way (about 14 hours) I think it was worth it, though. I raced the 2/3 race as I’m a lowly 2 and unable to get into the Pro/1 field, so I felt some pressure to get results as I knew I had some good form after that Nationals criterium.

Friday night was the Loop de Loop criterium. Its the old Gateway Cup-The Loop course, but ran backwards, which makes for a scary pot-hole-filled descent and then a sharp left hander into a narrow alley, quickly followed by another left onto the finish straight and there’s only 200m to go. I spent most of the race near the front, though never really doing any work. I just floated around waiting for someone of importance to get a gap that would be worth bridging to, which never happened. With 3 to go Jason got in a move, got a decent gap, and with 1 to go it had the chance to stick, though one Tulsa Tough rider reeled it all back with me right on his wheel. I got shuffled back on the outside side, but I jumped into the second to last turn and moved up to third wheel. I grabbed some brake before the last turn and then sprinted all the way through it, which had my exit speed about 3-5mph higher than the leaders and with 50m to go I already knew I was clear.

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Taking the win means more at a Twilight race, especially in STL.

It was insane to finally win something (kinda) big in St. Louis. It was a huge relief, though I knew it was going to make the rest of the weekend a bit frustrating for me. I typically feel like I have a target on my back when I race in STL. Probably because the few races I have won, have been from attacks with a lap or so to go, so it makes sense to sit on me. It’s easy to pick on the stupid kid that always goes really fast for one lap. Though, I’m not stupid anymore and not much of a kid either.

Its a shame they didn’t get a shot of me busting open the beer bottle cap on the top-step of the podium. Podium girls should really carry a bottle opener if they’re giving you a beer.

I played it conservative the rest of the weekend. Stayed upright. Made some bad calls in the last laps of the Tour de Grove and the Dutchtown circuits/crits, but ended up 5th on Saturday at the Grove and 4th on Sunday in Dutchtown.

I’m flying to Texas on Thursday and racing five times in five days. Which I couldn’t be happier about. The last couple of times I’ve raced Superweek and had this kind of form, I always got better as the series went on. After an “opener” at The Driveway Thursday night with Colton, I should be good to go for some more 2/3 races… maybe even upgrade to 1’s after this weekend.

I wouldn’t have thought I’d be saying THAT this season.

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Coll Road Nats

My last collegiate road nationals are over.

Post TTT we were in the hot seat for just a minute forty. Photo: Dean Warren

There’s a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth. I have never stood on a podium before (let alone a National Championship podium) and been upset about it later on. We were fourth in the TTT. FOURTH, and yet we were only 20 seconds off of Fort Lewis’s time of 41:34. It’s a hard pill to swallow, as I know I will probably never stand on another Nationals podium again.

For me the worst part is not that we came so close, but that we did so and I won’t get another shot. I finally stayed healthy and kept my head on straight for the spring. Which was, no doubt, partially attributed to my selective racing, and my “work trip” to Sea Otter didn’t hurt either. I was worried about my fitness headed into this weekend, but I had it in my legs.

Four to go, right before Weston attacked for the MILLIONTH (and final) time. Photo: Dean Warren

I rode about 50% of the crit on the front, and chasing hard. Namely, Weston Luzadder (Marian) who was constantly on the attack. My dad said a bystander asked where Zack was about halfway through the race, and why they hadn’t seen him… I was doing my job fine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there in the last lap for him. With four-point-five to go we were swarmed and shuffled back. We moved up with three on the lap cards and Weston attacked again, I pulled my brains out. I was swerving all over the road and at two to go I blew sky-high. I rolled the last couple of laps alone and found out Zack had sprinted to third behind RMCCC champ Josh Yeaton (CU) and Shane Haga (Texas A&M). Another podium and I couldn’t be happier for him.

After standing on the podium… I’m ready to put my hands in the air this weekend at Tour de Grove. Racing the 2/3 race should be a nice change of pace.

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