BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

 

This summer marked the occasion of getting on my bike again after six long years. It was time to reclaim my passion for the sport. I love to ride solo, flying fast on my 30 year old Peugeot racer, rusting and yet as reliable as ever.

Into the local shop it went for a tune up that I vowed I'd make use of this year. It had been tuned up a few times over those years with good intentions and for various reasons- extreme heat, too busy with work, too much rain, my mom's illness, my cycling injury etc.- so I stayed on my couch.

One of the greatest blessings in my Toronto neighbourhood is the park system literally a minute from my home, which runs down along beautiful, tree lined paved paths beside both Taylor Creek and the Don River- water systems which empty into Lake Ontario at our harbour lands.

Whizzing by adjacent to and then past the Don Valley Parkway, the city reveals itself in a way that renews my deep affection and pride at being an immigrant Torontonian. Our skyline reveals an ambitious business centre, the CN tower puts us on the map as the worlds tallest structure, Toronto Islands peacefully offer a world away from it all...

Cherry Street takes us past ports of call and ends at the sandy strip of Cherry Beach populated in summer by sunbathers and small families gathered for picnics, writers typing on a computer in the shade, other cyclists and joggers, the yacht club with bobbing boats docked in the sun, the hot dog and french fries truck...... there's no place like home!

More than for this pleasure, though, is the significance of my first time out on my bike. Six years ago almost to the day I had a serious accident while cycling this path alone. It was the day my mother was at the doctor getting her diagnosis of breast and uterine cancers. It was a day I was not focused well enough in the moment. I tried something different as I approached a bump in the road, pulling up on the handle bars to hitch over the concrete slab. The downward incline of a bridge increased my speed when I pulled this unfamiliar maneuver.

Without realizing it, I squeezed my brake handles as I pulled up the handle bars, and when I landed a millisecond later, my front tire wasn't moving. Physics took over, head first over metal bars I flew and landed hard on my left shoulder on pavement and grass. It was eerie riding by the bridge and the place I fell. I found I was holding my breath each way I passed with remembered stress and pain. Especially now that my mother has passed on.

After I understood what had happened and started to get my wind back after being knocked out of me, I assessed my bloody limbs, thankful for my helmet keeping the injury manageable. An older gentleman came along the path and as I felt my head spinning and nausea brewing I asked him to stay with me in case I passed out, not wanting to be alone in that scenario. There are homeless people who find refuge near these quiet treed paths and although usually no trouble, I felt vulnerable enough as it was.

He explained it was his very first time strolling in the ravine, and he hesitated to stay with me for fear of the warnings he'd received by well meaning friends- he wondered if this was some kind of a creative robbery set up. I invited him to get a closer look at my raw oozing skin.

Fortunately a friendly couple on bikes approached and were eager to help me out, so he went on his way in relief. For whatever reason, I chose to ride home the 10km rather than try to get up to street level and get a cab from downtown. It was excruciatingly painful as I tried to ride- with my left arm dangling and pulling with gravity. It was difficult to navigate and control the bike with my right hand, and these good samaritans patiently escorted me most of the way.

Medical help concluded that my rotator cuff was torn. The orthopedic expert that assessed me said I'd need surgery in order to be able to move my left arm again, and even then there was no guarantee at my 40 something age that surgery wouldn't do more damage or even succeed. He warned of frozen shoulder which is a restriction of movement in the arm passed a certain point. As he spoke of all the possible imitations, I found myself making private resolutions not to comply with his prognosis.

Statistics are an interesting thing which don't often get my attention. It's something my mother alerted me to when I was in university saying that you could find a way to manipulate statistics to support any claim.

My belief is that self-fulfilling prophesy has to start somewhere and we can be negatively influenced by limiting statistics, so sometimes I turn a deaf ear to people saying something I don't like, along the lines of- my full recovery isn't probable at my age.

It took a full year of physiotherapy, Reiki, exercises, pain management, traditional healers treating me while I was on my first retreat in Bali, and sheer determination until I was able to lift my arm perpendicular to my body all the way to my head. You wouldn't believe how complex that movement is until your rotator cuff is amiss!

It took a few more years to be pain free in some other simple movements like lifting anything above my head, or sleeping on my left side. During the same time my mom survived the diagnosis of breast and uterine cancer from that day of my accident. However 3 years later her third primary cancer, this time stage two in her colon. began to spread despite her treatments. During her illness my mother gave a lot of attention to statistics and she passed on nearly to the day of the 2 year statistically based prognosis.

And now, a month before the first anniversary of her passing I got on the saddle again, coming to a poignant full circle at that bridge, ready to move past this block.

One of the most remarkable experiences of this initiation ride was how responsive my body was after years of increasing sedentary habits, as I defaulted to the couch as the easiest way to cope with entrepreneurial stresses while managing through my mothers failing health. I cycled 22 km this first time out in the company of my neighbour. The next day I completed the 45km loop solo that I had ridden regularly so many years before. This was a delightfully surprising achievement, especially since I only took an additional 20 minutes than previous times six years younger to complete the loop.

By the end of the first week I had totaled 150km and I discovered each day after icing knees and feet that I was miraculously free from stiffness or pain. All I had was the pure pleasure and gratitude for being healthy in a willing body with the inspiration to reclaim as my own this simple pleasure of moving on my bicycle once again.

Relief flooded as I reclaimed the athlete in me I've neglected to take opportunity to express- aside from the annual sea kayaking retreats; Reclaim leisure time that has nothing to do with running my retreat company Aziza- true ME time; Reclaim this gorgeous city and the sense of belonging to a vital community as I smile hello to all who share the path with me.

Moving forward can be as simple as hopping on a bike. It's time now.

Written by Laila Ghattas- Sept. 9, 2009

Margaret Ghattas

Jan. 12, 1927 - September 2, 2008

 

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