Slow is the New Fast – part 3.

10 Jun

So I broke my vow and wore my green shirt like a bold Scarlet Letter, owning my shame fully. The day that I bought it, almost immediately upon returning to the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) VIP zone, I spied a pair of my Ride2Recovery buddies: Barb and Wayne Stetina. *That* was a pleasant surprise on its own and it got even better when Barb told me who was with them — Wayne’s brother, Dale.

Dale Stetina.

Holy cow!

Reader: You cannot imagine what an incredible joy and honor this was for me.

You cannot imagine how totally trilled I was.

You cannot imagine how perfectly petrified I was.

Dale Stetina — 1976 Montreal Olympic cyclist. Former U.S. National Road Champion. Two-time winner of the Coors Classic (THE quintessential American stage race up until its demise and ultimate replacement by the AToC). 2007 inductee to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. Father of AToC rider, Peter Stetina. And, perhaps most importantly: Survivor of a solo, brain-bashing cycling wreck that was way more epic/bad than mine.

The causal factors of our wrecks were eerily similar (i.e., we both hit our brakes hard to successfully avoid oncoming vehicles and instead ended up flying off of our bikes and doing high-velocity face-plants). Dale got airlifted out of the canyon and was comatose for awhile. Although he avoided having to undergo a craniotomy because he did not have a tremendous amount of blood flooding his brain (so he doesn’t have any cool staple scars or burr-hole divots like me — too bad for him) his specific type of brain injury actually was way worse: severe diffuse axonal injury (DAI).

DAI is always impossible to recover from … or so “they” (the doctors/medical journals) say…

I heard about Dale’s accident the day that I posted about my relationship with Jay blowing up and, frankly, I was just as (if not more) shaken by the news about Dale as I was about the whole busted relationship thing. I reached out to Barb immediately to see if I could offer any tips, advice, or a knowing shoulder to lean on. Working with her and Dale’s family was probably more therapeutic for me (diversion, denial, distraction, etc.) than it was for them.

In any event, Barb and I kept up a pretty steady correspondence as Dale progressed through his various hospital and rehab center stays. His initial team of doctors were, much like mine, very pessimisticSo I told Barb: Fuck the doctors. They have no idea what Dale is capable of (I didn’t know Dale, of course, but I do know me some cyclists and we are all tough, crazy, determined mothafuckas!). As soon as they take him off of the ventilator, I bet you’re gonna hear and earful from Dale about what he thinks of those doctors.

Little could we have known how totally beyond right I was about THAT statement!

Dale’s brain injury manifested itself in a profoundly different way than mine. Whereas I experienced a highly diminished capacity to communicate anything verbally, Dale spewed words like a full-force firehose. Constantly. He didn’t always make sense, but he was definitely verbose. And one of the things that he was VERY animated and adamant about was …

Come on, I bet you can guess.

What would be The One Thing that Dale would constantly ask about, want to do, obsess about, and demand from anyone who would listen (as well as those who didn’t want to listen)?

Yes. Of course.


Hot damn and halleluia!

I was so friggin’ excited when Barb told me that! Dale is going to totally beat the odds and prove all those doctors, wrong, Barb. I promise. You need to do everything you can to get him on a stationary bike as soon as possible. I don’t care if he’s still using a walker and not able to stand on his own. Get him on a bike. Strap him on if you need to. Just let the guy spin. He will be fine.

I said these things, but did I really mean them? I dunno. A part of me really did mean it, believe it, and “know” it to be true. A bigger part of me thought that maybe just offering the belief (and the hope that comes with it), might make a difference somehow. But the biggest part of me was like: Holy shit. This is like the greatest test experiment of my hypothesis ever. I wonder if it will work?!

Like I said, above, Barb and I kept in pretty good contact for several months following Dale’s accident. Her reports were exceptionally positive. He was beating the odds big time. He not only got onto a stationary bike at his rehab center, he also started riding on the back of a tandem cycle once he was released to go home. After he was able to return to his home (about 6 months after his wreck), my correspondence with Barb dropped off quite a bit. She asked me to weigh in regarding HBOT therapy and I emphatically chimed in with my recommendation that Dale go for it. DAI is a “perfect” type of injury candidate for HBOT, in my opinion (whatever that’s worth).

I never heard whether or not they decided to try it, but now here was Dale himself and I could check him out with my own eyes, ask him all my questions, trade TBI tales with him, and find out how he was really doing.

He’s doing FRIGGIN’ great! He did go through a round of HBOT and was considering doing a follow-up round. He found that it offered dramatic, immediate benefits, although many of them tapered after time. Bike riding, however, was a continual therapeutic blessing to him. It’s too bad that I did not have the presence of mind to record our conversation. His verbal firehose was often too much for my poor little Etch-a-Sketch® brain to handle. I was able to follow his entire, very-long train of thought; his ideas all made perfect sense (and often boarded on brilliant), but my memory maker still doesn’t work very well.

Both of us are making progress on our respective issues though — he remembered to pause occasionally, and I jotted down some notes when I got home so that I could “remember” to tell our story to you…

In any event, I was totally exhilarated to see how functional he was. After he didn’t die (although he was “supposed” to), he (like me) also was “supposed” to be significantly disabled and in need of round-the-clock car But here we both were, chillin’ in the AToC VIP zone, talking at very high levels about cognitive training, proprioception skills, strabismus, neuro-motor rehab, and how all these things might be repackaged and made available to help healthy cyclists, like those on his son’s professional racing team, BMC.

It nearly went without saying (although we did say it quite often): Riding our bikes not only healed us and made us stronger after our injuries, the things that we learned from that experience could actually be repurposed to make all bike riders (heck, maybe even all humans!) stronger.

Dale is a former National Road Racing Champion. He was paid to ride his bike really, really, fucking fast. Even when he retired, he still rode really fucking fast. Then he smashed his head. While he was stuck in his hospital bed, he wanted to get back on the bike immediately — and go fast. But once actually got on the bike, he realized that he needed to go slow. Not just “start slow,” but go slow. In order to get to the next level in his recovery, he had to take it slow. When he tried to go too fast, it backfired — in so, so, so many ways. He learned this lesson on his bike. And he used the lessons he learned from his bike to inform every other aspect of his therapy and second-chance, reborn life.

He took a momentary pause from whatever he was telling me (the Etch-a-Sketch® did not record what that was), took a look at my newly purchased t-shirt and said:

Slow is the new fast. Like us. We may be slow, but we’ve moved further and faster than anyone ever expected. “Slow is the new fast.” I like that.

Me too, Dale. Me too.

Parting Thought:  If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome. ~Michael Jordan


5 Responses to “Slow is the New Fast – part 3.”

  1. Amanda June 11, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Etch-a-Sketch or not, just excellent.

  2. brokenbrilliant June 13, 2014 at 6:18 am #

    Getting on a bike and riding (even for those of us who are not outdoor cyclists) has been instrumental to my recovery over the past 5 years. I struggled with recovering for a couple of years, then I started using the stationary bike I already had, and the results were pretty amazing. In fact, after being away for too long, I got back on the bike today for just 10 minutes, and the difference is palpable. I’m really happy to have found your blog. I’ll be back to read more, for sure!

    • justadventures June 13, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Welcome! I love hearing this from you, as these circumstances are exactly what I plan to develop my doctoral thesis around. A recovery revolution is coming. Glad to have your involvement!

      • brokenbrilliant June 13, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

        Fantastic – we need more folks like you, and also in your position. Looking forward to following your progress – esp. with your doctoral thesis.

  3. brokenbrilliant June 13, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    Reblogged this on Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind and commented:
    Getting on a bike and riding — even 10 minutes in the morning — makes a huge difference for me in the quality of thinking and sense of well-being. If you’re dealing with TBI, you owe it to yourself to get on a stationary bike and start spinning. I can’t recommend taking up cycling on roads, because I myself don’t consider it safe (for me, anyway), but if you can get to an exercise bike, so much the better. Or any other kind of vigorous exercise that gets the blood pumping.

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