Everyday Cadence: A CycLing Tale

Welcome to Everyday Cadence - our first person account of daily rhythms on two wheels. 

Join Dara on her tube travels through time and space in and around NYC. Read what's on her mind and join the conversation with your own cadence recollection. 

And in a snap, my “professional” co-ed weekend football career ended. My upcoming snowboard trip (after I’d just bought a board!) - canceled.

While catching a game-winning interception, and juking to avoid the intense recreational competition ahead, I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament - my ACL, the small ligament that stabilizes the knee and is attached from the femur to the tibia.

My teammates cringed when they saw me go down. They knew.

I, on the other hand, had no idea that I’d just destroyed the tiny piece of flesh that basically attaches one part of the knee to the other for the very important goal of catching a football. I also didn’t know that while I’d just ended my promising weekend pastime, I’d soon adopt a new obsession; biking.

 Photo by  Sandro Schuh

Photo by Sandro Schuh

The next day, my knee blew up to the size of a cantaloupe as I hobbled around to work and to several doctors (apparently, this happens when you rupture a ligament). I can’t tell you how many people asked me if I heard a “pop” (I hadn’t).  I learned quickly about ACLs. They break a lot. And yes, we can live without them, but many athletes who have torn theirs choose to operate and later return to their sport. Also, it seems, women are more prone to these tears, with thanks in part to our wider hips, and how we land. Yay for us.

When the doctors recommended reconstructive surgery for me using my own tendon, it seemed like the sensible choice. I could go snowboarding with my newly-purchased board, and rejoin my team, I thought. Plus, I would finally be bionic (sorta).

Well, needless to say, years after the surgery, I am in no way bionic. And I’ve contemplated converting my snowboard into a bench. But the reconstruction (and some forced introspection) did re-jigger my life.

Immediately following the surgery, my muscle atrophied, shrinking my right thigh to the circumference of a 14-year-old version of little me. The range of motion in my marshmallow-like extremity was obviously limited, and for the first time in my memory, I was unable to do some things by myself, and without intense pain.

This would all pass, but the rehab process was intense and slower than I’d hoped. It also came with some mild depression and severe tear-swallowing.

Forced to slow down, I had to rethink how I got from here to there...and why I went from there to here. I taught myself to knit (scarves, exclusively long scarves). I took the bus. I looked for a new job. I read (and watched really bad TV). I learned who my “real” friends were (those who visited or called or were mindful about the activities we did).

I started physical therapy quickly, and shortly thereafter started to experience the delight (and tooth-grinding agony) of re-building my muscles. In bright red Asics Onitsuka Tiger kicks (which I chose for their flat soles), I channeled Jamie Sommers and moved swiftly from crutches to brace to bandage.

Astoundingly, I was on a stationary bike within a few days. This seemed kind of nuts considering the joint that moves an awful lot when you peddle was the one I had just traumatized.

But over the course of weeks, then months, I went from walking, to balancing boards, to painful squats, to stationary biking, to running. I learned that the body and mind are truly incredible when tested.

Now before the surgery (to date myself), I wore my rollerblades everywhere -- with skirts, shorts, to sports, to work, to dates. I’d skate next to trucks and cars and people, sweat like heck, then toss my (purple) blades on my shoulder and walk in any bar/restaurant/place I chose. It was kind of badass now that I think about it.

That all changed after ACL surgery and rehab. After trying to rollerblade again (a sport that tests your knees and hamstring muscles to the max), I tossed them -- like they had betrayed me -- into the back of the closet, and fought back a few tears.

My inherited mountain bike, meanwhile, had the admirable role of wall decoration. I’d been wary of bike thefts and poorly paved roads, and thought that funny looking booties on wheels were way more efficient than bike riding (it isn’t).

I looked up at my glorious, dusty wheels, which had become a bit of a perch for laundry and assorted bags.

Thanks to PT, I’d grown comfortable with (or tolerant of) the bike, so I pumped some atrophied tires and dug my helmet out from the closet. That was it.

 Photo by  Gemma Evans

Photo by Gemma Evans

Before I knew it, I was purchasing a “fancy” road bike. I started doing loops in the park on weekends. Weekends became week-nights. Loops became longer treks. Longer treks became day-long rides. Day long rides became an obsession. I now needed two bikes: one for treks, and one for commuting.

I came to know and appreciate the style, the vibe of the cycling community. I came to understand the rhythmic addiction to the sport -- because I had it. I needed to ride a bike.

On weekend mornings, I was drafting off of “Amstrongers” along the West Side Highway, and onto the Palisades in search of that cafe and a muffin.

For anywhere from 1-5 hours, I would be alone, often with music, sometimes with interactions with other cyclists, sometimes only with the terrain below me and the trees around me. Sometimes, I’d ride with others, but the solitude and togetherness of cycling enabled me to see clearly, and to think more strategically about how I spent my time.  

And just like that, my friendly games of football - which, let’s face it, I’d never really be good at (and were often followed by evenings playing flip cup) - had gone the wayside as I became more focused, more motivated, and more willing to take on new challenges.

Hours upon hours in the saddle filled my life with tons of other life-lessons. The drive to get on a bike regardless of my mood or of the weather made me appreciate my body’s comeback from the surgery and to see through any sort of obstacle. It reminded me of the strength of the human body and mind. In a relatively short time, my muscles got stronger, my reflexes improved, my confidence rose.

Fast forward a few years later, and, no, I haven’t played a co-ed recreational football game again (though I have played on a basketball team) and I’m not in any way a professional cyclist. But since I started cycling in earnest, I have run a half marathon on my reconstructed knee, acquired quite a few sets of wheels, and have accumulated a few (maybe too many) more scars and tales to tell.

Now, when the next interception happens (and it will), I’m good and ready.