Not being able to compete in the sport you love is a challenge for all of us. Whether it’s an injury setback, an interruption to your training schedule, or races being canceled, it’s hard to find your ground with your passion on hold.
Hive Elite athlete and competitive mountain bike rider Sam Dolzani experienced a major injury in 2019, putting his race season to an end. Having to take time away from his passion of mountain biking to recover, Sam shares how he handled his setback, and how something as simple as a positive attitude can make all the difference.
You’ve had some major injuries over the years. Could you share what the injuries were, and how long your recovery time was?
For as many hours as I have spent on my bike over the past decade, I feel incredibly lucky to have only had one severe injury that resulted in forced time off the bike. One week before what would have been my first XC national championship race last July, I clipped a pedal on a stump at a pretty high speed less than a mile from the finish line of a race in Winter Park, CO. This resulted in a hard fall where I managed to break my fibula (leg) and clavicle (collar bone), as well as an undiagnosed injury to my hand. The clavicle was broken in 3 pieces and required surgery. Surprisingly, I recovered faster than expected and was back on the bike within 42 days. I had to be very cautious for the first few months but I think the official recovery time was somewhere around 4 months. Luckily, the orthopedic surgeon I went to was an ex-pro road racer and shares the same mentality as me when it comes to the importance of physical activity.
What were some of your biggest challenges during recovery?
More than anything, I enjoy being active outdoors and this was put to a halt when both the left and right side of my body were injured. The injury occurred mid-summer when I would normally be riding and racing bikes, camping, running, and traveling. The major challenge I faced was accepting that these activities wouldn’t be possible until Fall at the very earliest. I saw family and friends doing all of the things I wished I could be doing with them, so that made it a bit more challenging.
How did you overcome, or manage, those challenges?
On the topic of family and friends, I am fortunate to have a great family and group of close friends that were there for me for support, sedentary hangout sessions, and the occasional night out (after all, there’s not much else to do with a broken leg). I also kept in mind that mountain biking is not the safest activity. By choosing to do it repeatedly, you are putting yourself at risk for the type of injuries I sustained.
With time, I knew things would get better. I kept looking forward to the future and getting back to doing the activities that I identify with. Additionally, I tried my hardest to eat healthy and practice healthy habits while I was unable to exercise during the recovery period.
What did you find helped keep your spirits up during recovery?
Watching my friends continue to ride, race, and make the most of the summer was enough to keep my spirits up. Being able to spend time with them and look forward to future adventures with them also helped. Sometimes when you take a step back from something that occupies most of your free time you are reminded to appreciate other aspects of your life that don’t receive as much attention when you’re spending most of your free time on the trail or road.
Did you find activities that helped you stay fit during recovery? If so, which were the most helpful?
As bad as it may sound, the first activity that I did while still partially injured was ride my bike. Riding was much more comfortable than walking or any other activity. When my surgeon said I could ride bikes whenever I felt comfortable after the first 6 weeks (barring any accidents), I had to seize the opportunity while on a trip to Spain with my sister, sister in law, and brother. As luck would have it, biking ended up being the most effective way of staying fit during my recovery. After the trip to Spain, I continued to ride my road bike in Colorado and also began lifting weights to strengthen my upper body – both which seemed to facilitate recovery.
What (if any) lessons did you learn from you injuries and during recovery?
One major lesson I learned is that when life throws you a curveball and you’re forced to spend a few months away from your hobbies and passions, you can always count on them being there for you when the time comes. I couldn’t imagine spending two months off the bike prior to that injury. However, the injury put things in perspective, forced me to be resilient, and made me realize you are more adaptable than you may think you are.
What advice do you have for someone who’s recovering from an injury?
A positive attitude is key. Sure, nobody likes being injured, but when it happens there is nothing to gain from a negative state of mind. The science shows that the way you appraise a stressful or traumatic situation is an important determinant of the impact of that situation (at a neural and physical level). With a more positive coping strategy you are less likely to experience negative outcomes from that event. This holds true in all aspects of life and it was very evident to me last summer when I was going through a tough time.