The Leadville Trail 100 MTB combines ultra-endurance racing with the added stressors of high altitude and unpredictable weather. Months of the competitor’s lives are spent on physical training and mental preparation. Thousands of dollars are spent on the right gear and nutrition; not to mention the planning and organization of one’s life to get ready for something as intense as the Leadville Race Series. Many competitors train for the better part of a year to prepare mentally and physically for a prestigious race against elite athletes from around the world.
This describes many of the events that led up to Tara’s trip to Leadville in August 2018. After months of training and planning and preparing, she was ready to ride the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. This was not her first experience racing at Leadville – she had been a top finisher in years before. Four days before the race, she went out for one last training ride to acclimate to the altitude and calm her pre-race nerves. On a downhill stretch, coming into a tight turn, Tara encountered a car driving up the same road. Unable to come to a complete stop, they collided.
The crash totaled her bicycle and resulted in Tara making a trip to the emergency department at St. Vincent Hospital right here in Leadville. Fortunately, her medical report revealed no fractures or life-threatening injuries; however, Tara could not walk or move her leg due to excruciating pain – and the race was four days away.
This is how Tara found her way to the physical therapy department at St. Vincent Hospital, and this is where I join her story. My initial evaluation revealed neuromuscular dysfunction due to the trauma of the crash’s impact on her body. I was hopeful that we could rehabilitate her legs quickly, and there was potential to be ready for the race – we would just need to take it one day at a time.
Physical therapists combine a healing touch with extensive knowledge about the body and what it needs to rehabilitate. Working with elite athletes is a particular delight for most professionals in my field. This type of individual is motivated to improve, willing to do what is necessary – even if that is not train and rest things for a day or two – and ready to work when instructed to do so. It truly is an honor for us to come alongside someone’s journey and propel them toward their goals.
With the race looming on the calendar, Tara and I worked daily to restore her movement and activity tolerance. Each appointment was focused on immediate goals like pain-free hip movement, walking without pain and eventually I suggested we find another bike for Tara to test out. Three days after the crash (and one day before the race), Tara got back on a mountain bike, and we decided that she would be safe to ride the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race that year.
Later that weekend I received a simple text from my client, she finished the race in just over nine hours. We both knew this was not the year to plan for a personal record, but all of Tara’s hard work and training resulted in a respectable finish just days after a potentially decommissioning injury. This was a victory nonetheless!
We hope for a safe and injury-free race season for all of you competing in the Leadville Race Series this summer! Should the need arise, your friends at St. Vincent Hospital Physical Therapy are here to help you advance toward the finish line. We will also be waiting for you at the finish line after the 100 bike and run to help with any race-related injuries that might occur.
-Kelsey Kuehn PT, DPT, CSCS
St. Vincent Hospital Physical Therapy