This morning I awoke before my alarm. I rolled onto my right shoulder and felt that familiar ache from the base of my clavicle to my shoulder joint. I knew once I got moving, it would loosen up. I’m at that age where I swear I can pull a muscle while asleep. It’s disconcerting. Of course, this was not from one of my mysterious sleep injuries. I earned this pain the hard way. It happened Labor Day Weekend 1998 on the Sunday before school opened. It was my first principalship and I probably should have been in the office, but I was in dire need of burning off some nervous energy. I was going to be following probably the best principal I knew, and she was going to be my superintendent. I was feeling the pressure. I definitely needed to clear my head and the best way I knew how was to get on my bike and ride as fast as I could. I was 25 miles in and about a mile from my Jeep when I experienced firsthand the design flaw in my new bike pump. It was made to fit snugly under the top tube without a clamp or strap. And it did. For 25 miles. And then it didn’t. The pump slipped off the tube and fell downward as my feet, securely clamped to the pedals, came around and swept it into the chain wheel. No longer able to rotate and move the bike forward, physics prevailed, and I flew over the handle bars. With extensive experience falling off things, I tucked my head, hit the pavement with my right shoulder and tried to roll through. Unfortunately, my brand-new cleats did not release immediately, and I briefly remained attached to the bike as it flew over me. As it hit the pavement, I was drug along with it, shredding my skin from shoulder to knee. Much to my embarrassment, this was all witnessed by two guys who looked like legitimate contenders for the Tour de France. They were very sweet and offered to call an ambulance. I declined, brushing as much of the dirt and gravel off my bloody skin as I could. Before riding off, one of the cyclists remarked, “Man, she’s good at crashing!” I probably should have been offended but I am good at it. I had a lot of practice as a kid. I take pride in only having ever broken one bone. The bike was a loss as was my helmet (always wear a helmet!). I unsuccessfully tried to wrench the handlebars in the general direction of the front tire in hopes that I could ride the short distance to my Jeep. No luck. I pulled out my phone to call my husband. He understandably kept his phone nearby when I was out on the road. I told him that I thought I might have broken my collarbone and was headed to the hospital. I threw my bike over my left shoulder and made my way to the parking lot.
My husband has spent his fair share of time in emergency rooms and it has rarely been for him. I like having him there. He’s pretty funny when I am injured, and it takes my mind off the pain. This time, they put us in a bay with gurneys separated only by curtains. I was explaining my accident to the doctor as he debrided my shoulder, hip and knee. My husband was entertaining us teasing me about my propensity for falling off things. I could hear an older couple in the bay next to us. The man had been building something in his garage when he hit his thumb with a hammer, crushing it. I could tell he was in a lot of pain and his wife was clearly frustrated with the time it was taking to treat him. Personally, I thought things were going pretty quickly for an emergency room on a Sunday on a holiday weekend. I expected to wait hours just to get in the room. When the doctor finished the tedious job of picking the gravel out of my skin, we were left alone, and I was laughing at how ridiculous the whole thing was. We were taken aback when the wife in the “room” next to us pulled the curtain aside and exclaimed “Honestly, don’t you think you are a little too old for this?!” I am not sure if she meant that we were being too silly or that I shouldn’t be out on a bike. Either way, I replied, “Apparently not because here I am.” She huffed and quickly dragged the curtain back. We just could not help it. We broke out in laughter. Maybe it was latent immaturity. Maybe it was shock from the debriding. I think mostly it was the realization that I was out doing something I loved and, even if I got hurt, I would not have changed a thing. I hoped in that moment that I would never be to old to ride my bike.
My shoulder is not the only thing that aches, trust me. Would I like my body to feel like it did at 15? Oh yes, I would. Who wouldn’t? But I have had an amazing, active life. God willing, I will continue to. I really would not trade a thing. I have some great stories about my escapades going back decades. Every scar, every break, every ache and every pain is the story of my life. They are the stories of my courage. They are the stories of my follies. They are evidence of my good judgment and bad. They are dusting myself off and getting back on the horse. They are my successes and my failures. They are evidence of my well spent youth.
This photograph was taken on my iPhone in 2014 at the Tour de Blast ride up Mt. St. Helens. It was my birthday ride that year. We didn’t go all of the way to the top but we went far enough up to scream “Weeeeeeee!” as we raced all the way back down. There were no emergency room visits that day.