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Alan's road to recovery

Alan Dorrington in Action - Pic by Jo AllenAfter losing an argument with a dry stone wall during a 'Cross race in March. Alan Dorrington talks about his road to recovery from a broken neck and his return to racing.

There’s been a bit of a radio silence from me in recent months, at least in terms of riding and racing activity. A crash in a cyclocross sportive event at the very end of March sidelined me for some considerable time, and nearly threatened to end my riding career.

It seemed like a run of the mill crash, albeit a very heavy one – missing a bend on a fast downhill tarmac stretch, I hit a dry stone wall, flipped upside-down and landed on my head before sprawling across the road in a heap of bike and rider. The overall levels of bruising and road rash were considerable so no one injury stood out from anything else, and I limped the half hour or so back to the car and drove home to retire to bed, somewhat worse for wear.

Another couple of days of limited walking, and considerable pain and I began to feel something was wrong with my neck. I had landed on my head after all, and the fact that my helmet had split in two hadn’t at the time registered as particularly significant. One can only wonder why not…….

A visit to the local Urgent Care Centre on my 4th day of incapacitation led to a minor medical panic – the kind of very controlled panic where after receiving my xrays back, the doctor very firmly told me to stand where I was, not move a single muscle whatsoever, and rapidly summoned a further 7 or so colleagues to stick me on a c-spine board with foam blocks and a neck brace. It began to slowly dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, things weren’t necessarily OK.

Some five hours later, a trip to a different hospital for better scanning machinery and I was informed I was now (or indeed still was) the proud owner of a complete break to my C7 neck vertebrae and a compression fractured T4 back vertebrae. Scary stuff, but not they had deduced, immediately life altering. So it was that I was discharged from the hospital with a fetching neck brace, my ‘cone of shame’ to wear 24/7 for the next 4 months and a stiff warning about being sensible and not doing anything daft. Warning understood and digested.

The next 6 months were not, however I dress it, easy. Recuperation from broken bones takes time, too much time for any active person, and more time when they are quite important bones, integral to your ability to move. Or not. False starts, setbacks, disappointments were all there in equal measure as the recovery process took much longer than I had imagined it would. None of this was a surprise to anyone else around me, including my long suffering wife – only I was the one pigheaded enough to refuse to accept that I had been very, very lucky and would take some time to mend.

A little turbo was my only release from inactivity, running being banned as well as cycling for a considerable time. Too much time. With physio and a little patience, eventually my healing took place, and after 3 separate lots of check-up xrays I was finally discharged, 24 weeks later. I had managed to do some simple riding round football fields in the previous few weeks, keeping risk to a minimum and now the proper work to get back to full fitness could begin.

I raced ‘cross for the first time, 6 months after the accident, not very well and rather emotionally at the end, as the whole of my recuperation had been focussed on getting to that point where I could begin to feel like a ‘cross racer again. My second race, last weekend at the Rapha Super Cross confirmed all the hard work I been putting in was starting to pay off – a little speed, much better technique and some proper confidence in riding faster were back. I’m still not riding on the road, out of deference to my wife’s wishes, as she has had more of a fright than me really, but grassy cyclocross, fell running and some swimming have all been hitting the spot in helping me get back to what I have always loved doing, getting muddy in a ‘cross race. It’s good to be back.

Picture by Jo Allen

21 October 2014

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