July 17, 2017 Teal Stetson-Lee


Frequently, life happens while we are making other plans. As a result, improvisation is key. No one is living the fantasy life that they portray, we are all feeling our way in the dark. Some times are darker than others. To keep it real, I’d like to share one of my most visually observable dark days with you. Warning, this content is graphically disturbing.

Video Credit: Jeff Kerkove
It was my first year signing with the prestigious Luna Pro Team in 2012. My fresh season came to a screeching halt at the Beti Bike Bash when my front wheel unexpectedly fell off, going over a water bar on a high speed section of the course. I was knocked out instantly. I was transported to the hospital in an ambulance and regained consciousness in the hospital. Having head trauma is no joke. My whole face was bloody and thoroughly ground-scuffed and my lips were shredded and one eye was swollen shut. Even when I came to, I was extremely disoriented and only remember a significant feeling of helplessness and discomfort all over. Not wanting to complain because I recognized I was a bit out of sorts, I told the nurse that my eye was slightly scratchy, she kindly explained to me, for the 4th or 5th time, with the patience of a saint, “I’m sure it is dear, you were in a bad bike crash today and you landed on your face”. I said, unconvincingly, “it’s just really scratchy…” Eventually, she pulled my eyelid up and removed an entire teaspoonful of dirt that was trapped underneath. I hit the ground so hard and quick I didn’t even have time to close my eyes.
I was so lucky that my boyfriend and parents were at the race, saw the crash from across the field, and stayed by my side the entire time. This was particularly helpful as I was being asked questions in the hospital to assess my cognitive function. Questions like. “how are you feeling and are you a member of a religious group?” To which I replied, “Tis but a flesh wound” and “Pastafarianism”. I don’t remember these communications, but that was the moment when everyone present knew I was going to be alright and, despite my physically battered condition, my biting sarcastic personality had not been damaged.
The longer road to recovery was the next month and the whole next year. I don’t remember the entire month of June from 2012. I would have hour-long phone conversations with people and then call them back again the next day, saying I wanted to catch up. I was mentally fuzzy and had short-term memory issues for many months. Riding bikes well again was it’s own challenge. One of my saving graces was not having any memory of the crash which meant I didn’t have the psychological road block of fear of the incident to overcome, but I had other issues.
My first race back was the Mountain Bike National Championships in Sun Valley, ID. I had just started getting back on the bike a couple weeks prior and was still not myself. During the race I remember having only one speed. I couldn’t dig deep or push my limits or event try to be competitive. My body put the brakes on and kept me at a causal, social trail ride pace the entire race. I gained a great deal of appreciation for the intuitive, physical knowledge of my body. It was relearning to trust my mental judgment and I was learning to trust it’s healing process, it sounds compartmentalized but that is exactly how it felt. I eased into the rest of my season strategically and patiently.
Head injuries are scary and weird and really shine a light on how fragile we truly are. Though I have continued to have many crashes since the Beti “Face Bash” in 2012, I have not gone through a similar dramatic concussion since. But I am more at risk and even small crashes freak me out. Risk is inherent in my sport but I do not take my safety and body for granted and I do my best to protect myself. I plan to ride mountain bikes long into my old age.