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NEW ANGELA

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It's As Easy As Riding A Bike

I keep discovering what I can and cannot remember how to do after the brain injury, and there is often some relearning involved.  One exciting opportunity for growth happened last week at an event hosted by my friend Karen Keating called Glass Half Full.  

I purchased 10 raffle tickets as a fundraiser for the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina, and I put six of the tickets in one particular bowl.  I said aloud that we needed to wait until all the tickets were drawn so that we could load the prize into our truck to bring it home.  This occasion reminded me how important the power of positive thinking can be…

I happened to be the person to draw the winning ticket from the bowl but did not look at it.  I passed it to the musician standing nearby who had been reading off the winning names.  To my surprise, I heard my own name being called and I knew at that moment I had freaking won!

What did I win?  A new beautiful blue Momentum road bike donated by the Asheville Bicycle Company!  This bike coincidentally matches a Nutcase helmet that I won from BIAA two years before!  I had only previously worn the helmet while ice-skating in NYC at a friend’s birthday party.  I would soon be sporting it with a new set of wheels!

Wow… I won the bike!  And yet I was not entirely sure if I still knew how to ride one.  I haven’t ridden a bike in the last 10 years since the car crash that caused my traumatic brain injury.  A tiny bit of fear and embarrassment flooded my thoughts.  We see children riding bikes around our complex, what if I cannot remember?  

At 40 years of age, my husband held the back of my seat for a wobbly practice run down the hallway of our apartment building, which did not build my confidence much as I was close to bouncing off the walls several times.  Then we headed down to the parking lot to see what would happen when I rode in a more open space.  I briefly considered what the potential damage of a fall could be, because I felt so far away from the ground and was only able to touch it with my tippy toes.  Did I need knee pads?  

I don't really get scared anymore when embarking on a new challenge because of the massive trauma I have already survived.  But I wasn't entirely fearless this time, perhaps because of the further physical hurt I could endure.  However, having my husband stand at my side provided me with the courage to extend one leg after the other. 

To my amazement, as I peddled and put the bike in motion, I just kept going!  The added speed I was able to gain outdoors surprisingly helped my balance.  I did a few circles in the back corner of the parking lot with my husband filming the first ride on my iPhone.

I invited him to grab his bike so that we could go for a ride around the apartment complex.  I was faring well enough that he suggested we try the vacant Toys “R” Us parking lot nearby.  I did several laps around the parking lot, and although my confidence had grown, my rear-end wasn’t quite as ready as I was because I hadn’t sat on a bike seat in some time.  

I guess it’s true about muscle memory, because the mechanics of my body remembered how to ride better than I did.  I actually don’t recall how old or where I was when I first learned.  Maybe the bike had streamers on the handlebars and a unicorn on the seat?  After doing some digging, I learned that Daddy taught me how to ride my bike while we were living in New Orleans when I was about 5 or 6 years old.

As my confidence was rising, I felt ready to leave this very predictable pavement and embark on less certain terrain.  We loaded our bikes onto our new car rack, and we drove over to Carrier Park in Asheville which has nice short riding trails to practice on.  This peaceful spot is a shady path that traces the French Broad River.  While pedaling past my husband, I joked that I was almost ready to ride with no hands.  I believe bikes played a big part in my childhood and I probably could ride with no hands, but I don’t remember.

Before packing up the bikes, we relaxed on a park bench and snacked on the modest picnic we prepared.  At that moment, I was reminded of something I had written five years ago (I realized later almost to the day).  I wrote a Letter To God about the divine romantic love I wanted to manifest in my life that perfectly described Augustus and we later used this letter in our wedding ceremony.  The line that I was reminded of is: “We both develop a new yet shared activity or sport that we enjoy in the outdoors together.”

Five years after I wrote this and after celebrating our first wedding anniversary, I am excited that yet another piece of that love letter has come true.  I am amazed that relearning something I didn’t know I knew how to do could create this powerful bridge between my past self and my present self, or who I have grown to call Angela1 and Angela2.   

Riding a bike is giving me another way to be outside and get exercise.  Last weekend, we went riding through Biltmore Forrest with my friend from the Asheville TBI support group.  I didn’t know if I could keep up with my husband who use to bike to work in NYC about 12 miles each way or my friend who rode regularly.  But I guess all the time I have been spending on the elliptical at the gym is paying off because before long we had completed about nine miles and I only had to get off my bike once to walk it the rest of the way up a hill.  

I felt nervous because my balance wasn’t very solid in the beginning, and I had a hard time letting go of the handle bar to signal which direction I wanted to go.  My legs began to shake and they felt like spaghetti noodles whenever I tried to stand up and peddle uphill.  My friend gave me two helpful safety tools, a BackEye glove that has a rearview mirror built into the wristband and WingLights that are direction indicators for the bikes handlebars!  These wonderful gifts will help me to feel even safer when navigating the roads.

I know for a lot of people, exercise may not be enjoyable or something they want to do. The experience of relearning how to ride a bicycle reminded me that there are lots of different ways to be active other than just being in the gym.  I did not feel that I could have ridden a bike safely in NYC, but these mountains are the perfect setting for this strenuous exercise in the great outdoors. For now, I will not go riding without the watchful eye of my husband but it has been wonderful rediscovering this new source of fun. 

The experience of rediscovering what was lost is a challenge many of us living with brain injury face.  It has made me particularly frustrated and sad when my old skills do not return, like dancing and singing.  But whenever I feel down about how things use to be, I purposely try to refocus on all that I have achieved since the crash.  Many of Angela1’s talents have not returned but Angela2 does not keep track of these changes.  I try not to be bothered by how things once were, and I try celebrate this second chance.  This new life includes relearning how to ride a bike at 40 years young.

paul daggett