Cycling to Recovery After Brain Injury

Cycling to Recovery After Brain Injury

I heard it early on—and I cringed.

Five words that will literally define the rest of my life: Brain injury recovery is lifelong.

Over the years since my traumatic brain injury, I’ve come to look at my own TBI as a wound to my soul. Such is the depth of pain and anguish by all who are impacted by a brain injury experience.

If I had just broken my arm and nothing more on that cold November day back in 2010, I would have been the only one to feel the effects of the accident. Sure, my wife, Sarah, might feel for my discomfort, but a broken arm really doesn’t impact anyone except the person wearing the cast.

But add a brain injury to the mix and everything changes. My wife was, and remains, profoundly affected by my injury. My parents lost the son they had raised, only to have a new David in their lives. My children had their dad removed from their lives in two ticks of a clock. Now you see him; now you don’t! Has anyone seen the Dad who raised us?

As I close in on my six year accident anniversary, I have learned some very important lessons.

Treating my brain injury encompasses body, mind, and spirit. If my spirit is unhealthy, my ability to function as a survivor falls by the wayside. Equally as important is to be wary of what I think, as my mind is not always my friend. Negative mental chatter can ruin any day.

Staying as physically fit as possible has been a game-changer for me. I count myself as one of the lucky ones as I was able to get back on a bike after my cycling accident. It took almost a year, however, to leave the comfort of my neighborhood – such was the stranglehold that PTSD had over me.

Even now, years later, I prefer cycling on roads through cow pastures than most any other road. The sounds of a car from behind or of an ambulance siren can reduce me to panic in short notice. But the benefits I receive from my daily cardio are worth the price of admission.

Most every afternoon, I take a bike ride. And for ninety minutes a day, I come close to forgetting about my brain injury. I watch the trees explode with leaves in the springtime, pass fields of wildflowers in the summer, and am blessed to cycle through waves of yellows, oranges, and reds as fall colors abound in New England.

My sporadic lack of impulse control means that I occasionally fight with my weight, the call of sweets more powerful than my ability to refrain. My daily cycling helps keep my weight in check. I feel more mentally sharp after I ride.

Many years ago, a member of the medical community shared a bit of information with me. “There is evidence that daily exercise speeds brain injury recovery,” he shared.

When I get my daily exercise, I feel like I am doing my part to help recovery. It’s like having some extra skin in the game. I come away grateful as well. Many survivors I have met over the years have seen a fate far different than mine. I count myself as one of the lucky ones as it could have been so much worse. I’m still able to cycle. Not everyone can.

Every year, I gear up for an annual event – my yearly century ride. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a century ride is a one-day, 100+ mile bike ride. Conveniently, it’s a hundred miles from our front door to my parents’ home in the central part of New Hampshire. This past spring, I completed my tenth consecutive yearly century ride.

This is not a ride for the faint of heart. The largest hills loom at the end of the day. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s more of a mental event than a test of physical endurance. This years’ time was a speedy six hours and forty-five minutes – my best time ever. Not bad for a mid-fifties year old guy!

The last ten miles are thankfully flat. I sometimes cramp up and have to walk a portion of it. Sweat mingles with tears. Since my brain injury, at least once toward the end of every century ride, I break down in sobs as the emotional floodgates open.

These are not tears of sadness.

It is while I am alone with my thoughts for hours on end, pushing my body harder than I should, that the weight of how far I’ve come hits me hard. I was told early on to expect a life of handicap and hardship.

Yet one mile at a time, I have proven so many to be wrong. And I prove again to myself that I can do just about anything I put my mind to.


I suffered a TBI after being hit by a car cycling to work. Unfortunately I had to be medically retired. I suffer mostly with fatigue, irritability and at times behavioural issues. I try to cycle everyday as it makes me feel alive again. My fatigue catches up with me after I do it but I think it's a price worth paying. The sense of achievement, wellbeing and positivity that it gives me for a few hours helps recover mentally from my accident.
Thanks for sharing your story it provides inspiration!!
Good luck

Your story rings so true with me.  Over two years ago I had an acute onset of terrifying symptoms ... like the hard drive in my brain had gone haywire.  My Mom died of ALS so I thought this could be the end for me.  Doctors were clueless .... I'd had no blow to my head but an MRI showed some shrinkage of my cerebellum ... long story short doctors couldn't help and when they can't help they just wish you'd go away.  So I did & I went and got a great bike.  And began riding and riding and riding ... about 100 miles a week (but I may have to try the century ride soon).  The emotional component I totally get although now that I'm aware of it, I know it's coming on a can try to control it.  Yes, it's not the life I'd hoped for but there are other's who suffer so much more (although, I look with envy at the people who I pass on the bike trail who are clueless to how incredibly lucky they are to work & function properly.  Anyway, just wanted to let you know it was good to hear what you had to say because I too feel that by doing something I'm at least living the best life I can right now.  Take care!  

You are an inspiration to this wonderful brain injury community. Thank you for sharing each step of your journey!!

Thank you or sharing part of your journey with us. Life with a TBI is a totally different experience. Like a box of chocolates you never know what you get next. Some days are good, some are awesome, sometimes long naps are needed. Your website, blog are just what we in the community need.  I wish I never had endured a TBI but I am so grateful for the lessons I have and continue to learn. Thank You New Friend. 

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