Getting back on the bike after two bad wrecks sets up a relentless battle against hard-to-overcome emotional and physical consequences.
After her first wreck four years ago, 38-year-old Deana Michna wound up pushing a wheelchair as part of her therapy while she recovered from her injuries. It had been her first summer of real road riding. She didn’t think she’d ride again, but she did—only to get hurt again. Michna thought she’d hung up her bike for good, letting the emotional ghosts take over. Now, however, she’s gearing up for her first century ride: Bike MS, a national fundraiser for multiple sclerosis Locally, various rides are slated for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 27-28, in and around Greenville, S.C.
“Seeing bikes started haunting me,” Michna says about the time she spent trying to ignore her bike.
It was the spring of 2004 when she got herself a hybrid mountain/road bike for riding the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 22-mile scenic route that follows a historic rail line near the coast. As a traveling speech therapist, she next moved to Mount Airy, N.C., where she visited the bike shop looking for fun local rides. As any good bike-shop staff would, they introduced her to real road riding and got her involved in a women’s riding group.
“I borrowed a road bike and fell in love with it,” says Michna. She bought a Trek 1500, whizzing around the Blue Ridge Parkway and touring places like Orchard Gap, which features 3-mile climbs with steep switchbacks.
“We would climb up and then race back down pretty fast, and I was keeping up with the fast ones at about 35 miles per,” she recalls.
But a rookie mistake took her down as she came into a tight switchback. Seeking to slow down before the turn, she locked up her rear wheel and began fishtailing. Instead of letting up on the rear a bit, giving a little front brake and leaning into the turn, she locked up both brakes, causing her to sail over the bike directly onto her head … shoulder … and hip. She just bounced, fellow riders observed.
“I had virtually no road rash,” says Michna. “I didn’t even lose consciousness. How I didn’t break my neck, I don’t know.”
What she did break was the top of her thighbone—the ball of the hip joint—and her right clavicle.
Michna underwent trauma surgery at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. She was in a wheelchair for three months. She spent five months rehabilitating, which meant she was out of work for some time. Her mom had to come help her.
A tight-knit group in any town, fellow cyclists also came to her aid. Stairs prevented Michna from returning home, so they housed both her and her mom as she healed. They also held a fundraiser to help her with medical bills.
Michna returned to work in six months and to her bike a year after the accident.
“I was riding again, but I felt like I had posttraumatic stress disorder,” she says. “I was skittish.”
The scene of the second accident was a set of railroad tracks in Washington state. She landed on her head and hurt the same hip and shoulder she’d injured earlier.
“I was angry when I had the accident,” says Michna. “After I realized I’d separated my shoulder and would need surgery, I hung up my bike and thought I couldn’t do it again.”
This time, she stayed off her bike for two years. “But when you’re 34 and you find a sport that you really like, it’s hard to turn your back on it,” Michna explains.
This past February, however, she needed yet another surgical repair to her shoulder. Ironically, it was the surgeon telling her she shouldn’t ride again that fueled her desire to do just that.
Her personal goal of riding 100 miles in a day meshed with co-workers who were making commitments to their health. She’s been training a lot this summer and recently rode 84 miles. “I saw the MS ride and thought it was perfect, because I would be giving back at the same time,” says Michna. “It wouldn’t be about just me.”
Meanwhile, she’s become a staunch advocate of helmets, which have saved her life at least twice. “I don’t care how good a rider you are, you don’t plan an accident,” she said. “I just want people to be aware.”
[Bettina Freese lives and bikes in Asheville.]