You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike
For Mother’s Day, my brother and I went home for the weekend to see my parents who live in Acton, a rural town in Southern Maine where I grew up. When I awoke on that Saturday, I went for a run around the three-mile loop I used to do when I was in high school, but had only run once since graduating from college. The loop starts on a dirt road at the end of my parent’s driveway and winds through the woods and past a hill overlooking the lake that I swam in as child.
After I ran, I had lunch and got in the car with my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend to drive to a trailhead nearby to go for a short hike. My mom wanted to go for a hike for Mother’s Day, continuing a tradition that started when I was in grade school. As I was hiking, I felt surer of my footing than I had during the first few hikes I had attempted, and I relied less on my dad’s arm for support. Jazzed up after the hike, I asked mom if she’d spot me on the bike. For the first time in eight years, I rode a bike all the way up and back down the hill.
It wasn’t the first time I had tried to ride my bike since suffering a traumatic brain injury eight years ago. In 2006, I was involved in a car accident that had left me in a coma and unresponsive for 3 weeks before being admitted to the “Slow to Recover” program for 100 days at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital. However, it was the first time I actually enjoyed riding a bike since before the accident.
I had tried riding a bike a couple of times before, but my attempts always ended in frustration that boiled over and quickly led to yelling and hurt feelings for the person that was trying to help me. Those first attempts at riding a bike left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t think I would do it again. Riding a bike was not the most important activity to me, if I had to lose something; I was fine with this being the thing.
Those initial attempts at riding a bike were a stark reminder of the limitations I still face. At the time, I was just starting to get more confident, feeling like I could finally start to grasp my recovery and better manage my life with TBI. I didn’t like to be reminded of my limitations and not being able to successfully ride a bike left me feeling frustrated, and I didn’t like remembering what it felt like to have those limits. Memories of my recovery after the accident started to come flooding back, and the various obstacles I faced during the time I spent in three different hospitals over the course of nearly a year.
But that Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, was the first time I had considered riding a bike for fun, even after running and hiking. Both the running and hiking felt easier that day and finally I was looking to be challenged again. Even after failing to ride a bike multiple times, I was feeling confident enough in my balance and strength to try again. And even though I had yelled in frustration during my first tries, on my way back down the hill my mom was waiting there for me, like she had been waiting to support me through my whole recovery.
My neurologist at Braintree, Dr. Douglas Katz, once told me that I would continue seeing changes in my recovery even five to six years after the accident. At the time, I looked at this with disappointment: I wanted to be recovered now, not in six years. Gradually, I began to see things from his perspective, and still notice even small changes with my memory, balance, and emotions. That progress, no matter how small, excited me, and propelled me to new stages in my recovery. Even eight years later, the confidence I was starting to feel with my body while running and hiking motivated me to get back on my bike.
And though I had questioned this initially, I found the old adage to be true: You never forget how to ride a bike. Sometimes you just need patience to remember.
Guest Blogger, Tessa Venell, is an independent journalist and documentarian. Currently a grant writer at The Ivy Street School, she is writing a book about her recovery from a brain injury that she sustained when a severe car accident left her in a coma. You can see more of her work at tessavenell.com.
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