Fear of Fifty or Fabulous Fifty? – Aging and riding bikes

May 20, 2021

I’ve loved bicycling since I was a little kid. From my first pink Huffy to my ‘go to’ bikes of today. You don’t realize you’re indestructible until about the age of 40. That’s the magic number where I think your body begins to whisper to you, “Hey! You’re not young anymore, what do you think you’re trying to prove?” Things start to fall apart and something typically hurts every day when you wake up!

For me, like for many, 2020 was the ultimate challenge personally and professionally. With COVID-19 putting life into a tailspin for many, I found solace on my bicycle. That is until I broke my elbow at the very beginning of summer. It was a day like any other when my husband and I wanted to go for a quick mountain bike ride in the foothills before heading out on a weekend of camping and biking in the Idaho mountains. The accident wasn’t even anything crazy, but a simple miscalculation of how close my bar ends were to his when I tried to maneuver around him on a trail. BLAMMO! I had broken my elbow and ended up having surgery with a steel plate and six screws and about six months of a long recovery.

an x-ray of kelly's elbow with screws and plates
My new bionic elbow.
kelly wearing a shirt that says
Well, the bike usually is these days!

The older they are, the harder they fall. It’s no joke. I hadn’t broken a bone since I was a child, ironically, while on a bicycle! I broke my collarbone that time. Banged up, bruised, and now off the bike for a minimum of eight weeks I felt deflated. I wondered if this was the end of mountain biking for me. Questions I began to ask myself, “Am I told old to be doing this stuff? Maybe I should stick to just road biking or commuting? Maybe I should just stick to running?”

The more I thought about it and began to ride again, beginning with slow commuting to work on the bike, I realized those thoughts were irrational fears. Fears, yes. Real fears. The first time I got back on my mountain bike I was climbing up a familiar trail that I’d done a hundred times before. There were two older guys (older than me) taking a break at the top. One said to me, “Dang!! Your legs are powerful! I barely made that climb!” I laughed at the moment and accepted the compliment, but as soon as they rode off and I was alone, I burst into tears. Tears of relief I felt at the moment because I was literally terrified of falling and breaking something again. I caught up with my husband who was ahead of me and he saw my face, puffy and red-eyed and he asked if I was OK. I told him what the man had said to me and that I felt that at that moment that I knew I could do this.

I am approaching my big 5-0 birthday in a few months. Do I feel invincible? No way. But I have gained something with age and experience: patience. Be kind to yourself. Pace yourself. Stop comparing yourself. Take your time. Take it slow.

Will I be sending it on my fiftieth birthday? Doubtful, but I will be riding my bicycle and enjoying every minute that my aging body will allow me to enjoy this sport I love.

These days I’m back in the saddle, but with some extra protection on my elbows.
It’s okay to walk your bike. Especially after a crash.

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