Letters to Cyclingnews May 31, 2001
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Eric Kevitt's letter a couple of days ago about his recent back surgery struck a powerful chord, and we've had some truly amazing tales of recovery, particularly from Michael Stechow and Jim Ward, and letters with excellent advice for recovery from severe injury. Eric asked what back problem Cyclingnews correspondent Odessa Gunn was suffering from. Here's Odessa's response:
Mario Cipollini's possible departure from Saeco (reported in news a couple of days ago) has brought tributes to Super Mario, a rider who seems to gather more fans as he gets older and shows us that 30-somethings aren't past it.
Scott Goldstein reminds us of the predictions that the Giro would be a better race than the Tour and points out that so far, in his opinion, that doesn't look like the case. Sean Jones has a suggestion for a formula for Tour selections based on selecting the best teams and the reigning champions in the Tour classifications.
Live TV coverage of the major races is something many of us crave, and OLN seems to be the best bet in the US, according to a couple of our readers, while some folks are going to extraordinary lengths to get some sort of live coverage. We know our live coverage is popular and we'll try to keep it coming for Giro stages that are likely to be significant. Several hours of 'the riders are just pootling along' in Stage seven wouldn't exactly have been riveting reading.
Finally, a couple of requests for help. François Siohan is trying to track down an Argentinean rider who saved his life back in the '60s, and Tai Lee wants a companion for a visit to Alpe d'Huez.
In response to Eric Kevitt, I did not suffer any breaks in my spinal column, but five years ago everything else in my body was crushed in an accident. All four arms and legs, along with internal injuries and nerve damage. Right femur was crushed into nearly 30 pieces. Initial prognosis was to amputate both right leg and right hand, then later amputate left leg as well due to severe DVT. I had to convince the doctors that as a cyclist I could heal incredibly well to get them to try risky experimental procedures instead of amputation I also threatened their lives. Nineteen procedures and more than a year later, they said that I would never support my weight, never bend either wrist, still might lose my left leg, and should remain horizontal with compression hose for most of my life while eating blood thinners.
HA! Two years to the week after the accident, I had been cycling again for almost three months and entered the Georgia Games road race  and won it. I won five of six races that summer, earned the Atlanta Gas Light Company Sportsmanship award, and was named Georgia Male Athlete of the Year 1998.
I still have hardware in all four arms and legs and often get searched at airports. I suffer no stiffness or pain, ever. I exercise nearly every day to maintain this condition. It is not so easy here where I am working now for the UN Mission in Kosovo, but I try to eat well, exercise, and sleep enough. I never took any special vitamins or supplements because there was just so much information and data that no one can really make a decision on what to take when and how much.
By the way, I am now 42 years old. Too old to heal so many broken bones, veins, nerves, muscles, and joint tissue unless one is a cyclist.
I hear there is a race that I can enter here in the former Yugoslavia on Sunday. I intend to be there.
Keep in touch and let me know how you are doing. I did all my physical therapy on my own and have some good ideas. I would share all of this with you if you like.
Godspeed and good luck Eric.
Back surgery #2
If you wish to return to the highly stressful levels of cat 2 racing please make sure that your rehab specialist addresses flexibility and what we call 'stabilization' exercises to ensure that there is adequate protective strength around those involved segments to handle the torque you will someday soon be placing there. Good luck!
Doug Keiser, PT
Back surgery #3
In June of 93, I had a spinal fusion of L-4, L-5 and S-1 to stabilize my spondylolisthesis. My spine had slipped forward on my pelvis about 1 1/2 inches. This condition was diagnosed five years earlier, but I decided I could live with it. After wrestling a couch from upstairs to down, the next six weeks proved that I could no longer live with it.
I too, have a bone graft (from my hip) and the six eyescrews and two rods. I have been pain free since I woke up in the hospital. Today, the only hindrance I have is not being able to lean backwards. I was prevented from sleeping on my stomach for about a year until the graft was completed fused. After that, no problem.
A couple of things I would suggest. I was told not to take Ibuprofen during the healing of the fusion. From what I gather, it interferes with the fusion process. Remember: You only get one chance to heal. You may think you are invincible and bullet proof, but if you rush this process, you will pay forever.
I was on bed rest until I recovered some muscle strength, say 30 days. In all, I lost about 30lb from 210lb to 180lb. I was weak and fatigued easily. The graft is stimulated to grow by walking movement. I was fitted with a back support brace in the hospital and donned it before I got out of bed each time and removed it after I was back in bed. It gets easier to manipulate after you get the hang of it.
I started walking while in the hospital and continued to lengthen my treks as my strength permitted. I was able, within 45 days, to walk five miles in hilly terrain in the July/August heat and humidity of central Texas. Do not overdo it! Build up to it. You are not as strong as you think you are.
A note of caution: be very careful about your footing. I walked only on streets and sidewalks. You must watch carefully where you step. A misstep, such as stepping into a hole or off a curb without notice, will probably have you screaming out loud. The jarring on your pelvis and spine is not pleasant. The motion of walking is comfortable and feels good. Jarring does not.
When you start driving, do not drive or ride in a car seat for more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Then get out, stand up for 15 minutes, walk around, and you are good for another 45 riding. This has something to do about getting the fusion area in a bind and it feels good to straighten up anyway. Yes, it takes longer, but remember, you just get to heal once.
Also, I am not able to bend backwards due to the resistance of the vertebrae. Without the flexibility of the lower back, this movement is not possible. I can touch my toes with legs straight, hit a golf ball, swim, and most importantly, ride a bike without discomfort.
My surgeon mentioned that due to the lack of flexibility would cause some minor cramping in the lower back muscles. This is due to not being able to stretch those muscles when you sit in a chair. After about a year, I was at an amusement park with my daughter, standing in line. My back gets these minor cramps and I squat, like you see in pictures of Chinese villagers, with my butt almost on the ground. That will stretch my back without discomfort. Five minutes or so of this and I am good for 20 to 30 minutes of standing up.
Also, it was recommended that I put a piece of 3/4in plywood between my mattress and springs on my bed. This stiffens the bed and makes it much more comfortable.
Be careful with pain killers. I was given morphine in the hospital and it worked very well for pain. After taking it with a pump for three days, I had the sweats for two weeks after stopping the pump. I was given Vicodan in pill form for pain at home. I got depression from taking it (side effect) and discovered I didn't need it anyway.
Do not rush this process. You body is working hard to repair itself. You can help by resting, not overdoing it and above all following your doctor's instructions. If you don't know ASK! Call the doctor's office and ask for the chief nurse. Don't try to treat yourself.
Make this productive time. Read those books you have been putting off, plan those projects you didn't feel well enough to do before, but most of all, take the time necessary to heal. If you rush it and butch it up, you have no one to blame but yourself. Here is a chance to the completely responsible for your well being. Take it.
I have been a recreational rider for the past four years. In that time, I have completed 13 century rides (100 miles) and completed two programs with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training. Don't enjoying running like I did years ago, but by knees don't care for it any more. I am in good condition, feel very well and enjoying my 53rd year of life.
I wish you a safe, uneventful, and compete recovery. Recognize your limitations and enjoy your life.
Back surgery #4
I had a laminectomy L5,S1 in 1991 and it took a dew months before I felt good, even got back to work and driving in winter of 1991. (I believe the middle east war mess was going on at the same time with Schwartzkof and Saddam H). I started driving and working a bit too soon two weeks after surgery and I had to get back to bed and the heating pad for about 10+ days. I wish it had never happened. I was biking in the spring but that is about all I can recollect from that time period.
I do suggest physical therapy, and stretching and so on as needed or as a physical therapist can advise per your neurosurgeon. Two years later I donated kidney to my mother and the incision was 1/2 around my abdomen, but the simple back surgery with a little 2in incision was the WORST surgery I ever had. I wish they prescribed physical therapy for me.
I just came back from hand surgery after a driver)ran me off the road. I tore ligaments in wrist area of my dominant hand. I had the surgery I February 6 and am riding a lot now. The weight-bearing on the handlebar was tough in the beginning. I feel for you. Good luck.
Back surgery #5
This is in response to Eric Kevitt's letter regarding back surgery. Eric, while my surgery wasn't quite as involved as yours, I can honestly tell you I feel your pain. I'm 32, an ex cat. 2 (I don't race road anymore) and I'm currently recovering from lower back surgery.
November of last year, I crashed pretty hard on the mountain bike. I got right up after the crash and finished the ride. The next day I was sore and my back was stiff, but I still rode. Two days after my back was in such pain I could barely walk. Another day later and my lower left leg was almost completely numb and I couldn't walk at all. The pain was like nothing I've ever felt before and I pray I never do again. The disk between L4 and L5 was badly ruptured in two places. I had surgery almost two months after the crash, so I laid on my back for almost two months in horrible pain. Couldn't walk, couldn't stand, couldn't sit. About two hours after surgery I was walking. It's been almost seven months since surgery and I'm far enough recovered to race again. However, I will not race again until at least next year. The doc said give it a good year to heal before abusing it again. Not wanting to go through that again, I think I'll listen to him.
As for the numb leg, it was probably less than 50 per cent of its strength at one point. It's probably back to about 95 per cent and hopes are that it comes back fully. The only thing I notice is a bit of weakness in my shin muscle. At any rate, there's no reason you shouldn't come back completely. Certainly good enough to race again. Best of luck to you. Email me if you have any questions.
Back surgery #6
For Eric Kevitt Check out Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. It helped get me back on the bike after severe back trouble. It can also help with post surgery rehab. They have a website as well at http://www.egoscue.com, and they do travel clinics too.
Andrew L. Brunson
If you think about it, the skin suit showed the muscular system not the skeletal system. The skin suit was made to look like muscles that cover the skeleton. So the helmet should look like the cranium that encloses and protects the brain tissue not the brain tissue itself.
Did I miss something? Has Cipo announced that he is splitting from Seaco? Is he retiring or just switching hats? Does anyone know the whole story?
Cipo, what a success!
Cipo is the most prolific rider in contemporary times; he really is a man that does, and has it all. His bravado and ability are only exceeded by his victories and intelligence. From his frequent stage wins in the TDF, to his (current) incredible 32 stage victories in the Giro, he is such a prevailing force. Few could argue that when Cipo is in the sprint, no matter who or what the competition, all others are racing for second place. Cipo wins like no other sprinter or stage racer has ever done, virtually all of his conquests are on his own terms. When he wins stages, it is not by a wheel length, a centimeter or even a millimeter; it is usually by several bike lengths. Like him, or hate him; no man dead or alive has the cumulative margins on first place sprint victories that the fastest man in the world has. Like Kreskin, it almost appears that Cipo has some supernatural control of his adversaries. Like betting against the sun rising, only a foolish man would bet against Cipo in a sprint. Pure physical strength is something that most sprinters have; certainly few could argue that Cipo possesses this trait. However, strength without intelligence will not get a cyclist to the podium year after year; pure strength will not give a business man some of the most lucrative endorsements the sport has ever seen; pure strength will not give an individual a long successful career, and pure strength will not give a man a beautiful family and a fine life outside the world of cycling. Cipo really has it all, and I guess that makes him a huge target for the green 'Napoleonic' people in this world. Celebrate Super Mario, because he really knows how to live!
During the lengthy rants about the silly TdF wildcard selections, some made statements on this letters page that the Tour is ruined, and that the Giro will provide better racing than the Tour. Guess again people.
Take a look at the Giro so far. On stage Stage 4 Potenza - Montevergine Di Mercogliano, the first real climb and uphill finish, a group of 19 riders finished more or less in a group (within 8 seconds) with the winner of the stage. Stage 8 did see a favorite sort of attack (Garzelli went with Rebellin on the last climb), but it wasn't much. Let's see if something aggressive happens on the Pordoi. I'll go out on a limb and guess that the contenders will stay more or less together until the last 5km unless something really odd happens.
The Giro has always made (and is currently making) exciting racing. But, wait until you see a 20km finishing climb in the Tour de France that sees a possible favorite (Jan Ullrich had yet to demonstrate his poor form) dropped, and a SUPER favorite (Pantani) gapped and struggling. The riders who have designs on winning the Tour are going to ATTACK THE RACE. They are not going to sit in and let their domestiques set a fast tempo so that they can wait for the last 200 meters to go for the stage win.
Let's make an exercise out of counting the summit finishes in the TdF that feature a 19 man lead group at 200 meters to go. I've got a prediction right now: zero.
On a completely unrelated point: I have never been a huge fan of Cipollini in the past, considering him to be a showboater who quits at the first sensation of pain. However, I have warmed to him over the last few years, primarily because, as he ages the media absolutely cannot wait to shovel dirt on him and proclaim him dead as a sprinter the instant he gets beaten by anybody in a sprint. What does he do then? Of course he comes back and rattles off a handfull of Grand Tour Stage wins making it look like anyone could do it. The guy is still good. G.M Fagnini made the observation that the reason Cippo is still going so well at his advanced age is BECAUSE he never forced his sprinter body to endure very many three week tours. Interesting.
Live coverage of the Giro each day may be found at http://www.gazzetta.it/speciali/giro2001_r2/radiocorsa/index.jhtml. It's in Italian, and nowhere near as detailed as cyclingnews.com, but it's something.
Ok, how hard can this be. You want to be the biggest and best cycling event in the world, you have to have the best teams. I suggest this: the defending champion's team; defending green jersey; defending KOM; defending white jersey; top team from the last Tour. That gives you anywhere from one (if a team had a GREAT tour the previous year) to five teams. Then you add the current world #1 rider's team, current world #1 team. Then you just move on down the list of the best teams in the world per the UCI. It will be fair and you simply get the teams that are performing. If the Tour wants to be a 'French' race, fine. If it wants to be the greatest, they must have the best. And before you say "another American wanting Mercury in the tour" I am half French and ride a Gitane.
I really feel sorry for those of you without OLN but the coverage is far better now with OLN that it ever was with ESPN. Even before OLN picked up the Giro, the Tour, and the Vuelta they have been the only channel to cover any amount of cycling. Every Thursday during cycling season I could expect three hours of some sort of cycling program, from world cup MTB and road races to The Ride Guide, Gear Guide and others. That's why I got a satellite dish over a year ago.
But this year OLN has outdone itself. Last April they carried Paris-Roubaix LIVE, for the past week and a half I've woken up to the Giro LIVE, and this summer I can expect the same from the Tour and the Vuelta. I'd say that cycling coverage in the US is better than ever. BTW, I don't work for OLN.
Tour TV coverage #2
Just for the record. OLN's coverage of cycling is nothing less than outstanding. The addition of Bob Roll to the already great duo of Phil Liggot and Paul Sherwin create a menage a trois (pardon my French) of commentary that is not only super informative but quite funny. Getting up every morning and enjoying live Giro with my morning coffee before work, life doesn't get any better than that! It's a damn shame you don't get OLN. I think you should move.
Tour TV coverage #3
I am also without OLN, thanks Time-Warner. For those who want to see the Tour De France and the Giro and the Vuelta, I have found a somewhat satisfying solution to this problem. Log onto bobbyjulich.com. Then click the five second feed to Eurosport TV. It's not moving TV but you can see the action. There is no sound so have another page open to Cyclingnews's live coverage for play-by-play action. When they are not carrying live coverage. Go to eurosport.com and click on "cycling". There should be a place to click to get live up-dates. This is all rather annoying to me since I watch it a work while I juggle phone calls. Once again thanks Time-Warner Cable.
In 1967 an Argentinean cyclist saved my life and for years I have been trying to locate him without success. This happened after the fifth stage of the Vuelta del Norte in Metan. The cyclist name is Suarez.
Although he was not well known, the name of his teammate Delmastro might ring a bell with somebody. Delmastro was in the Argentinean selection to the world road championship in Spain in 1965 and finished (probably) fourth. I assume he was also in other selections.
Thought you guys might be able to help me find a travel companion. I'm planning on leaving Milan July 15-16 to be on the slopes of Alp d'Huez watching the stage on July 17. Afterwards I'm going to wander down to Bilbao by train for a few days before heading back to Milan. Only requirement is to be back in Milan in time for flight out on July 22 at 1:30 pm. I plan on traveling light with small pack and riding the trains. I have an eight day EuroRail pass so there might be some 'winging it' involved. Don't really mind getting lost alone but there's safety in numbers. If anyone is interested, drop me a line at email@example.com.
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