What’s going on
Two years ago today I quit smoking cigarettes. I was a pack-a-day smoker for 17 years and quitting was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In November of 2009 I bought a bike, a Scott CR1. I hadn’t owned a bike, or ridden one, in nearly 20 years. Right away I fell in love with it. My first ride was maybe 8 miles and hard as Hell. But fun. The next day I went farther. And faster. And so it began.
I started riding with a friend that had been cycling for a long time and soon I began riding faster than him. I bought a cycling computer and started keeping track of how fast I was going and for how long. I rode every day as the weather permitted.
I wanted to combine my work as a photographer with my new passion. I started hanging out and riding with a racing team, Squadra Coppi, in the hopes of putting together a long-term project that I could pitch to publications. What I found was a group of that was inspiring, fun to be around, and overall just great people. Oh, and they are FAST. I wanted to race. So I started training harder and I started racing. Eventually I published my project in Washingtonian Magazine and joined Squadra Coppi. (You can see the project here).
Racing is hard. Don’t let anybody tell you that riding a bicycle at race pace for an extended period of time is no big deal. If it was easy, everyone would do it, right? It’s work. It is physically demanding and it hurts. But it’s amazing. I love it. There is nothing like a bike race. Correction: there is nothing like RACING in a bike race. Descending at 45 mph is as close to flying as you can get without growing wings. Climbing a steep grade out of the saddle with someone right behind you puts your heartbeat a little higher in your throat. You cannot feel like this any other way.
After I published my project, I landed a new job which took me away from the bike for a little bit. I would go out occasionally, but not like I did. The road season was ending and I didn’t have much interest in cyclocross. I was done racing for the year. A month or two later I started noticing a pain in the upper part of my left leg. I self-diagnosed it as a strain from carrying too camera gear so I changed the way I carried the equipment and I thought the pain would go away. It eased a little bit, but didn’t really go away. Looking back, I think it’s interesting how I just got conditioned to a certain level of pain. By comparison to what I would later feel, that level of pain was fairly low but I just let it go.
In February of 2011 I had more time to ride so I took advantage of it and went on a few rides with my teammates again. One saturday morning, about 5 miles into a spirited ride, my leg just gave out on me. It was more than poor fitness, something was wrong. I made an appointment with my doctor to try to get to the bottom of it. After some anti-inflammatories, it didn’t get any better. Another visit. Severe tendonitis. A steroid shot. More drugs. An X-ray. Physical therapy. Nothing was working and I wasn’t getting any answers. Finally I asked for an MRI. I just wanted to know what the heck was going on in my hip. In the first part of July, right before a trip with my daughter and mother, the radiologists said I had signs of some tearing in my hip. I scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic specialist for after the trip.
The specialist told me that I had tears in my labrum caused by a condition called FAI. Femoral Acetabular Impingement. It’s where there is too much bone on the ball of the femur that goes into the socket, and in my case, too much bone on the acetabulum (the edge of the socket). The joint was impinging, limiting my range of motion in my hip and tearing the labrum. The ortho doc told me immediately that there was a arthroscopic surgery for it and that he didn’t do it. He gave me a list of 5 doctors that did. One was in California, one in Colorado, two were in New York. The guy at the top of the list was right here in Arlington, Virginia. I scheduled an appointment immediately.
I met with Dr. Derek Ochiai at Nirschl Sports Medicine and he checked out my MRI and took an X-Ray to get a better look at the bones in my hip. He knew right away that I had FAI and the X-ray revealed that I had both a cam impingement and a pincer impingement. He ordered a contrast MRI to get an idea of what the labrum looked like and what I could expect following the surgery. Let me tell you, getting a contrast MRI was not fun. Getting a giant needle jammed into your hip socket in a spot so precise they have to use a live x-ray machine to find the spot is a bit scary. And then they inject the dye and swell your hip so it distends. Not comfortable.
July 29th I went to Virginia Hospital Center for surgery. The staff was amazing. My girlfriend was even more amazing. I went in at 9 am, went under sometime around 11:30 am and woke up after 4 pm. I left the hospital around 7:30 pm. Dr. Ochiai anchored the labrum and reshaped my hip.
You can easily see how different the femur and acetabulum look. For me, the surgery was the easy part. I just laid there and was asleep the whole time. I didn’t have to do anything. The hard part began right after the surgery. My recovery.
I spent three weeks on crutches. I couldn’t put more than 20% weight on my left leg. Easy, right? Not really. It’s hard to get around on crutches. I live in a 4th floor walk up apartment. (Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s my own damn fault, but I love our place). I was on pain killers and anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea mediation. I was out of it. And despite the surgery and things getting better, I was still in pain. But things were getting better.
I started physical therapy and that’s when the real work for me started. It’s been hard. And it hurts. But it’s working. My therapists Aleesa and Kim at Nirschl are terrific. I’ve had some setbacks. I ACTUALLY developed tendonitis in my hip flexor and have been slowed by that. But, 8 weeks out from the surgery there are moments where I feel normal.
So, you may ask, what is going on? Why am I writing and blogging all this? I plan to use this blog to discuss my recovery, my return to training, my plans for next season, and any other insights I can come up with. I’ll share my cycling pics and talk about bike racing in general. If you have any questions, drop me a line at jay at jaywestcott dot com and follow me on twitter @jwestcottphoto