Mid America TT Series

In the (Feed)Zone - Present Druber Bids Farewell to Former Druber

By: Mark Swartzendruber
Posted: Jul 29, 2013

Me and my withered leg did a couple of races during the recent Prairie State Cycling Series here in IL and WI a couple weeks ago.  On Sunday the 14th we did a criterium in Crystal Lake, IL.  Most excellent venue, vibe and production.  The race was fun.  It had been a while since I put some real effort into an hour plus criterium do to the back issues I’ve been experiencing so I felt fairly rusty but I didn’t flail completely which was encouraging.

Me and my withered leg playing bike race in Sharon, WI.

On Wednesday the 17th I ventured north to Sharon, WI to compete in a road race.  Enzo did a nice recap here so I will simply fill in details of the last bike race I will be doing possibly forever.  With just slightly more than 20 miles to race, I bridged across a gap to Eric Knuth of the Trek Midwest Masters who had been off the front.  Going quite well, I blew right past the rider and kept the hammer down.  I heard a voice behind me saying that a split had formed in the 17 rider field so I kept pulling and a couple more guys rotated through nicely until I heard someone say that the race was all back together.  Me being me, withered leg or not, I can’t help myself sometimes so I attacked again and got away clean with a very strong Mike Seguin.  We rode together for about 5 miles building a nice gap close of close to a minute over the chasing field.

Here’s a photo of my withered leg preparing to go on a nice ride in Pure Michigan.

The former manifestation of Druber would have loved this scenario.  It’s played out so many times over the years.  Former Druber would have sat on the front of the two rider break daring and defying the field to continue chasing, knowing that the more and harder they try, the further the gap will grow despite their efforts and they’d eventually give up.  Then, Former Druber would turn to his break mate and ask if he’s gonna help out, or if he’s gonna sit there and wait to be dropped.  “Your choice” Former Druber would say “I can tow you to the line if you help out, or I will attack you until I break you and you’ll have to fend off the pack for yourself – either way, I’m crossing the line first”.Instead, I had to sit up out of the break just 15 miles from the finish as my withered leg was cramping under the strain of being attached to the Present Druber who was trying to ride as Former Druber would have.  After much apologizing to Mike who was  on great form and genuinely encouraging me to hang in there, I sat up and soft pedaled until the field caught me, leaving poor Mike to ride off the front by himself in the 95 degree heat and humidity.When the field caught the crushed and dispirited Present Druber, L’il Wayne and his team mate Boris encouraged me to stay in and I tried but eventually, me and my withered leg weren’t able to match the accelerations.  Visualizing a final lap of just simply being dropped and riding in solo, painful and humiliated, I bailed out and decided that Present Druber is done being “bike racer”.

There is the beginning of the end, the end of the end and the end.  I will not present to the reader of the Feed(Zone), nor insult the intelligence of the same by posting melodramatic soul searching navel gazing bafflegab regarding my decision to transition from “bike racer” to “cyclist” and “fitness enthusiast”.

I’d always been aware of the fact that at some point, it would become very obvious that the passion of being “bike racer” would pass.  This passing would either be a mental or physical mile stone – a demarcation that would be plainly obvious that the time had come to move on and do something else with my weekends.That time has come.  I’d always imagined that it would be a mental acknowledgement that it is time to hang it up because I’d come to a point of realization that I’d pretty much done all that can be done with respect to being “bike racer” that I am physically capable of and I simply wish to do other things.  99.8% of bike racers go their entire lives never having stood on a national podium or winning an NRC race.  I’ve done both.

Anybody remember this guy

However, it just so happens that the coda to the “bike racer” part of Druber is physical.  As has been well ruminated and hashed here in the pixels of my Truesport BLOG – I have developed a creaky back.  I’ve been experiencing back pain since the 2011 season. In May of 2012 I suffered a herniated disc which resulted in the loss of muscle function which has never fully been recovered.With extensive rehab, therapy and hard work in the gym, I was able to return to racing in August of 2012 and enjoyed some modicum of small time success, winning the IL State 50-59 time trial championship and winning a race and the overall in the ABD Fall Fling and picking up a few second place finishes in other small time races.  Over the winter I continued to recover from the herniated disc and started the 2013 season feeling nearly whole, completely pain free and full of hope that my troubles were behind me.

But, as the season began to progress, it was plainly obvious that I am not whole.  The right leg, which suffered the debilitating loss of function in 2012, began to experience renewed weakness and atrophy.  I struggled through races, unable to outperform lickspittles and wobbledonks.  The numbness in my leg continued to expand and again I went in for an MRI, fairly convinced that my issues were related to the discs that had herniated and were potentially bulging once again.

Post MRI I was able to get an appointment to see a world renowned Neurosurgeon with a reputation and list of palmares and patients so impressive I told TLK even if I don’t need a surgery to fix the discs that I thought were blocking my nerve function, I’d most certainly ask him to operate on me anyway just to say that I’d been a patient of his. He’s that good. I was expecting I’d need a minimally invasive micro discectomy, or at most a laminectomy (search the innernets if you care to find out) would solve what ails me. You know - couple weeks and some more therapy and I’d be full strength again ready for 2014. You know how Former Druber used to be – ripping people’s legs off and pummeling them before riding off for a solo win.

Anyway, turns out all those discs that were herniated and bulging have been very well fixed by the aggressive non surgical treatment and therapy that I’ve been doing for the past year. As the Neuro doc pointed out, it’s plain as day on the MRI, I’m not having disc issues. Problem is the spondylolisthesis that I caught when I was incubating in Mrs. Swartzendruber some 51 years ago. It’s something I’ve known about since the first X-ray ever taken of my back when I was in High School. I’ve got a hereditary form. I’m fortunate that it’s taken 50 years to show up. I’ve had periodic pain and discomfort from it but nothing that’s ever been symptomatic in terms of functional loss until now. It can be fixed surgically, and Lord knows the guy I’m seeing, the world renowned rock star Neuro doc who’s fixed some of the most famous athletes in the world would be the guy to do it. But…

Fixing the “Spondy” (for the sake of brevity) isn’t a simple minimally invasive clearing of space for some discs to relieve pressure on the nerves.  My doc, pioneered minimally invasive procedures for fixing the Spondy but it still involves drilling bolts into the vertebrae to affix a bone graft to hold the slipping spinal joint in place.  It will most certainly take the pressure of the nerve and allow a guy like me to eventually regain full strength after a lengthy and quite probably painful rehab, but the fact would remain that I’d be playing “bike racer” with bolts in my back.

That brings us to the crux of the problem – or not so much “problem” as it is the set of facts with which I’m presented.  Vis a vis:

  1. I’m not in pain – not a post op outcome even my world renowned rock star doc can guarantee
  2. My lack of function is only at a very high threshold, not in day to day life
  3. I’m not paid to play “bike racer” in terms other than ego gratification
  4. The degree of Spondy slip, though symptomatic is 1.5 on a 1-5 scale
  5. I have a lot of time to make a decision and work on maintaining current strength and fitness, which on the whole scheme of things is still pretty high.
  6. I’m not going to get bolts put into my back simply for the sake of being able to accelerate in a criterium
  7. I’m not stupid or vain enough to play “bike racer” with bolts in my back

At this point, the only thing that is certain is that I will continue to ride my bike, go to the gym, work on balance and strength and play “bike race” in the form of Time Trials, which as any real bike racer knows are not real bike races.

I have another consultation with my world renowned rock star neurosurgeon to pose the follow up questions that I was frankly too shocked to ask after he gave me his diagnosis and treatment options.  I had gone in expecting to talk about disc related remedies and when the gravity of reality hit me like a ton of bricks I was ill equipped to ask the questions that have since flooded my brain as I lie awake during the wee hours contemplating life after “bike racer”.