Putting the Puzzle Together


September 22, 2017

My race season is complete and now it’s time to do some fun racing. But the fun comes to an abrupt end when, during an Olympic race, I violently meet a Sprint racer on the same bike course. I end my day in the ER with the diagnosis of four bone fractures: two in my pelvis and two in my hip socket. This can’t be good.

May 5, 2018

I stand at the start line of the Long Course (Half Ironman) at Wildflower looking out at the water and the thought that keeps running through my mind is: I’m so happy to be back in the game.

What follows is the short version of what transpired between those two dates:

No surgery is required, but complete non-weight being is. So crutches become my best friend. I learn quickly that getting around on crutches demands that you have some degree of strength, balance, creativity and a strong will to get off your butt and move.

The doc said, in no uncertain terms, this was my life for 6-8 weeks, which I quickly translated into 5-6 weeks, although I also made the firm commitment to do whatever was required to put this behind me…even if it meant 8 weeks on crutches.

I began to realize that, given time, bone heals and you’re good to go. But soft-tissue is an entirely different thing. Not only was there some soft-tissue damage during the crash, but every part of my body was acting in an unnatural way protecting the injured area and supporting my crutching activity. So I stopped focusing on what I couldn’tdo and found four things I could do.

  1. Right away I put on some Sim Shorts and got myself into the pool working my upper body while not moving my hips and legs.
  2. The day I could bear some weight I started with a good physical therapist who taught me to walk correctly again.
  3. At the same time, I also started with an experienced trainer at the gym who got me working while protecting me from hurting myself.
  4. I needed a goal and I heard that Wildflower was coming back in May. I signed up!

In November I started gently spinning on the bike trainer. It’s worth noting that I live in Palm Springs where we ride outside all year long, so riding on a trainer is not high on my list of fun activities…but at this moment, it was the best option I had.

December was spent focusing hard on walking correctly, believing that when I mastered that, running would follow. I also took off the Sim Shorts in the pool and incorporated a very slight kick and hip roll.

January was my version of new start:

The bone was fully healed and the soft tissue issues were improving. I ventured outside with the bike and started a “Coming Back to Running” program which began with a session of thirty second runs surrounded by plenty of brisk walking. It felt very unnatural and uncomfortable, but, with no pain from the injury, I knew I could keep progressing.

February saw things slowly progressing, with no backsliding as I increased my distances carefully and incorporated plenty of recovery time between workouts. At this point, I was ready to try racing and did a 5K and a 10K race – both of which went well.

In March I did the La Quinta International Triathlon successfully, which told me it was time to step it up for Wildflower training.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Wildflower experience, let me enlighten you.

Race weekend is like Woodstock on Gatorade (and perhaps beer). It’s a remote location and the campgrounds are legendary. But I digress…. there’s also the actual race, which is brutal. Throughout the entire bike course there are hills, some very long, big hills. The run is 60% trails and it’s hard to find a spot during the 13.1 miles where you don’t see another big hill ahead. And to add to the racer’s pleasure, it’s completely unprotected which makes the heat and sun relentless.

I’ve done this course many times, so I knew what I was doing when I signed up during a moment when I was on crutches and had no idea of how the recovery would go. But I remember thinking: Go Big. When I accomplish this, I’ll know I’m back! 

I’m back!

I won the 70-74 age group and beat my finish time goal. Only one woman 60+ beat my time, which is something a 74-year-old tends to check out!

As I stood at the finish line, I had the same thought as early in the morning: I’m so happy to be back in the game.

Clearly, I had a lot of help from many very supportive people helping me through the recovery process. I believe that full recovery from a setback is a puzzle and every single piece is important.

About Cherie

Cherie Gruenfeld, Boingo's official butt-kicker, is an Ironman age group champion and world record holder. She is a grand masters triathlete — a sport in which she didn't even start competing in until her 40s — proving that top fitness is achievable at any age. She has raced in more than 25 Ironman triathlons, has 18 wins overall, and has won her age group at the Ironman World Championships a whopping 13 times. She's also an incredible fitness coach with great insights on goal setting and fitness on the road. Have a question for Cherie? Email her at askcherie@boingo.com. You can also learn more about her non-profit organization, Exceeding Expectations on Facebook.
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