Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) is continuing his recovery from a broken leg sustained during a crash in the road race at the USA Cycling Professional National Championships in May in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While he's well on his way to recovery, Phinney has many more months ahead of him and he does not yet know when he will resume racing.
"I had the accident and they told me it would be a six- to nine-month process, with six months being the most optimal progress," said Phinney. "I think they kind of said that to make me feel better about it, but it's more of a nine- to 12-month thing. I did a lot of damage to myself."
Noting that some days are better for him than others, he said that he is able to ride pain-free sometimes. His best days on the bike come after he's done other kinds of rehab.
"Every time I do yoga or strengthening in the morning, I feel better on a bike," he said. "It's a slow process. When I'm at home, I just ride easy so that it doesn't hurt, and I get better."
The serious injury has given the 24-year-old a new perspective.
"Fifty years ago, I would have been the guy dragging my leg everywhere for the rest of my life," he said. "Thanks to modern medicine, I can ride my bike now. I just have to keep calm and not get carried away and respect the process. I don't want to come back too early and make things worse. I think I'll deal with a fair amount of pain and discomfort when I'm old and retire, but these things happen."
The young American said the injury has helped him learn a lot about himself. "There is a silver lining to everything. I had to face a lot of things about myself that I never had to face before in my life," he said. "That brought out a lot of demons and brought out a fair amount of depression at times, which is totally normal."
The injury has gave him an appreciation for what he can do and for the freedom that riding a bike can provide.
"It also gave me a glimpse of what life would be like without a bike. That's something that a lot of people think about but struggle to embrace when it comes time to hang the bike up. It's hard when you're a kid and you barely go to high school and then you don't go to college and you just race your bike and live the dream."
"You just train and race and do not have many other responsibilities - you just take care of yourself. When you remove that aspect, you realize there are other things in life and other things you have a passion for. That was important for me to find out this year."
While he was completely off the bike, Phinney had plenty of time to soul search. "I did a lot of different things. I'm pretty happy and grateful for the time I've had to be able to experience that. You don't want to wish something like this on anyone, but if you can come back and be healthy and get back to the level you were at before, the benefits outweigh sticking to the same mentality you had before."
"I've had my fair share of small injuries here and there, but you take everything for granted so much. Once you have a big injury, it's hard to get out of the rut of thinking about things too much and almost causing yourself pain by doing so."
"There is a lot of mental energy that goes into having an injury. I was thinking the other day that the amount of time that I spend every day just thinking about my leg and how it feels - maybe it feels good, maybe it feels bad - that doesn't stop the whole day. When you're sick and have a little cold, that's all you think about - it's like that and then you get healthy and forget you were even thinking about that."
Phinney is hoping to resume racing in the spring. Though he had originally thought that he could come back to racing this fall to do the Tour of Britain and the Worlds, the process is turning out to take longer.
"They say the five to seven or eight-month period is the hardest because you get mobility back and some strength back, but you still have to work hard to even yourself out and you still have chill out."
"You have to realize it will take a while. It's impressive how much strength and muscle mass you can lose in a leg just having it stagnant for six weeks, then how long it takes to get that muscle mass and strength back. I'm going to start training again when I feel like my legs are close to equal and my left leg is close to 90%. That will take a lot of time in the gym. That will take a lot of riding with my mind turned on to focus on using that leg as much as my right leg."
In the meantime, Phinney may get some more hardware taken out of his leg. He's already had one screw removed - it had been holding his dislocated fibula to his tibia.
"There are a few more screws that keep the rod in my tibia in place. The bone has to finish filling in, and then I'll get those screws out. I'll keep the rod in my tibia for the rest of my life. The trauma to get that out would be too big."
When asked about his goals for next season, Phinney pointed to the Tour de France. "I was supposed to go this year for the first time, but didn't because of the crash. There is a prologue this coming year which is really exciting for me. Then it's Worlds and beyond that, the Olympics. If I had to have something happen, this year was not a bad time to have it happen."
He's also mulling over a shot at the new hour record, but at the same time, he thinks that there is nothing worse than that kind of effort.
"Yeah, I'm thinking about it, but I can talk about it and say I'm thinking about it and people love to make it a headline. There's a lot of people thinking about it. The bar was set, but it wasn't set that high."
"I equate it to talking about running for president in the United States," he joked. "There are a lot of people who want to and in the media, people always ask and everyone always says 'I don't know maybe' and there is a lot of speculation about it."
"I would never want to run for president."