Learning To Balance: Reflections from Kait Boyle, World Champion MTB
I really believe that life hands you what you need to learn. And so when I was t-boned at 55mph on HWY 33 this past Christmas Eve and was extracted from my vehicle with a shattered pelvis, a broken sacrum and fibula, and a ruptured bladder, I had a big serving of learning coming my way.
We have a choice in life to be open to the opportunities presented by trauma and challenge or to run the other direction. But being in a wheelchair for 5 weeks and on crutches for another 6, I wasn’t running anywhere. I couldn’t even walk or do a sit-up. And so I had to be open to learning the lessons that come with recovering.
As a professional ultra mountain bike athlete and adventure educator, the physical capabilities of my body are my livelihood and enable pursuing my passion – moving freely in the outdoors. Following my accident I was very far from that place of balancing on my own two feet and being able bodied. It became my mission to walk, bike, run, ski, swim – do all the movements freely again. So I approached this goal like all my past big goals on the bike. I applied the unwavering vision, focus and determination that has let me set records and win a 24-Hour World Championship. The day-to-day was different, but the mindset was the same. Patience. Persistence. Belief – I’m Kait. Just Keep Swimming. I even taped the same mantras I put on my handlebars to my external fixator. And it worked. My physical recovery blew the minds of my doctors, physical therapists, coaches, and community. I wasn’t surprised; it was just the power of discipline. The body follows the mind.
Following a Spring in Arizona of running around trying to “catch up” from life in a wheelchair, I returned to the Teton Valley ready for what to me was the logical next step: train and return to racing. My surgeon cleared me of all physical restrictions. I set new goals, believing that the “comeback” was the way forward, and got ready to repeat the mental process of going all in. One week into training I crashed, metaphorically speaking. The body follows the mind.
I was exhausted, unmotivated, and quickly found myself depressed. I didn’t understand. I was healthy and strong again. I was healed. After talking with my sports psychologist, Coach Lyons, and my physical therapist, it dawned on me: I had warriored myself out. My effort to be able to balance on my own two feet was an unbalanced approach. I had neglected a balanced approach to recovering that I know is critical to achieving any big goal. In training on the bike we overreach, then recover. There is balance between hard and easy within the scales of days, weeks, months, and years. My recovery process had been 5.5 months of dedicated focus, commitment, and structure and lacked time to mentally recover from the non-stop effort of trying my hardest to recover.
It took the better part of the summer to recharge my energy and drive to focus. I let go of the internal narratives of “I should” or “I have to” when thinking about physical therapy, strength training, biking, and nutrition. Instead I learned to tap into “what do I need?”
Now, as the leaves turn yellow and snow is falling in the mountains, I’ve learned a new way to balance. I’ve returned to training toward my goals for 2020 with vision, structure and discipline but this time it’s different than it has ever been in the past. Rather than simply tightening the screws down, I’m striving for the kind of balance that is sustainable. There is room to shift my weight and adjust based on the feedback my body and mind and soul provide. I look at my training plan and ask myself if that is what I need that day. Am I excited? If not, will getting out there and trying potentially be worth it (sometimes we do just need to get out the door), or, do I actually need something else today?
The curious mindset that is detached from what should and I have to is allowing for me to train with purpose and openness. I remind myself that my coaches provide their best judgment and ultimately, I’m the one living within myself and need to trust the little voice inside that knows what it needs to thrive. This process is rebuilding trust between my body and head and also leading to exciting results. My body is responding to what I’m asking and most importantly I’m happy in the process. After all, happy racers go faster.
To reach big goals, you have to have strong vision, commitment, focus, and discipline. Getting out of the wheelchair and off crutches to walking on my own feet, riding again and starting to race has taken the strongest vision and focus I’ve ever had to summon. And I’m now positioned to envision racing stronger than ever in 2020. But to get here also took an openness to trust the process, be patient, be gentle, let go, and unconditionally accept where I am while steadily adapting everyday to meet the needs of my body, mind, heart and spirit. If I, and you, learn this balancing act of push and let go, go and stop, focus and check out, drive and rest, I think we’ll develop a superpower that really enables the most capable athletes and humans to emerge.