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How to train and race when recovering from a concussion?
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Chequamegon MTB Race

Our HPT athlete Hannah Otto discusses her weekend at one of the final remaining LifeTime Grand Prix events: Chequamegon.

This weekend I got to see racing from a different perspective. While usually the focus is on performance and placement at these events, after sustaining a concussion 2 weeks ago I’ve had to pause and remember that there are quite a few things that ultimately take precedence over race outcome.

I did everything in my power to heal quickly and fully so that I could safely line up.

As someone trained in concussions, I understand how important it is to take the injury seriously. If I didn’t think that I was 100% healthy lining up then I would have graciously bowed out of the race in an effort to put my health first. Concussions are sneaky, though, and they can be difficult to fully understand and monitor.

I followed the UCI "return to play" protocol and followed the stepped approach to get back to racing. I also communicated with a doctor every day about any potential symptoms. Since you have to be asymptomatic in one stage in order to progress to the next stage the "return to play" can take a while – it wasn’t until the Wednesday before the race that I cleared the final step and was given clearance by the doctor to line up for the event.

We can still say that we did everything we knew how to do and we were very confident in my ability to line up. We did discuss, however, the fact that it is possible for racing to uncover symptoms that training just can’t replicate, so I needed to be aware and prioritize my health even if that was in the middle of the event. Regardless, I had all the hope and optimism in the world that the race would go perfectly.

I’m so thankful for all the people, friends, sponsors, and strangers that reminded and affirmed me before the race that health comes first. In the moment I wanted to just plan to be ok, but little did I know that some of those conversations would come back to mind when I needed the courage most to prioritize my head.

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Photo: @photowil

Coming off of the line, I think my instincts and fitness carried me through the first part of the race but after about 20ish minutes into the race, concussion symptoms started to rear their head. As an athlete, we are accustomed to pushing through pain and actually using physical discomfort as a trigger to dig our heels in, but knowing the symptoms were coming from a concussion, I had to take the opposite approach. I eased off the pace and I watched the group ride away from me. It was a bizarre feeling. It’s not a visual I’m used to and even as it happened, I felt all my instincts yelling at me to close the gap, but I kept easing up. I spent the rest of my “race” in a dance managing symptoms and easing up until they subsided.

I’m so thankful for the incredible women/competitors that I had out on the course. Even in the middle of their races they had the heart and wherewithal to acknowledge that I wasn’t racing the way I normally do and that it was likely concussion-related. My competitors turned into a safe place for out on the course as they checked in with me occasionally as they passed me or we rode together briefly.

When I finally did cross the finish line I was expecting to have to explain myself and my reasoning for needing to back off, but instead, I was greeted by people celebrating my decision to prioritize health as well as a lot of worried facing wanting to affirm my choices and to help me heal.

I’m incredibly thankful for all the love and support I received. I’m also so thankful that I got to spend the weekend with fellow Pivot Athletes and crew celebrating each other’s successes and celebrating shared experiences.

While this weekend didn’t go the way I hoped, there are still plenty of silver linings and community is definitely a big one. I’m also happy to see that I’m still ranked 5th in the Life Time Grand Prix ranking heading into the final race at the end of October. I’m extremely optimistic that by that time I will be back to myself and ready to duke it out on the race course.

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The Feed. / Tuesday, September 20, 2022