Isolated but Not Alone

Overcoming Injury in the Time of Coronavirus

2020 has been a tough year so far for Giant freerider Reece Wallace. But despite battling a mysterious injury, the Canadian has remained positive and made great progress. Here he reflects on his journey back to health and how even though he, like many of us, has been living in isolation, the kindness of strangers has played a big role in his recovery. 

Isolation. It’s affecting the entire world right now. It has silenced our cities, mountains and trails. For the most part, roads, stores and parks are empty—I keep thinking how it feels like the beginning of a zombie movie. We’re encouraged to stay inside, not ride, and distance from others.

This isolation has been difficult for almost everyone to cope with. Being unable to do what you love and having to spend the majority of your time indoors can cause worry, stress or anxiety over the uncertainty ahead. These are emotions I’ve been battling for four months now, before the Covid-19 outbreak started.

Over the Christmas holidays, I was riding an indoor bike park when I got a bad headache. I didn’t think much of it—kept at my usual flips, spins, the works. The next morning, I woke up with ringing in my ears, visual problems, dizziness, neck pain and confusion. I had no idea what was happening.

In the following weeks, I saw doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, optometrists, acupuncturists and more. The doctors performed multiple MRI’s, CT scans and X-rays. No one knew what was wrong. Overnight, I was hit with a mysterious health condition that perplexed my medical team and was manifesting itself like a bad concussion. On the outside I appeared normal, but I was struggling through one of the toughest times of my life.

In the months to come, I was either cooped up in bed or in a doctor’s office. I was sleeping 12 hours a night and trying everything from spinal injections and anti-inflammatory diets to chiropractic adjustments, but nothing brought relief.

Just as I thought things couldn’t get worse, the coronavirus hit and all the medical services I relied on closed. My optimism about my condition worsened and I didn’t know what to do. I had been waiting months for specialist appointments, which had all been cancelled. I felt like I had no options.

With no relief in sight, I continued with my exercises until I got a phone call from a doctor I had been waiting months to see. All of her appointments were cancelled and she bumped me ahead to do a telehealth appointment. Within minutes of video conferencing, the doctor told me I had irritated a nerve in my neck and that was causing all my symptoms. She explained how years of a head forward riding position and harsh impacts have caused imbalanced, weak and tight muscles in my neck. This combination was impeding proper nerve function.

Reece has been spending lots of time in his home gym, set up on his deck in Nanaimo, British Columbia. In addition to strength training, he regularly does exercises to help a nerve condition called occipital neuralgia that affects his vision. The exercises are designed to strengthen, stretch, and improve his eyesight. They are tailored by his optometrist and have helped bring his vision back to almost 100%.

With this, I started a couple medications and within a week I saw significant improvement. But the doctor said I needed a comprehensive physiotherapy and strengthening program to complement the meds, but everywhere was closed. I then took to social media.

A few days later, I posted a photo to Instagram about what was going on and asked for help—something I never would have done under normal circumstances. To my surprise, my feed blew up with comments, messages and phone calls from friends and strangers offering support. I had messages from people who had experienced the same thing and wanted to help, and those currently affected and looking for answers.

I also had one incredible connection—a physiotherapist who specializes in neurological rehabilitation. She messaged me and explained in detail how she went through the same thing and how she overcame it. She also happens to be a mountain biker, so we clicked right away.

Reece rides his Giant Defy road bike on his trainer 5 days a week. He says once local restrictions are lifted he looks forward to doing more road riding outdoors.

Despite being laid off, she tailored an entire workout, stretch, and rehab routine dedicated to healing my condition. Three nights a week, she has been helping me over video with three-hour calls whooping my ass into shape. Connecting via webcams, she’s teaching me exercises for strength training, stretching and breathing all while staying at home isolated. It’s helping dramatically, and we talk a lot of shop about bikes. I pick her brain about muscle groups and she asks about suspension settings—I like to think it’s a symbiotic relationship, but not even close.

On top of this, she’s doing it for free. I couldn’t believe it. Her selflessness and willingness to help a fellow rider is humbling, especially at a time when everyone is affected by this pandemic. I’m full of gratitude, and I can’t wait to pay it forward—plus surprise her with a bunch of riding gear.

It’s been a rough road for me since the beginning of 2020 and the pandemic is affecting everyone. The silver lining is it has taught me gratitude and connected me with people I would have never met otherwise. I’ve made a new friend and gained a stronger appreciation for how bikes can not only connect people, but heal.

Working out is proving to be pivotal in my recovery. Like most mountain bikers, I have overly strong and tight bike-specific muscles—everything else in between, not so much. Yeah, I can do 20 bike park laps and not feel it, but 20 sit-ups and I’m hurting. I’m working on conditioning my muscles and body for a more balanced approach moving forward.

Reece enjoys flying in his 1974 Cessna 150. "There's a clear connection between how I ride and flying," he says. "My style of riding and flying both consist of a series of calculated risks—start small, and if I'm successful, move forward to more challenging, dangerous, and rewarding maneuvers."

Though I’m still isolating, I’m keeping busy and am on the right path to beating this. I’ve learned from others struggling with the Covid crisis or health problems that staying optimistic, positive, and focusing only on what you can control works wonders. This time off the bike has further cemented my love for the sport, and I’m sure we’ll all be back doing the type of riding we love in no time.

Stay safe and stay isolated.