The last two years have been interesting.
More like a roller coaster, with amazing experiences, good laughs, but also some tough lows. So much has happened, but I’m going to focus most of this blog post on my health, which is a story I have to get out there.
We need to travel back all the way to mid-2015 to begin this ride.
Back in the summer of 2015 I was feeling run down and always felt off my game. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but something just wasn’t right. I was always sick, stressed, not racing well, and just feeling terrible.
We planned a fun summer family vacation to try and recover, but as the summer rolled into September and the start of the Cyclocross season, I wasn’t getting any better.
Earlier in the summer, I had been selected to race in my first World Cup Cyclocross race in Las Vegas. The CrossVegas race was my first international UCI event and it was an honour to be selected. There wasn’t much time to build, but we started slow and tried to ramp up in the last couple weekends before for the mid-September race start.
It became very clear something was still very wrong. My heart rate was low, I was having major breathing issues during races, my legs felt heavy, and no matter how much rest time I took off, I just never felt recovered. There were some positive moments, which at times looked like the problems were resolving, but then things would just get worse again.
I was nervous going into CrossVegas. Being the youngest racer in the whole field of Elite Women, and with no UCI points, I knew this race was all about the experience and I tried to make the most out of it.
In the end, CrossVegas 2015 was an amazing experience, although I felt my result was just okay; far from my best, but not my worst. I finished on the lead lap and did not get pulled from the race, so that was a big success, but I knew I had more in me.
After returning from Vegas, my parents were very concerned with my health, and we made a difficult call to end the season early. This was a huge disappointment as competing at the 2015 Canadian Cyclocross National Championships was a big goal for the year. I ended up cheering on my friends and sister from the sidelines.
I knew stopping for the season was the best thing for my future and health but a part of me still wanted to get out there a just give it my best shot rather than what felt like giving up.
Late September 2015 marked the potential end of my short lived bicycle racing career. We needed to figure out what was going wrong before any further racing or hard training was to happen again. My health uncertainty was serious, and at the time it seemed like there was the real likelihood that I would never race again.
For months we had been making visits to our long time family doctor to try and build some understanding of the problem. This was a frustrating and difficult experience. Test after test resulted in the same response from the doctor – “you’re a picture of health and all your test results are in the normal range, except Iron. Take an iron supplement and come back in a few months”.
We knew there was something more wrong and started on our own health journey. The first action was to get a new family doctor. Visits to specialists started to be scheduled and lots of advice from friends and family flowed in.
We insisted on further lab testing, and a few pieces of the puzzle began to snap into place. As the testing broadened, we finally hit on a clue, but it wasn’t good news.
The test results were very clear and I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Basically, a hypothyroid condition caused by my immune system attacking and slowly destroying my own Thyroid.
This diagnosis gave us some direction but resulted in many more unanswered questions. Of course the first is, what is this condition, how is it caused, and how can I fix?
Your Thyroid is a small gland in the front of your neck that is sometimes described as the body’s “master regulator”. It regulates much of your metabolism as well as heart and digestive function. My simple understanding is that it regulates the speed at which cells in your body work. With Hypothyroidism the cells and organs of your body slow down. If you become hypothyroid, your heart rate may be slower than normal, which was exactly what I was experiencing.
There is also an opposite thyroid condition called Hyperthyroid where your thyroid becomes overactive and accelerates your body’s metabolism. Hyper (over) vs Hypo (under). I’m Hypo.
Fortunately, there is a lot of information about Hashimoto’s online and from books. Many people, especially women, struggle with Thyroid issues and Hashimoto’s is a relatively common thyroid condition, although it also commonly goes undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) until women are in their mid-20’s and later. At least I wasn’t travelling in uncharted territory.
There was a lot to learn, and the whole family rapidly swung into action.
Hashimoto’s has a genetic component. You cannot get Hashimoto’s if you do not have the genetic marker, although just because you have the genetic marker, doesn’t mean you will get Hashimoto’s. There are other triggers that need to occur in order for the genetic switch to be flipped.
Stress was a big triggering factor for me. At the time I was very stressed both physically and mentally.
A plan started to come together, and some big lifestyle changes were made. I started on some good medication to help with the thyroid issue and my diet was re-engineered. Yoga, deep breathing exercises, and lots of time in the float tanks all seemed to help.
Over the next 6 months, things were slowly getting better. Some early season MTB races went well, but I was still having trouble with recovery and I was getting sick easily with small colds and coughs. My immune system was not functioning well.
In July 2016 I was selected to race for Team Canada at the Mountain Bike World Championships in the Czech Republic. What an incredible experience and such a fun trip, I did well and learned so much. I met so many amazing people from all over the world, there is no better community than cycling.
A few months later in September 2016, I was selected to race CrossVegas again. This year as part of a new Focus CX Canada team, so it was a very exciting and fun trip. CrossVegas is electric and so much fun, I did well but still didn’t feel 100%.
Around the beginning of October 2016, I started feeling pretty good. The legs were working well, I was not sick, and all this was coming together just in time for the end of my Cyclocross season. I ended up 4th at the Pan American Championships in Kentucky, and the next weekend won Canadian CX National Championships in a tough muddy battle.
The 2016 Canadian Cyclocross National Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec delivered my dream cyclocross race. Rain, sticky mud, greasy corners, sand, slippery run-ups and buckets of fun. I was racing for the U23 Women’s title and the battle came down to a duel between @ruby3773 and myself. ~ For the first couple laps Ruby and I passed the lead back and forth several times. On the third lap I opened a small gap, then worked hard to ensure that lead was held. One more lap of 100% effort and I was able to bring home the Championship jersey. ~ Huge thanks to our @focuscxcanada team mechanics for helping the team run so smooth. My teammate @a.barson has inspired me all season and finished with a solid result against the best Elite women in Canada. ~ The team is also bringing home a second Maple Leaf jersey for @martin_jeremy’s Elite Men win, and the iceing on the cake was @aschooler6’s insane 2nd place Elite men finish. ~ Thank you to everyone at @sherbrookecx for making this race happen. Can’t wait for #cancxnats in 2017! ~ 📷:Jeremy Allen
An amazing end to the season, but it took a lot out of me, so it was time for more rest and recovery. Heading into the new year, I had to make the hard decision between Cyclocross World Championships or a Next Gen road camp in California. It was very difficult but decided to skip the Cyclocross World Championships for the second year in a row. I pledged to myself that I would not be missing a third.
The 2017 MTB season has been full of mixed results again. After a good start at the first Canada Cup in Victoria, I was off to Austria and Germany to gain more experience competing against the European women. The scenery and trails were amazing and I was having an amazing time until… I crashed hard during a race and partially dislocated my shoulder.
The initial assessment by the Doctors in Austria was wrong and after getting reassessed at home I did not need surgery. I ended up being able to get back on my bike much quicker than any of us thought and was off to Canada Cup 2 in Mont Tremblant. I was still healing but was feeling more and more like myself. Canada Cup 3 was next in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec. I am happy to say I was able to keep the Canadian Leaders Jersey over the course of the 3 Canada Cups I attended, injury and all.
But then it was back to study for my grade 12 exams and the stress of being away from school and exams to study for took a toll on my health. I would recover from one minor cold, then catch another. With a weakened immune system, I also ended up with a nasty chest cold that took over 2 months to finally clear.
The shoulder and lungs healed just in time for the Canadian Mountain Bike National Championships in Canmore, Alberta in July, when two days before the race I crashed hard and broke a bone in my hand.
No MTB nationals for me.
At least I could look forward to Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg a week after MTB nationals. In the two days before leaving, we had a custom splint made to protect my hand, and I was back on the bike and feeling good.
Then, two days before the big Canada Games MTB race we were training in +39c weather and I got some serious heat exhaustion. My body felt completely drained.
I focused on recovery as well as I could, but my body was just not willing to work. I tried my best during the race but did not have the race I was hoping for.
I don’t actually remember the end of the race. Crossing the line I almost passed out. One vague memory I do have is my dad yelling out to me to get to the medic tent. Someone helped me to the medic and we quickly tried to get my core temperature back down. Ice bags on my neck and feet. Several bottles of water with lots of electrolytes, a little food, and about 45 minutes later I started to come around.
“Rookie Mistakes” has been said to me a few times over the last few months, I agree! But I’ll learn from these mistakes and keep going, only stronger.
The good news is that my health has really turned around and after 2 years I’m finally starting to feel really good. We’re still keeping a close eye on my blood work, but the numbers continue to move in the right direction and most importantly I’m feeling great. Actually, better than I’ve ever felt and there’s so much to look forward to as I’m more excited than ever to be riding my bike, racing, and travelling.
I’m actually writing this blog post from Australia!! I was selected again to represent Canada at the 2017 Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, Australia. I will be racing in the Junior Women category on September 7th at 1:00 pm Cairns Time, which is 9:00 pm on September 6th in Alberta.
In other news, I’m (sort of) starting with University. I need a break from school but still wanted to continue taking some courses. I’ve decided to study through online learning for one year at Athabasca University. I’m hoping this decision will allow me to focus on training, some new racing adventures, and just riding my bike, while also getting a few basic courses completed.
I wanted to get this information about Hashimoto’s out into the public so if anyone else is struggling with this condition they know that it is possible to recover, and for the most part, it will not impact your life.
Because I focused so much on making positive changes in my life, I feel this setback has only made me stronger and healthier than I was before.
I apologise for the encyclopedia length report, but I really wanted to catch up and I promise to make regular (shorter) blog posts going forward.
Bye for now.
So the #cursedsummer keeps on giving. More bad news.
During practice, two days before my 2017 MTB World Championship race in Cairns, I crashed and sprained my wrist. Possible minor ligament tear as well. I will be off the bike for about two weeks and will not be able to race.