Nolan Costin (@Nolan.c7) is a high school student and accomplished cyclocross and mountain bike racer. His sponsors include Around the Cycle, Skratch Labs and Catella. Nolan raced the NICA SoCalDirt schedule this past year. With three podium finishes already secured, he was on a trajectory to do well at the State Championships in May, but suffered a crash at the start of the Victory at Vail event. With great determination he finished the race, and even placed 9th, but his injuries cut the season short.
In this post Nolan tells us about that day, his subsequent recovery and things he learned along the way.
PART 1: The Crash
“Freshman boys, how many laps are we doing today?” the voice of the race official booms. On the front row, everything is amplified. Although I was nervous, I had been here before. Sitting on second place overall in the NICA SoCal series, and having finally recovered from the flu that had plagued me the previous two races, I was feeling good about my chances. “Five, four, three…” When the countdown got to zero I was able to get just the start I was hoping for, maneuvering into the second position. Then we rounded the first bend and squeezed into a bottleneck. At this time another rider tried to force his way into my position. A touch of the bars ended with me hitting the ground in front of a stampede of determined racers. My chance at the leader's jersey quickly disappeared in a cloud of dust. As soon as I tried to swing my leg over the bike again, I knew something was wrong. But I attributed the pain to normal post-crash bruises which I had often experienced. I never once thought about pulling out of the race. Then, after working my way back to ninth place, I dropped a chain at a critical point. For a second time the odds stacked against me. I began to think if some higher power had made it their personal mission to make my race miserable. Only after finishing the race in eighth, following a back half of the race filled with trips to the pain cave, did I realize I could not walk. I had to be carried to the car. X-Rays and an MRI at the ER soon revealed a fracture in my acetabulum. My season had come to a skidding halt.
PART 2: Recovery
Ever since I started racing in seventh grade I had never taken more than a couple weeks off.
Being off the bike was frustrating physically. As the weeks went slowly by I found myself itching to ride more and more. So naturally, as soon as I was able to walk, I had to go and do something stupid. I convinced myself fifteen mile hike up to Mt. Lukens with my dog, Dashiel, was a genius idea. Everything was going according to plan when I got to the top, but about halfway down the mountain we ran out of water. I knew I could make it, but the dog had different ideas, found a nice spot in the shade and wouldn’t budge. Out of options, I hiked down to the stream at the bottom of the canyon, then ran back with water for Dashiel. We made it home, but the ordeal probably set back my recovery a bit, and the ego boost of the climb was outweighed by the trouble I caused Dashiel. Lessons learned: carry more water, and don’t rush back into it.
The month and a half of recovery was difficult, yet ultimately enlightening for me. The period allowed me to reflect on why I ride my bike. Before, my whole identity as a cyclist had been a racer. During the period after my accident I remembered there was more than just winning. I rode my bike because it allowed me to be free with my friends and my thoughts. Now, while I still enjoy racing, and obviously do my best to win, my post-crash self is just as interested in the journey as the result. While this may sound cliche, I think that only after having gone through something like a season ending crash can you truly appreciate its meaning.
Now I am training again, with a renewed sense of enjoyment. Nothing makes me happier than suffering uphill, wearing spandex, and sporting a glorified styrofoam cup on my head.
Follow Nolan on Instagram @Nolan.c7