In the last four years, my 42-year-old husband has had three mountain biking-related surgeries. He’s had more busted fingers, dislocated shoulders and other injuries than I can recall.
For a long time, the sport and his habit of hurting himself were the biggest sources of stress in our marriage. I resented it when he took off for a six-hour ride instead of spending the day with me. I had little compassion when he returned bandaged up, because he had done it to himself.
When my husband decided — at age 36 — to revisit his teenage passion of skateboarding, I told him that if he hurt himself, he was on his own. When he called from the ER after breaking his femur, I stayed true to my word: His mother brought him home.
He gave his skateboard away after that, but none of the other injuries has prevented him from getting back on his bike.
After a surgery for a broken collarbone a few years ago, I was fed up and told him it was time to give it up. He refused. It was too important to him. He got back on, promising to be more careful.
It wasn’t until I started working out at the gym with a trainer 31/2 years ago and learned firsthand what physical activity can do for stress relief and well-being that I really began to appreciate how vital this activity was for him. My attitude about the biking had already improved over time, but at this point I began to actively support it.
My husband feels exhilarated when he’s out on his bike. He loves the adrenaline rush, the freedom, the challenge and the camaraderie. He’s made so many friends through mountain biking, and they are good people; I know how important this community is to him.
Two months ago, he called from San Diego County and said he had gone over some loose rock and been thrown off his bike and that his brother was taking him to the ER. I wasn’t angry; I’d been through this too many times. I worried about the severity of his injury and about the financial effect on our family, though.
It turns out he’d broken his left thumb and his ring finger in two places. Doctors wanted to operate, but his hand was too swollen. He’d have to wait for surgery.
When he finally got home after hours in the emergency room, he said, “I’m done.” My heart broke for him.
“I’m not asking you to be,” I replied. And I meant it.
That conversation is likely moot. Toby’s surgery did not go as well as the doctor had hoped. The injury was too severe: The bones were shattered so badly that the doctor had to use pins to put the pieces together. It’s going to be a long road to recovery, and he might require another operation to straighten his ring finger.
I don’t know what is going to happen. My husband, whose resting heart rate hovers in the high 40s, has been biking for half his life. Biking is a big part of his identity.
The thought of giving it up feels like a death to him.
Earlier in our marriage, I would have been thrilled to know Toby would no longer be getting on his bike. But now I’m saddened. “I know I’m in mourning,” he said recently in a moment of depression over a bikeless future.
And I’m mourning with him.
Lisa O’Neill Hill, a writer, lives in Fullerton with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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