O man, I am such a dork – because I also can’t do the one thing you’re normally capable of doing when born with a hip abnormality anymore. Which is cycling. At least, I can’t do it at the highest level anymore.
My racebike and I are married for seven years now. We’ve spent six of those seven years in the professional women’s peloton. We both loved it.
Meanwhile, we ignored the growing troubles in our marriage. About four years ago, I started noticing them for the first time. Sometimes my right hip ached. When I went for a run, for example. Or after a long hike. Ah well, a cyclist shouldn’t do those things in the first place – I thought. So I quit running. And hiking.
The little pains started to grow. I also felt them after shopping, or visiting a concert in my off-season, where I had to stand for a couple of hours. So I also quit doing that. Strolling or standing on your feet is not good for a cyclist anyway, I told myself.
Since two years I have so much pain in my leg, hip and back it often keeps me awake at night. A long ride by car, visiting a cinema of sitting in an airplane is horrible. I dread lounge chairs; I’d rather sit upright, or on the floor. As long as I keep the angle of my hip 90 degrees things are okay. But as soon as I try to be a lazy couch potato, I am in pain.
The pain comes and goes. Some days, I hardly notice anything. Other days it feels like my hip is totally blocked. I walk like a hunchback. It hurts so much I can barely bridge the 100 meters from my house to the supermarket. Walking the stairs is almost impossible, let alone sprinting to my car when it rains.
After a lot of exams in the hospital last year, they found out I have a disease called ‘hip dysplasia’. It means the bone of my upper leg doesn’t fit perfectly into the hip joint – like it should. Most of the times they find that out when you’re still a baby. That’s why you sometimes see babies with pants made out of plastic that spread the legs – because you can still fix it when kids are very young. Unfortunately, they never found this abnormality when I was little.
The strange thing is: at the bike I hardly ever have pain. Even more so: at days when I am in a lot of pain, cycling helps. Cycling is also the doctor’s advice when you have a disease like this. Because it’s not hard on the joints. But cycling loads, like I do, appears to be a bad idea. Because of the millions of pedal strokes I made over the years, the head of the bone in my upper leg has made friction with the hip joint millions of times as well – which caused damage.
A team of doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors tried to keep the pain bearable over the last couple of years. In the meantime, I didn’t tell anyone about it, because I don’t like talking about a damaged hip that won’t heal again. If people asked me why I limped, I just mumbled something. At the bike you couldn’t see anything, right? Right.
But of course I also noticed my growing hip problem on the bike. This season I have been training with a power meter which measures the pressure of the left and the right pedal apart from each other. That’s how I learnt my one leg pushed 20 Watts than the other. All the time. I also found out my peak power decreased with about 150 Watts compared to two years ago. That’s a lot. Way too much to race at the highest level.
So I’m retiring. It’s time to get an operation, because it’s enough now.
Of course I tell everyone it’s time for new things in life. For new adventures. Of course that’s the truth, but unfortunately my hip is also an important reason. If you can’t perform at the level you’re used to anymore, you get frustrated. And if you’d rather skip every little walk, relaxing night in the couch or bedtime because it’s so painful, you can’t say ‘I’m a cyclist so it’s no problem’ anymore. Realisticly, you’re handicapped.
My years of racing my bike are over. They changed my life in a great en unforgettable way. No hip disease will spoil that. I will always keep riding my bike, also when I have a new hip. Because cycling is and will stay just the best thing in the world.
Published in cycling.be, September 2015
Photo: John Kuijsters