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The BMX mad critical care nurse

A passion to ride; a passion to heal

Photo by: Mat Kaze

I am back on the road after almost two weeks off because of Covid and the injury to my right shoulder. It turns out I have a bit of a tear in my rotator cuff and separation in AC joint. It was pretty painful for a while, less so now. The good news is that I don’t need surgery and I have good range of motion. It just takes time to heal, a month or more. The better news is that I can bike! I was worried that holding onto the handlebar might be painful, but that hasn’t been the case.

Two weeks is the longest I’ve been off a bike in the past two years. The most I had taken off before was a couple of days.  I’m being prudent and easing back into the cycling, keeping mileage down to 70-80km a day.

It’s Friday and we’re at a rest day now in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. I’m looking forward to being back full time in the saddle when we hit the road tomorrow. It’s going to be a big day, 150 km with a lot of climbing.

One of the upsides of my time off has been getting to know some of my fellow cyclists and their cycling history.

Chris is a critical care nurse who helped me a great deal with my injuries.

He is a lanky, 6’3” tousle-haired blonde Oklahoman with a grin as wide open as the great expanses of his country corn fields.

In rural Oklahoma a bicycle was the road to freedom in pre-teen and teen years. Chris and his buddies explored the endless miles of lonesome dirt and gravel roads marveling at the boundless natural world that was all theirs. Cycling was freedom; it was also a way of challenging oneself. At 13 Chris entered a 100-mile road race on the fabled Route 66. He was the youngest by far and placed second in the under-18s.

That was the year he discovered BMX at a traveling show at the state fair. He was hooked. At 18 he quit college to go to Austen, “the BMX mecca of the world”. He and a bunch of similar BMX-mad friends bunked in together. They sold blood twice a week, which was enough to cover their expenses. Every day was a riding adventure, a new skill learned, a new manoeuvre mastered, a new challenge met.

Riding the rails

Austen introduced him to BMXers from all over the world. Those encounters ignited a passion in him to travel. He went backpacking in Central and South America. He lived in Sweden and Denmark where he became heavily involved in the BMX scene.

When he returned to Oklahoma he started nursing school. He tells his story in understated way, not wanting to make much of himself. He reminds me of  Jimmy Stewart, the Stewart of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It’s a Wonderful Life. There is an unshakeable drive to goodness in him. Nursing clicked with him immediately. It grounded him in his need to give back and to help others.

The BMX passion remained unabated. In particular street riding. He’d go out with his friends at night when the city had shut down to ride forbidden zones: stairways, handrails, curved walls “the funnest thing to ride”.

“We’d check it out on foot earlier in the day to determine what you wanted to do. Then we knew we had a maximum of two goes before we were chased off.”

I asked him if he ever got into serious trouble. “No,” he says, “I was detained a few times but never held or arrested.”

I say, “You’ve got outlaw in you.” He grins in his boyish way, shrugs his shoulders and says, “Yeah, I guess.”

I am struck by his quintessential Americanness, of the best sort: risk-taking, freedom searching with a rock solid moral center. In the end it is that boundless caring and openness to the world that impresses me most.

Critical care

Through the darkest days of Covid he was working flat out in the intensive care unit in Tulsa. Before Covid, he says, “the worse days in the ICU setting you might have one or two patients in a very bad way. My unit had 30 beds, which we expanded to 36. Suddenly, the ICU is full and everyone is at that very bad level.”

He pauses. A shadow passes over his face. “The saddest part is that some of our population turned their backs on our most vulnerable. That was the hardest part to process.”

Riding his BMX helped him through those hard times, letting him decompress and recover to face the seemingly endless toll of the pandemic. He’s 39 and he’s still as keen to take on that unconquered curved wall or handrail as he was at twenty.