Broken: Austin's Injury Comeback
After an amazing year that included getting to travel and ride bikes all over the southeast as well as a couple of trips out west, OBED ambassador Austin Sulli had two last races to close out 2022.
Sometimes, however, the world has other plans.
About 60 miles into a 100-mile race, while riding with the lead group and just having come through the roughest bit of road, he wrecked. A large branch was flung up by the riders ahead and managed to lodge itself between his frame and rear wheel. The resulting catapult of his body had him scrambling to get back up and catch back up to the pack. But after several efforts, it was obvious his body (and bike) was done for the day. He thought. “I felt strong before the wreck, but it was my first DNF in a couple of years so no big deal.”
Fast forward a couple of weeks. He had just gotten back from working at the Hawaii Ironman Worlds in Kona, Hawaii, and was feeling fit for the last race of the year: Big Sugar. He barely missed going to Bentonville, Arkansas for the gravel race last year, and was very quick to register once it opened in the spring. Back home in Chattanooga and back on his GVR, he went out for a little mix of gravel, road, and singletrack. Towards the end of the ride, he ran into a friend and finished out with him. Except the finish came about one mile too early when they got tangled up on some railroad tracks. The end result? One dislocated shoulder and one broken collarbone. Unfortunately, the broken collarbone was Austin's.
After a call to a couple of friends, they both got rides home and Austin aptly named his ride on Strava “The Definitive End of the Season.” Ironic, in that his self-coached approach to riding doesn’t always know when to end the season. This year, it was quite obvious.
A displaced break and surgery were scheduled for a week later. He was gutted. As someone who thrives in a life of near-constant movement, he was now nearly immobilized and worried about what kinds of lows were waiting for him in the coming weeks. Having never really broken a bone before, it was eye-opening to have legs that felt great, legs that want to pedal and race and burn. But one-quarter of his body was not functional. And that one-quarter part was winning.
The surgery went great, and the support of family and friends helped keep him afloat. There were about three to four weeks of being down for the count—physically and mentally. Luckily, he had a full trainer set up and a lot of World Cup matches to watch! As an avid soccer fan throughout his youth, he has solid memories of watching the World Cup over the last 20 years. From watching 4 a.m. games with his Dad at a pub as a teenager to cheering on goals while visiting Nicaragua, this World Cup would look a little different! He certainly didn’t envision a birthday that included four hours on the trainer, but it actually was quite enjoyable… and France showed how beautiful soccer can be.
Fast forward another couple of weeks and many hours of World Cup match play, he latched onto the trainer and began to hit the gym with his nephew. The looks they got were interesting; working out in a sling is not in vogue. But they made it work, using whatever machines he was able to.
Before you know it, Austin was seven weeks post-surgery and released to ride outside again! That first ride back came with the same joy as the first time he rode to the back of his childhood neighborhood. It didn’t matter that it was a little rainy and cold. He was back to being that same Austin that fell in love with bikes at a young age. Wind in the face, trees passing by, and deep breaths. He may not be back to where he was, but damn—he was back.
Setbacks arrive in so many forms, how we deal with them is what matters. This is a time of year when a lot of resetting occurs, but it’s also a time for reflection. And when reflecting on this year, Austin couldn’t be happier. He gained so many new friends and new opportunities and is so grateful for it.
And yes, he's even grateful to have the opportunity to share his experiences with others—even if it is a bummer story about breaking a collarbone. "I love creating stories and sharing those with other people. So, let’s make some stories together."