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We can rebuild him: Taylor Vernon - Part 2

10:42 9th September 2013 by Ed Haythornthwaite
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Darren Roberts from Peak Performance Fitness continues his excellent series of articles documenting the recovery of injured riders, and this time we’re back for round two with Taylor Vernon. Judging by what he’s having to go through I reckon he’d probably have rather gone a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson rather than have had to deal with this. If you missed the first part on Taylor then you can catch up here.

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Building the elite mindset, Tay putting in the hard yards in rehab.

It’s been a busy few weeks for me and the performance team, not just with Tay – we’ve had a few bad injuries to deal with recently, not least of which Jonathan Rea badly breaking his femur. With Tay we’ve all been working hard to get him back as soon as possible, especially Taylor himself. It’s not a cavalier programme of pushing things too far, but we are always on the very edge of what’s possible. Tay has been splitting his time between home in Wales and with me up in Manchester and the specialist team. Team fitness coach Alan Milway has also been down to see Tay in Wales and go through the rehab sessions with him, so the poor lad has been getting it from all sides. It’s not easy for Tay, he was just 4 weeks post fracture when we started taking him in the gym so we were being conservative – for us. I’ve written many many times before how hard this is for professional athletes to take things so steady. One minute you’re operating at the maximum of your ability and the next minute you feel like you’re working at the minimum of what you’re capable of. Athletes only know how to go full gas, not cruise in neutral.

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Re-assessment with Doug – it’s a great working relationship and Tay knows we’re all geared to getting him back racing

It might not be something a normal process would tell Taylor at this early stage, but riding his XC bike on a bike path keeps him sane. Yes he could fall off the bike, but he could also fall down the stairs at home. I’d rather he was riding along a flat path at home than on a road bike – of course he’s got things to think about such as position of his pelvis and back. But you can only imagine the ‘feel good’ factor of him being able to spin out on that XC bike for an hour.

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Where he wants to be, 8 weeks post fracture and back on a bike

The focus for Tay was this;

  • The deep core muscles can suffer after a spinal injury, they act as propriocepters telling the larger trunk muscles what to do – we’ve been working them to prevent problems further down the line when things get more dynamic with larger loads
  • With such a large fixation in his thoracic spine, movement can bet transferred to his lumbar (lower back). Putting it under a lot more stress and load, so we’ve been working to ensure he has control of his pelvis and this area of his back
  • Increase loads to get Tay into great physical condition to allow the metalwork to be taken out
  • Start to look at his upper back muscles which will have been damaged during the surgery (they have to cut through them and/or pull them apart)

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Working on the above is tedious and boring, there is no way around that. It’s medicine the athlete needs to take to make them better. Tay isn’t going to explode in a super-compensation wave of strength and lean tissue gains doing the above work. But it’s doing this type of work now that pays off later when we do start to load him up. We’ve been able to step things up slightly – introduce more movements and even use some weights!

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Tay working on controlling his pelvis and spine while being pulled off balance using a theraband.

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The devil’s tricycle doesn’t mind if you have a broken back! I was able to hit some of Tay’s high intensity energy systems using the AirDyne. For no other purpose than to light them up after not being used for 2 months, the result was a whitey and some time alone!

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Moving the exercises on, whilst still doing the foundation work

The other key milestone was to attend an appointment with a spinal surgeon who also specialises in young people/athletes. Dr Dashti is based at Spire Manchester, he also completely understands that Tay is a professional athlete and we need to get him back racing. Tay has already had an initial appointment with Dr Stuart James down in Cardiff, this was a private appointment and unfortunately the NHS system doesn’t have Tay down for an appointment until mid October – when Tay is 90 days post injury! The NHS has an incredibly difficult job to do – even so, the NHS first intervention with Tay being 3 months after his accident really is quite staggering. All because the operation was carried out in France, despite being an emergency operation, the NHS system in Wales can’t seem to recognise the urgency of this and it’s being treated like any other specialist referral from a GP. So with Tay due a review at the 8-10 week point and the NHS unable to do this – we of course got him to the right specialist. The initial feedback was the metalwork would need to stay in for 18 months, which was a huge problem as there is no way Tay can race with that level of fixation in his back. Should Tay have a big impact with the metalwork still in, it would cause catastrophic injury his back.

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Dr Dashti reviews the mechano set in Tay’s back

Just as Dr James commented on in his meeting with Tay, Dr Dashti was not impressed with the level of fixation in Tay’s back and offered his opinion on what he would have done. As mentioned previously, the insurance would not fly Tay without the operation and the docs in France said they would fixate just one vertebrae above and below the fracture. However when we got the x-rays, they’d done most of the thoracic spine. It’s a little bit like taking your car to the garage with a puncture, and they decide to replace all the wheels and tyres. I’m sure they had their reasons – and what’s done is done, so it’s what we’re doing now thats important and how to move forward.

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The main thing we wanted was of course the opinion where Tay is at now, how we move training forward and of course the million dollar question – when can the rods be removed? I was looking to accelerate the timetable from 18 months to 6 months. Dr Dashti’s opinion on what happens next was this – CT scan Tay at the 5 month point and if everything was still ok, whip everything out at 6 month point! YES! To say Tay was happy is an understatement.

This comes with caveats though;

  • Tay needs to be in excellent physical shape
  • The fracture needs to have healed properly
  • He must keep on all the boring control exercises

In terms of training;

  • Tay is going to Hafjell and Leogang with the team, just to get him out of the house and keep him sane! But he can ride his XC bike with him and ride the fire roads with other considerations which have been explained to him
  • He will do his rehab with the whole team in the mornings, it’s team mobility every day!
  • We can up the intensity of the training including weights, as long as we’re avoiding major flexion and extension of the spine

There’s still a tonne of work that needs to be done, but to be able to have Tay 12 months ahead of schedule is a huge step. As long as we keep paying the attention to detail as we have been, doing the foundation work and directed training – it’s a real goal to have Tay back racing for the 2014 season. As long as Tay doesn’t do anything silly when he’s on his XC bike. I know other racers and riders have had similar injuries and internal fixations – and some have got back on the bike quickly. But there is a huge difference between coming back to riding or coming back to racingAND being competitive. Tay is ‘riding’ his bike now, but that’s not racing at world cup level – an obvious point maybe, but still one worth making. There’s no point in any athlete being on an accelerated return to racing schedule, to get nowhere in the results when they do race. It’s a common mistake I see over and over again, an athlete coming back early from injury into competition to then under perform with all the negative knock on effects that go with that lack of performance.

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5 days with me – little Butty was tired out…

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I took Tay to see the rest of the team and we all got a gym session in, Rach was struggling with the control exercises!

We finished the week off with a trip to see the whole team, Tay hasn’t seen most of them since the crash – it was a great visit with a ad-hoc team BBQ. Rach might be World Champion, but she was on cooking duty.

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We’ve now got some firm timescales to work to, which gives us a specific destination rather than some vague outcome in the far distance. I won’t see Tay now until he stops off with me between Norway and Leogang. The plan was to keep this accelerated programme under wraps in terms of timescales, but I didn’t quite explain that to Tay and of course he blasted it all over twitter about how we’re now a year ahead – you can’t blame the lad he was so stoked with the good news. We’re in a good place, and hopefully we’ll stay in this good place and have the little Butty back shredding on the world cups for 2014….

As always, big thanks to all involved and Karl Steadman at RCF3D for letting us use his great facility.

In part 3 – Tay starts to hit higher intensity training and more weights….

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  1. Chris

    Nice series of articles but the photos really are shocking. The selective focusing is rubbish, use a real camera for god sake!

    1. Tom

      Why are you so angry? You have no right to demand anything. As for the article, great work to Darren and team. It’s amazing the support you offer to guys like Tay, must make a very hard situation that bit easier for him to get through.

    2. mitsos

      What is shocking about the photos is that huge cut with stiches on taylor’s back. Regarding the quality… get a life dude :)

    3. Leon

      Have to agreed with you Chris on both points.

  2. Darren Roberts

    Hey Chris

    Glad you like the articles, but sad you don’t like my photography. Unfortunately when I’m with the athletes I don’t have an SLR camera with lighting – just my iPhone. I’m also a smidge busy actually working with the athlete – so can only take quick snaps on my phone.

    Sorry you find the photo’s ‘shocking’ – but it’s not really my priority with the athletes.

    Ride safe.

  3. blake

    really interesting article my mum has three vertebrae fused for what was a worse injury then tay’s not saying anything bad just odd they fuse soo many as discussed…

    I admire tay for working hard to get back to where he was I feel he wioll benefit from this rather then it be a speedhump in his career its more or less just an experience which he will gain from and become stronger from it

    all the best

  4. Robz

    Really interesting article. Thanks for taking the time to document all this. All the best to the wee man in his recovery.

  5. Antoine Hoffmann

    Hi Darren,

    ‘course it could be better with cleaner photography, but your work is already very, very interesting ! Despite the quality, your pictures are still relevant. The ” iPhone ” touch is part of the nearness we need to be focus on your words. Thanks a lot for sharing this kind of information with us. I’m pretty sure all of us, at our level, should be interested !

  6. Adrian Daniel

    The difference money/sponsorhip etc makes is staggering.
    When I broke my neck & back i was pretty much left to my own when I left hospital, a few follow-ups and 2 or 3 10 min physio sessions, 2 years on I still cant ride XC propperly dont even contemplate DH :(

    Hope things work out.

  7. CriDavies

    These articles are fantastic and show us a side to the life of a pro athlete that we rarely see. I was gutted when Taylor sustained his injuries – he’s a young kid who just got his dream chance with a pro team. To have such a bad injury so early on would be difficult for someone older to deal with, never mind a young lad like Taylor. He’s a great prospect for UK downhill and with the help of the best specialists like Darren I hope he can get back to full speed and really show his potential. Like Blake says above, the experience will only make him stronger and he deserves a massive amount of credit for continuing the hard work through his rehabilitation. Keep it up Taylor, Wales is rooting for you lad!

  8. brokenriders

    Great article, and really feel for Tay as he works his way back to fitness. I’m sure with the support of specialists, friends, family and colleagues, he’ll get there.

    But what about the rest of us? The ordinary rider doesn’t have (free) access to such treatment or specialist care. As was mentioned in the article, follow up appointments often take far too long in an over-stretched health service.

    Can the ordinary broken rider find advice anywhere, even if it’s just an initial consultation and the rest is up to the individual?

    Regards,
    Tom Redfern

    Founder, Broken Riders

    1. Darren+Roberts

      Hey Tom

      Please email me on darren@peakperformancefitness.org

  9. facebook_bikeit.uk

    Fantastic series of Articles by Darren and should prove to be a great source of information and inspiration for anyone going through similar injuries …. When Dan Brown @Atherton Racing and the Doctors at Grenoble Hospital explained to me the extent of his injuries I instantly trawled the Web hoping to see something similar that I could draw comfort from and then hope that Taylor might make a good recovery too ….. Thanks everyone for all the Help, Support and Well Wishes!

  10. paul

    Thanks for the article. Keep up the good work Tay.

    I wish I had this level of care advice with my spinal injury. I also broke mine in France where i live and it appears 90 days is the norm before you start getting into exercising. Although mine is not fixed so different.

    For anyone looking to read some more thoughts / experiences, you can check this thread on the paragliding forum. This injury is unfortunately quite common. As with all forums there is varying levels of advice

    http://www.paraglidingforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=21653

    Hope it helps.

  11. Anton

    Great series of articles, I broke my back last winter snowboarding and thought it was going to end my riding for the whole year. I attacked the physio where and when I could as I recovered and got back to Downhilling gingerly in 3 months, so its possible, just have to stay focused and appreciate incremental benefits. Isometric (static) exercises in the early stages or recovery and swimming in the later stages kept me sane! Now im shredding again with no apparent side affects other than a much stronger back!

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