Riding Through the Storm: My Journey from Peak Fitness to Recovery

Riding Through the Storm: My Journey from Peak Fitness to Recovery

Hey there, I’m Gilberto Cortez, a USA Cycling and TrainingPeaks certified coach, but also an amateur cyclist and racer whose life took an unexpected detour early this year. Before I dive into that, let me paint you a picture of where I was at physically. After a solid block of training through November and December, including the grueling GWL Training Rides, I was in the best shape of my life. My muscles were toned, my endurance was at its peak, and my mind was laser-focused on an upcoming training camp in Arizona. I was ready to take on the world, or so I thought, until January 4th, 2024, came along.

That evening, while cycling at the intersection of Proctor Valley Rd and Coastal Hills Dr in Chula Vista, my world was flipped upside down by a hit-and-run with a Toyota RAV4. It was around 5:30 pm, a moment frozen in time, with the events before the crash vivid in my memory and the immediate aftermath painfully clear, but the collision itself a blank space in my mind.

The kindness of strangers who called 911 and the swift response of the fire department were my first glimmers of hope as I lay there, trying to process the pain and shock. My arm was a mess, broken in several places with the bone breaking through the skin. It was a stark reminder of how quickly life can change.

At Sharp Medical Hospital, the reality of my situation began to sink in. The surgery to fix my shattered arm involved three plates and over 20 screws, a testament to the severity of the break. But the physical breaks were only part of the story. The nerve damage I suffered has been the real beast, a source of constant pain and the biggest hurdle in my recovery. It’s this invisible injury that’s been the hardest to explain and the most frustrating to heal.

The road to recovery has been anything but straight. Losing all mobility in my left arm was just the beginning. The muscle vanished, and with it, my strength and a big part of my identity as an athlete. The nerve damage meant a slow, painful process to regain any semblance of normal function. And now, my surgeon has decided to remove one of the plates, not because my arm will ever be the same—it won’t—but because it’s interfering with my day-to-day life more than helping.

Despite these challenges, I’ve found a silver lining in staying connected with my cycling community and my team, PRT. Volunteering and being part of something bigger than my recovery has been a lifeline.

Getting back on my bike has been a mix of triumph and frustration. My arm is weak, and my body isn’t what it used to be, but I’m determined to find out what my new best looks like. This accident has taught me about vulnerability and the strength it takes to face it head-on. It’s shown me that life can throw you off course, but with resilience, support, and a bit of stubbornness, you can start to pedal your way back.

As I share my story, I’m reminded of how much worse it could have been. I think of those who don’t walk away from such accidents, or who suffer injuries far beyond what I’ve endured. It puts my own journey into perspective and fills me with gratitude for every step forward, no matter how small.

This isn’t just a story about a cyclist who had an accident; it’s a testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome, to adapt, and to find new paths forward. My journey is far from over, but with each day, I’m learning that the true measure of recovery isn’t just about regaining what was lost, but discovering what lies ahead. Join me as I pedal through this storm, one day at a time.

Thank you for reading!

Gilberto Cortez - USA Cycling & TrainingPeaks Certified Coach

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