Riding to recovery: what it took to fall in love again
When German powerhouse Ina-Yoko Teutenberg retired from professional cycling in 2014, she left the sport as one of the most respected riders in the women’s peloton and with more than 200 victories on her palmares.
Her retirement however, was far from planned. A hard crash the year prior to her retirement led to a severe concussion. At the same time, she struggled with depression. Teutenberg left the sport on terms other than her own.
Her concussion would take the remainder of the 2013 season to heal. Her road to mental recovery is still in progress.
It’s taken a while but after a step away from the sport, Teutenberg is back, albeit in a new capacity. She’s been coaching the Team USA women’s team, and is finding a way to heal others –and ultimately herself—through cycling.
She talks about her journey, and her work with the nonprofit Ride2Recovery, here.
– Anne-Marije Rook
It has been two weeks now since I came back from my first challenge with Ride2Recovery and I am still overwhelmed with the experience I had. Ride2Recovery is a cycling program designed to help war veterans restore hope and purpose in life.
I first got involved last year when American track cyclist Dotsie Bausch asked me to join her at a camp for female veterans. These Women’s Initiative camps are meant to give the ladies a safe place to deal with their traumas be it military trauma, sexual trauma or traumatic brain injury.
Dotsie knew I was still on my own road to recovery from a concussion I sustained following a crash in March 2013. Given my ability to relate to some of the veterans experiences, Dotsie thought I would be a good guest speaker. I had just finish “Clara’s Big Ride” with Clara Hughes through Canada, and, from that experience, I knew how much impact openness about personal mental illness can have. I didn’t hesitate one second to take the chance and be part of the camp.
But when it was time to drive out to the camp, I started to feel a bit scared. I was going to talk to women who have endured way more then I can even imagine. Lots of them have been to wars and seen things I only hear about in the news. My experiences don’t even come close to what they’ve been through, I thought, and I was as nervous as before a big race.
Once I got there however, I was welcomed so openly that the nerves quickly calmed down.
The camp was a mix of riding and empowerment. I was amazed by the openness of participants, the depth of the conversations and the willingness to help each other. They were sincere and actually really wanted to know how I was doing. This was reflected during the riding as well, as the women were there to help each other rather than outride or race each other.
I witnessed the sparks in their eyes when we were about to hit the country roads and the smiles they couldn’t contain when they accomplished something they didn’t think they could. And they shared with me what bike riding had done for them.
I loved every second of that experience and was able to give back more than I thought I would be able to. I left the camp with a whole new mindset of what bike riding can mean to others and it helped me find that deep love for riding again.
You see, I have ridden and raced bikes my whole life. I was fortunate to make my passion my job but at the end of my career I was at such a bad place in my life that I lost the love for it.
Part of me believes that perhaps I crashed because of that. My body was at the race but my mind had wondered off to not so good places.
I needed to step away from the world I had known all my life and somehow find myself again.
After physically recovering from the concussion, it took me over a year to really want to be part of bike scene again. By stepping away from cycling, I was able to see the many good people involved in the sport, and without those people I wouldn’t have made it back to a good place. So when I came back to the bike scene, I wanted to find a way to give back to the sport that had done so much in my life.
So I was beyond excited when I got an email earlier this year asking if I might be able to join the Women’s Initiative camp and the Memorial Challenge this year.
This time on my drive over to the camp, I felt rejuvenated. Knowing a bit more about the program and being at a way better spot in life myself allowed me to give more of myself and take more of what was offered to me, too.
I actually heal as much as the veterans do through this program. Ride2Recovery has helped me understand just what the bike can do.
My second camp was as inspiring as the first, and I couldn’t wait for the Memorial Challenge.
A Challenge is similar to a stage race, without having the contest to make it to the finish line first. There are four groups of different riding abilities and everyone rides the same stage, but at their own pace.
Being on Memorial Day weekend –a time when the US honors its fallen soldiers –it was a powerful experience to be a civilian surrounded by veterans.
I rode the Challenge with the Delta group which has a lot of recumbent and hand-cyclists. For the first stage, I got matched up with Junior, who is paralyzed from chest down and lost his eyesight in Desert Storm. This was my first experience with a blind cyclist. I lent him my eyes in order to navigate the stage.
Needless to say, this was one of my most memorable rides in my life.
I rode with so much more awareness during the day, communicated more than I ever have on a ride, and was just stunned by Junior’s ability to ride his bike in such a safe way. Never would I have thought I had a blind dude next to me in the way he handled the ride.
I experienced all week the healing power of riding a bike. I saw how some first-time cyclists faced their fear of cycling while battling their own demons at the same time. I made so many friends during the Challenge, and hopefully I will be able to share many more bike adventures with them.
Throughout it all, I have realized that the bike is a powerful, transformative tool. It helps people overcome the unimaginable, and it will continue to transform anyone who is willing to let it happen.
For all you who have already discovered bike riding, please never lose the love for the bike or any other passion you’ve got.