Ben Jacques-Maynes has been through the worst year of his life when serious complications hit one after anothe following a broken collarbone at the 2011 Amgen Tour of California. Complications led by a bone infection finally diagnosed five months after that fateful crash in May. Jacques-Maynes is still recuperating and now fighting stomach issues brought about by the massive and long antibiotics regimen.
“That’s how the last couple of months have gone. The next thing, the next thing, what else can go wrong. I just kind of rolled with it.” said Jacques-Maynes.
Obviously such a roller coaster ride takes a toll both physically and mentally on a man leaving plenty of time to himself questions such as do I want to continue being a bike rider? The answer was and is yes.
In part one of our chat, the 33-year old BISSELL Pro Cycling rider shared his experiences, highs and lows following his first surgery until that diagnosis in October. Outfitted with a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, he was sent home to do nothing and recover for a six-week regimen of antibiotics.
And then another setback bit when the PICC line had to be replaced – an event he described as “tortuous.”
“That was a great example of me being hyper-aware and pretty tuned in. It felt like a pulled muscle, like I had whiplash in my neck just under my collarbone but it was on the opposite side. I was like this just feels funny, it feels weird, I should go get this checked out.” explained Jacques-Maynes who ended up in the emergency room on Thanksgiving weekend, the worst time possible. “We go, and they triage me back out to the waiting room, they were like there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re healthy, you look normal, you’re complaining about mild pain, kind of in your shoulder area and you have a PICC line in.”
After hours of waiting, a friend, who was starting her shift as a charge nurse, was able to get him in to get evaluated. “The ultrasound tech, either he’s used to seeing crazy looking stuff or plays poker a lot because he didn’t give a single sign that there was anything wrong but I walked back from the room back into the ER bed and literally there’s five people there, they’re hopping, test, blood,… so I had two thoughts at that point, okay I am not a crazy hypochondriac, I came here for a reason and finally someone is seeing it. Second thought, there’s something seriously wrong with me, everyone’s hopping and I just got triaged to the top of the list.”
The x-ray was clear: the line had looped. “It had been sucked up into my jugular, going up my neck and up into my head. Because of that loop, and it had happened for a couple of days, there was a big clog sitting right there. I could have a pulmonary embolism from it, they were super worried about that. Bottom line, they yanked the thing out, and putting a new one in, they don’t put you under for it but it’s definitely not a routine procedure, it’s a surgical procedure.”
Back home after the PICC line was replaced, Jacques-Maynes then had to wait again until the end of the antibiotics regimen. Asking any athlete to stay immobile for such a long period is tough, and making it tougher was the fact that there was no assurance that the bone infection would be cured at the end.
“It’s like being on a roller coaster, and not knowing when you get to get off. You can deal with it the first couple of times, it might even be something new that you can focus on but after a while, it was like okay I’m over this and you still have five weeks. And then you persevere for a little bit, okay I’m really over this and you still have three weeks. You’re only half done, time passes really slowly when you sit around and do nothing.” he said very quietly.
“Especially when my normal motus operandi is to be active, my normal off season stuff is to go mountain biking, to go hiking, to have bike rides with my kids, go dig in the garden, go down to the beach, enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the good parts of life of why you live in Santa Cruz, enjoy your family.”
Finally after six weeks, there were no signs of infection on the x-ray. “But I did not have normal bone regeneration and they said that’s to be expected for what I’ve gone through already, with the constantly re-fracturing and infected bone, the remodeling will take two to four times as long.”
Not done yet. Stuck inside and mostly immobile, Jacques-Maynes did wonder if this was the end of his professional cycling career. Could he and did he want to suffer on a bike again?
“That was one of those long thought out, I’ve got lost of time to think about this and another million things.” said Jacques-Maynes who paused before continuing. “Bottom line, it came out that I don’t want to go out like this, I want to decide when I go out and I want to feel like I’ve done my best, that I’ve completed things. That’s been my whole mantra for the last five years, I want to decide when I’m finished when I decide when I’m done, and not be forced out by circumstance or what not.”
“It’s a big circumstance, it’s not something to take lightly and this is not a decision I made lightly because every professional cyclist out there knows that they can do something better with their life, they could make more money, they could make a bigger difference in the grand social scheme of things by doing anything else honestly. If you get down to the bottom of it, I’m paid to play and I’d paid to use my body to be a roving billboard. If you cut down to exactly what we do, there’s a mutually supportive and that’s why it works.”
“If I were to actually apply my brain in the degree that I got in school, I would seriously think of stopping, going back to school, MBA, I’m actually interested in physical therapy and maybe chiropractic, I’ve been hanging around chiropractors too much.” laughed Jacques-Maynes whose wife Goldi is a chiropractor. “That’s something that I’ve thought a lot about, it’s helped me inform where I want to go after my career, and so I think I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. “
That wasn’t the first time that he had asked himself if he wanted to continue with his career, but after many weeks of reflection the answer was yes.
“After a crash or hurt yourself really bad or things not working out or whatever, everyone questions why they’re doing what they’re doing, so you have to re-invest and figure that out again and then it makes sense to keep doing it. Hopefully come back better, that level of self-reflection has always spurred me on in the past. When I had kids and realized I had better start making this count, this isn’t for me anymore, I’m not going for a prime for extra beer money for myself, it’s for extra diaper money for my kids and that’s a lot more important.”
He came to the realization that he is not done with cycling. Though Jacques-Maynes was back on the bike in December, he states that he’s still far behind in his training.
“First off, having that much time on the couch, zero activity, I got a big reset button hit physically. I couldn’t even pedal down the block without my knees hurting, I was so weak in early December.” he said. “So I spent all of December just trying to turn the cranks over, ride the trainer, get out on a couple of road rides, I was in the group ride getting dropped when I’m usually the person on the front doing the twisting the throttle. It was a good realization of how far I had to work. I had to kind of go back to school, realize how much I had been taking for granted in terms of keeping fitness year on year and what it’s going to take to at least get back to some semblance of that.”
He also dropped a lot of weight while on the antibiotics. “I’ve been able to put it back on but I’ll probably be racing lighter than I was last year and honestly I don’t know what that’s going to mean for my time-trialing, I’m going to work on it a lot. I’m still not at the level where I can do that yet, I’m still working on base level fitness and trying to pick myself back up. I fell so low, and it’s not springing back as I’m normally accustomed to, as a pro cyclist I used to.”
On top of all that, he is still dealing with other physical issues. “I still have digestion issues. I’m working with specialists to work through that, just trying to be able to absorb the nutrients that I need, to be able to get the calories through my gut when things are just shut down and tortured for so long, everything is dramatically different.”
The first thing that struck me when I sat down with Jacques-Maynes on that sunny morning was the weariness evident on his lean face. A different man that I’ve known for the past six years, and it wasn’t only yours truly that thought he had changed.
“I feel like I look different in the mirror, I don’t know if my eyes are seeing things different or I actually just appear more weathered or tired or just different but I feel like a different person at this point. I feel that I’ve come through an experience that has been so trying that I don’t recognize myself before that.” he said, comparing the change to the experience of having kids. An experience that he has said in the past changed his outlook on life completely.
Given all that’s happened in the past eight months, Jacques-Maynes doesn’t really know if he’s finally turned the page on his health issues. He has not given up hope but after seeing his hopes dashed and crushed many times these past months, he is keeping a restraint on them. But a good sign that the recovery is going the right way is the frequency of the doctor visits, from every two weeks to every other month.
He did receive good news from his last x-ray the day prior to our chat. “They said I had complete bone regeneration and you can still see where it’s kind of ghosty in the middle, there’s bone there and you can see how it’s brightening up, it’s lightening compared to the x-ray six weeks ago so there’s complete bone.” he said. “It’s opaque on x-ray so it’s a good thing that you have the plate in there but everything is going, as it should be, at a very, very slow rate. This is honestly the first good news I’ve had in months.”
The reality of bike racing is that it involves crashes, a reality that he well aware of. “It’s going to happen. Honestly, there is the shit luck of bike racing that got me in the first place. It was no one’s fault, I’m still not upset about the fact that I crashed, I’m upset about everything that happened afterwards and certainly has been trying. It’s one of those things that happens, driving down the street you get in a big car wreck, you can do everything safely and someone comes out the side that you don’t even see. You’ll never leave the house if you think about life that way, you can think about I could trip and fall and hit my head on the pavement just walking down the street, I could get shot in a drive by, I could get hit by a car on my bike just training.”
Jacques-Maynes continued after a pause. “Honestly, I’ve already sat around my house for long enough, I need to go live my life. I’ve weighed that stuff and that was a big part of the do I want to keep up this bike racing stuff. That was a big component of my thought process, can I really deal with crashing again? And I think honestly, I need to go have an easy tumble, it’s going to be like this breakthrough thing, tip over in a big pile-up, I’m going to jump up, have a big oooh but I’m fine, I made it, it’s an irrational fear that I know I have, that everyone has after they crash, that just slowly fades.”
After four days at training camp, Jacques-Maynes raced at the Merco Cycling Classic, the four-day Northern California stage race in Merced. He finished eighth in the time trial, helped his teammate Paddy Bevin get the overall win and throughout it all did not crash. Next on his calendar is another Northern California event, the Madera stage race this weekend.
Thank you Ben Jacques-Maynes for honestly sharing your thoughts and experiences of this very difficult past year.