Michael Troy describes the joy of the broken collarbone and learning to become ambidextrous with toilet paper

Like I said before, you get the best headlines on crankpunk! Sarvesh, this one is for you…

Many thanks to my friend Michael Troy for this one. Classic.

Cheers Mike!


The Clavicle Diaries, by Michael Troy



T’was the end of a long road season, 2009 to be exact. My coach, good friend and mountain bike nut Mark Fenner suggested for something different to come out and try the dirt. I consider myself a pure roadie, or definitely did back then, but jumped at the idea.

So using my collective resources as a bike mechanic, I borrowed a bike, got cheap shoes and pedals and threw myself at the world of dirt, suspension and knobbly tyres. No experience, hadn’t even done a lap of the course and was standing on the start line. Plenty of road fitness and no off road experience.

Gun goes off, straight up a fire road climb, I’m gunning it and loving it. Red mist descends. It’s a race!

Second into the turn, and oh wait, shit. Cornering. Rear wheel drift, lose surface. What am I supposed to do here! I’m a bit at sea here…

Ah well I’ll go full tilt in the straights and just hit the anchors and go around the corners slower than a granny with a Zimmer frame…

So three quarters of a lap around, maybe 10 minutes in, I’ve been passed by nearly everyone as there were many more corners the straights and I’ve been pin balling off trees and rocks and say to myself “right, time to slow down or you’ll hurt yourself”. So I slowed down, and came a cropper. Went straight over the handlebars through a little dip and laying on the ground with my borrowed bike somehow on top of me I knew straight away I’d done my collar bone.

No strength through the right arm, sore but not excruciating. Straight away in that tell-tale position of my right hand to my left shoulder nursing it. My friend drove me into town, he’s a physio, and has had more broken collar bones himself then fingers on one hand…

Go to the hospital, X-Ray (the most painful part of the ordeal – “Could you please just push your should back against the plate…” Grind, crunch – “Ouch!”). Yes, broken. Nothing too bad apparently according to the X-Ray.

See the orthapedic surgeon, and surgery booked for Monday (it was Saturday). Monday comes around, no sleep, difficult to wash, wipe my arse, or do anything really. Surgery in and out. Easy. Surgeon comes around later, explains that what looked like a simple fracture on the X-ray was instead 6 breaks and 7 pieces of collar bone floating around in my shoulder area.

So 2 inches of titanium and 10 screws are now holding it in position. 4 weeks minimum off the bike, he would prefer 6. No heavy lifting, actually no lifting at all. Sling for 4 weeks. Best to sleep in the sling too he says. Help keep it in place and stop you flapping about he says.



So now comes the bit where I go stir crazy. No exercise, no bike riding for six weeks!!! Like a caged lion, pacing in his den. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. I drive everyone around me around the twist with my craziness. It was close to turning me to drink. Only thing is back then I didn’t even drink (don’t worry I’ve seen the light now!). So sleep is pretty rubbish. Can never get properly comfortable. I do find out that the surgeons idea of sleeping in a sling is a good idea, I just wish I followed it.

I wake up one night after some bizarre dream with a jolt and am swinging my arm around. Jesus wept! The pain! So 3 weeks go past. I can’t lift any of my university text books, still can’t get enough movement to wipe my arse with my right hand, so I’ve had to learn to be ambidextrous for that and other tasks.


High with pain killers, which as a side effect of most of the good ones is constipation, makes me need to strain that bit harder which adds to the pain. Right, I’ve cracked it. 3 weeks, no riding. That’s enough. Let’s get on the trainer. More pain. Trying to lift and move a turbo trainer, then set a bike in. The agony. Sweet baby Jebus…

Finally on the bike, and the boredom! Not winning here at all. Right so 4 weeks (well nearly 4 weeks, more like 3 1/2 , or really just over 3 weeks post surgery), f&ck it. Getting back on the road.

I’ve had my arm out of the sling now a week (and a bit), ok 2 weeks (pharmacists [Michael is one of these] and all health care professionals make terrible patients). I think let’s be pro, so I double wrap my bars, thick and cushy. Get out on the road. Such a bad idea. Such a bad experience.

Every ripple in the road feels like the Forrest of Arenberg and its cobbles. I’m super skittish around traffic, like a wayward mare, for fear of getting knocked off (never have been hit by a car, but the fear was there) and destroying my shoulder (since that plate, with 10 really small screws holding my jigsaw puzzle clavicle together goes right from the tip of my shoulder to my sternum. If I crashed I think my shoulder and it’s structure would be done and dusted!)


Anyway, so I have zero fitness. Can’t get out of the saddle (oh yeah that hurts too much too). It took ages for some resemblance of strength to return (as much strength as road cyclist can every say they have in their upper body). Range of movement was pretty bad too for a very long time. Lots of stretching kinda helped, my massage therapist gained lots of joy from poking and prodding to help free it up.

I think as a consequence of the plate in the shoulder and connective tissue running over it, it would tighten up and become all gnarly and nasty very quickly. Using ruck-sacks was never a joyful experience with the plate in place. The shoulder strap would rub right across the skin and the scar and the plate. So commuting to work was not enjoyable, the saving grace was that it wasn’t a long ride. Call it what you will. But I cannot clean anymore (with my right arm… and it isn’t something that I particularly want to become ambidextrous in…).

The circular scrubbing motion or vacuum cleaning is awful. So after gaining some resemblance of strength, and movement in the shoulder, (oh and bike fitness), there was always a nagging fear in my mind of crashing again on that right side. There would be nothing there for another plate or any room for my orthopaedic surgeon to fiddle with. So 2 and a bit years after getting the closest that I have come to owing a titanium bike, I went under the knife again, with the same surgeon who got the electric drill going and removed each of the ten screws and my titanium downtube from my shoulder.

Through some more rehab again, thankfully things improved much quicker than the first time around. I could wear ruck-sacks again (once the scar had healed). There wasn’t the grabbing catching sensation when I was moving my arm around like I used to get. Where I could feel it catch half way through a tennis swing, or when bowling a cricket ball. Unfortunately my ability to clean didn’t return (for good or for bad…) and I do actually mean that. It is a really uncomfortable, even slightly painful motion when you have the outward pressure of scrubbing or vacuuming.

My right shoulder sits quite a bit lower then my unbroken left shoulder. I have a really good scar running across my collarbone. They always say ‘Chicks dig scars’ – thank goodness as I make quiet a good patchwork quilt of scars.

I was always scared of returning to the scene of my accident, or really any non-paved riding adventures, but was finally convinced into re-trying the dirt. This time, no racing. Just riding in the forest. Learning to corner, brake (not break). Basically to re-learn to ride a bike. Actually I would consider myself more than a novice these days. Actually, while sick for over a year, mountain biking was a great escape.

At a time when I had zero fitness, I couldn’t pedal fast, and I learnt to go around a corner, had mounds of fun all while not putting much physical strain on my body. Going for a cruisy mountain bike ride is a lot more fun than a 30 minute road ride at 24km/h in boring countryside!

I still do dabble with it. It makes for a good adventure and even recovery ride.

Michael Troy
Michael Troy

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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