Dealing with a Concussion and Making a Comeback with Adam Roberge

26 Jan
10 MIN

Last season, Jukebox's Adam Roberge had big plans: He was in the Lifetime Grand Prix Series, he was going for the Belgian Waffle Ride Quadruple Crown and he had a full schedule of racing and travel planned. It started smooth with Sea Otter, but then, he headed back to Canada for a semi-local classic gravel race, Paris to Ancaster. During the race, he had a bad crash in the final few kilometers that didn't just mean losing the race, it jeopardized his entire season. In the crash, Adam hit his head, losing consciousness momentarily and remaining woozy for hours afterwards. He was diagnosed with a concussion, and his big question was: When can I race again? Concussions, he learned, are complicated injuries with a lot of 'gray area' in the recovery process. Here, he talks about his struggle:

After the crash at Paris to Ancaster, what did you do?

I took one week off from riding entirely, and tried to stay as relaxed as possible. After that, my doctor just told me to go by feel. He said if I ever had a problem with my eyes or a headache or stuff like that, I need to stop. But he wanted me to still try to keep training, just do it slowly.

That's different than previous concussion protocols, isn't it?

Yes–-it's the new way to deal with concussions. It used to be that you couldn't do anything for a certain amount of time, but now it's really about symptoms. So if you don't have symptoms, you're good.

What was the scariest part about your concussion?

It was definitely scary how  bad the retrograde amnesia was. It's not uncommon, but it was still really uncomfortable. Retrograde amnesia is when you lost consciousness and you wake up but you can't remember everything. For me, I found out that after my crash, I was on the ground for 10 minutes, but I don't know if I was  unconscious the whole time. And after that, I was only a couple kilometers from the finish line, and I rode and walked my bike to the finish, but I don't remember. Apparently, I talked with people on my way, and was just explaining my crash and repeating. I just have flashes of that, I don't really remember doing it. I start really remembering what happened fro the time I was on my way to the hospital.

So how did the comeback look?

I started with low intensity, really slowly. But I had a race planed in Texas, the Red Bull Rio Grande. And I already had planned to go with another guy from Quebec, so I was like, 'I might as well just go and we'll see what happens.' Training had been going well to that point. But at that race, I  had to make the call to drop out after one lap. My head was just not perfect. My eyes were having trouble. So I was  worried. It made me realize that acing and training are not the same, even if you're training at the intensity you would race at. There's so much more happening in racing. I realized that the density of the pack, the focus keeping track of everyone, was just a lot for my eyes and head. So I was worried about what that would mean for the rest of the season. After that race, I trained easy the rest of the week. We had Gravel Locos the next weekend, and I hesitated to take that start, but finally I did. Things went super well for the first chunk of the race, and I was in a good group. Late in the race, I started again to have a headache. But we were such a small lead group that I just didn't have the discipline to to pull out. And at the end, I was not feeling very good. Looking back, I still don't know if I should have pulled out.

Can you tell when it's more of a concussion-related headache versus just a regular headache or something like dehydration?

To some extent I can, but it's hard to make that call during a race. I would say the big difference for me is really when I see that my eyes are tightening, where I'm really working hard to keep things in focus. That's usually how a concussion-related headache feels. It's really like fight happening in my head. It takes a bit more time to regain focus. I'm sure that in that lead group, the guys would say that I was less smooth, even though I was trying to stay smooth. It's not a super big headache that you cannot tolerate, though. It's a subtle pain, but that makes it harder to quit a race because you absolutely can keep riding.

Did you take any time off of screens while you were recovering?

I did during that first week post-crash. I definitely took a while before I got back to doing things like editing videos! I was actually riding before I was willing to try that since it takes so much eye strain. I took that time to walk and cook more and do things like that around the house. Then, when I did go back to the computer, I tried to be careful about it and to get back to it gradually.

After Gravel Locos, would you say you recovered?

After that, I did skip a couple of races, and it wasn't until Unbound that I started really feeling like I was back to myself. Even then, I wasn't 100 percent, but I was back at a level where I was very confident and felt like the race went well. Maybe it wasn't the perfect result. But in terms of how I race, it went well. So I think I learned that sometimes, it just takes longer to recover from something like that than I would prefer.