At 20, bicycle motocross (BMX) rider Tory Nyhaug had some tough, life decisions to make.
In a crash at a World Cup event on an unforgiving track in the Netherlands last May, Nyhaug crashed hard and ruptured his spleen – for the second time in two years.
His first ruptured spleen came two years ago during a race, and it caused him to miss the world championship. Now he had suffered the same injury again in the final run-up to the 2012 Olympics in London.
He had to ask himself: Should he keep the troublesome spleen for quality of life in the future? Or should he have it removed surgically, so that he could make it to the Games?
He chose to have it removed, exactly three weeks after the May 13 injury.
On Wednesday, the 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C., was nominated to the Olympic team, the only Canadian BMX racer who will go to London.
Had he kept the spleen, he would have had to feel like he was walking on glass for months. He could reinjure it again while swimming or hiking. But Nyhaug is an active sort, and that plan just didn’t fit the bill.
The first time he had ruptured his spleen, he kept it and recovered well. But it was a different story this time. “My crash was pretty bad,” he said Wednesday. “I blew it up pretty bad.”
The choices? How would it affect his readiness for the Olympics, for the rest of his career, for the rest of his life? “I didn’t want to wreck my life for one race,” he said.
Doctors told him the spleen was one organ a person could live without. Before his surgery, he had three vaccinations to boost his immunity, and he’ll have to do it again every five years. If he’s sick, he’ll have to seek medical help. For now, he says he’s 100-per-cent healthy and he’s busy fine-tuning his skills and fitness for the Games. He’s confident, so he thinks he’ll be ready come Aug. 8 when the time trial goes.
The hardest part of his recovery, Nyhaug said, was not knowing if he would be able to go to the Olympics. “The negatives were just so overwhelming sometimes that you kind of get lost in it,” he said.
But his supporters remained positive, he said, and a week after surgery, Nyhaug was back on the bike.
Mind you, that didn’t mean he was ripping up a track, flying off ramps. He scaled back his cycling to a stationery bike, for just 20 to 30 minutes at a time. He had to be careful not to overwork his system, particularly since he had just come off a month of bed rest.
He began integrating BMX-specific training into his program, and now he’s working at getting some of his power back on the bike and in the gym.
“At first, nobody really expected anything,” coach Pierre-Henri Sauze said. “We just waited for the doctor. Nobody knew if he was going to be able to go to the Olympics.”
Nyhaug hadn’t really been pointed to this Olympics. He’d been earmarked for 2016, but his rise through the ranks so quickly had propelled him to London. This is just his second season as an elite rider.
BMX national coach Adam Muys said the Canadian Cycling Association had three athletes in the pool. Had Nyhaug been unable to go, another Canadian would have filled the spot that Nyhaug earned. “But we were pretty confident that he would be able to go,” he said.
Muys, who has known Nyhaug for 10 years, said the young biker excelled because he adapted so readily to World Cup tracks, which helped propel him faster in the elite ranks than anyone expected.
Now his adaptability to an injury is sending him to an Olympics. And if Canada won no medals in cycling at the last Olympics, Nyhaug is one athlete who may be able to change that.