More Than My Brain Injury

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

Since I got all dressed up for it, thought I would re-share a portion of my bicibits story with you and give voice to a silent epidemic. Silent because often the full impact and long term consequences that result from mild and moderate traumatic brain injury are not visible. We want to be seen and we want to be heard. We want purpose in this life. A person with a brain injury is still a person. I am more than my brain Injury.

Bike -Blog - I am more than my brain injury - Brain Injury Awareness
I Love My Brain Photo Credit: Joe Parkin. Rider: Silvana – bicibits

I am more than my brain injury. I am also what they, the neurology and brain research science community consider to be a Moderate, Closed Head, Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor. As well as a bit of a miracle for having survived what could have been fatal crash with most of my body in tact.

I prefer the title of “TBI Warrior” -yes there’s a hashtag for that ;), bicyclist, super shero, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, artist in progress, photographer, educator, spreader of ride smiles, seeker of adventure and tranquility amongst mother nature.

I decided to change “survivor” to “warrior” because it embraces my “live, love, laugh, ride & never give up” philosophy befittingly. 

Living with a brain injury is a constant daily battle of endurance and resilience, not just for me but for millions of people. It is a story of a silent war. A life completely changed in a second and lived most often unseen and unheard from the outside looking on.

I had a choice to make after being run through on my bike by a distracted driver on July 23rd 2010. I choose to engage the challenge and toss down with all my spunky might. Well, it did take a few years and the prognosis is an unpredictable life sentence. There was the amnesia, rehab, leaning to walk somewhat sober looking, staying awake, sleep disorder, PTSD, immediate and short term memory loss, brain fatigue, sorting out all the extreme visual and audio sensitivity issues, constant head and nerve pain, discombobulated cognitive processing, a couple broken bits, and figuring out who I was and who the heck was occupying the space in my head. Just a few of the details and symptoms that sit on my slipstream. 

Suffice to say there are many, and we all are affected differently depending on how, where, to what degree, and how often our heads were banged up, and what was up there to begin with such as life experiences, education, language abilities, and so forth. I had a second moderate TBI Aug 2017 a hit and run. Truck vs my bike rack. That wreck set be back years in my recovery and triggered so many of the symptoms that were clearing up and those that were being well managed. It added extreme sensitivity to light and sound and a hyper alertness that made doing anything, virtually impossible.It be are fight or flee and I had to hide for a while, it was survival; as the hit and run also gave me a new physical disability that has impeded so many of my physical activities. I was immersed in such a deep sense of grief and depression. I began to ponder if life was worth living this way. No joy, no hard belly laughs, not even tears. Just an incredibly painful yet numb experience for years. I know, you’re thinking… you’ve seen me, read my posts, seen the photos, hung out at an event or just rode along on a ride with me.

“What is she talking about?” Well we humans are pretty good at hiding the pain and heartbreak. My smile truly is sincere. I am grateful for each and everyone of you I encounter on this journey who is willing to allow a smile to shine back. Even on email or the phone, behind our covid masks, I can see, feel and hear the sparkle climb up to your eyes. That’s what has kept me rolling.

Each brain injury has different consequences, no two are the same.  

Acquired Brain Injury – one that is caused after birth where injury results in changes to the brain’s neurological activity and function and can be defined as: A Traumatic Brain Injury –TBI caused by impact of external forces.  Non Traumatic Brain Injury encompass strokes, cancer, seizures, infectious disease etc. 

No matter how one acquires the brain injury, we all share many of the same symptoms, feelings, struggles and fundamental needs. Recovery from brain injury is never a linear path. It may feel just like things are a bit off at first, adrenaline spikes keep you going, then whammy! It may be days, even months before some symptoms start creeping in, or push others aside as you climate to this new version of yourself. It is most often a long journey of hills and valleys, gnarly root descents and steep inclines. Brain Injury never really goes away. 

The stats for yearly reported brain injuries in the US is astronomical, in the millions; the percentage of bicycle related ones is approximately 600,000 [in reported hospital visit or ER visit] as last reported by the CDC in 2019 with a 21% increase in users over age 40.

That’s where bike safety and the use of helmets is fundamental.

Bicycle helmets prevent 52 to 60 percent of bike-related head injury deaths (for all ages), as well as an estimated 68 to 85 percent of nonfatal head and scalp injuries, and 65 percent of upper and middle face injuries, even when misuse is considered.

Yes, I was wearing my helmet when I was hit from the rear in 2011. It remained on my head as I went smashing through the windshield, tossed up onto the roof, and screeching to a halt, still clipped in and wrapped around what was left of my beautiful custom steel bike on the asphalt once the car finally came to a full stop. Witnesses report I removed the broken helmet and threw it at the man who ran me through before dropping back on the ground. I don’t recall much of that day, or the next 3 years, other than it was a beautiful morning, no traffic to speak of and life was grand. I was training for the Iron Horse in CO., as I left the bike path to end my ride a few blocks away at my mom’s house in Dallas, TX.  

I refer to that day as the “ Day I Did Not Die”. I celebrate each year by doing something epic no matter how big or small a feat, it is epic because I am still here and can do it. 

The reason I ride. The reason I get up each day and greet the day with fierce determination is a choice. I still road ride, as much as possible, and was up to 250-300 miles a week, and I was doing loads more mountain biking until the hit and run in 2017 which knocked me unconscious, left me with diminished brain energy, a cervical, neck and shoulder injury as well as it severely aggravated my symptoms, and added aphasia, which were beginning to subside or at least were under control and I was regaining parts of my life as I once knew it.

So if by chance or by design, we meet along this journey, I hope you understand that there is all this passion, purpose, frustration, confusion, goofiness, aspiration and much more, trying to get out all at once, and that sometimes, well, it just gets a little gnarled up in the processing and verbalizing department. Just part of the fallout when a speeding ton of metal hit this girl on a bike.

As I mentioned earlier, March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Please help bicibits and empowerMTB who have joined forces to spread awareness raise funds for We created a donor page and also an event. Dress For Brain Injury Awareness will take place March 27th Details are all over social media on both accounts and you can always drop in and send me a note if you have questions.

Now let us try to keep all you humans on wheels as safe as possible out there.

Here are some great reasons to ride and how to help avoid a traumatic brain injury while doing so.

We all know that cycling is a great multi tool for your health; a form of exercise that lowers your risk of heat disease, stroke, some forms of cancer, diabetes to name a few. It’s also a fun way to improve your mental and emotional health, especially if you are opting for outside vs spin class or indoor trainers. You are also contributing to local cleaner air  quality if you choose to commute by bike, and helping the environment globally by reducing pollution on so many levels.

Let’s start with the fact that road and path bicycling is not necessarily a dangerous activity, more people are injured or die walking, using stairs, or getting out of their bathtubs each year. But there is still a huge deterrent caused by fear of road traffic. Believe me I get it. But understanding how to stay safe is empowering, and will give you loads of confidence to pedal on.

This list is not exhaustive of bicycle safety and you should checkout your local laws and regulations as well as become familiar with local municipalities and their protected or marked cycling routes.

Also a great idea is to visit your local bike shop and make sure you are properly fitted to your bicycle and they most probably can steer you in the right direction to get started on the road or connect you to local bicycling groups of all levels.

  • Always give your bike a checkup before going out on a ride. I like to think of it as a “W” or “M” check. Make sure all parts are snug and secure from the wheels up, through the center, brakes and levers and that you have good tire pressure for the conditions you will be riding
  • Wear your lid! -Bike lingo for helmet. Reduce the the risk of head and facial injuries if you should fall
  • Always be on the right side of the law, learn your local rules of the road. You are a vehicle on a bike
  • Always presume that drivers are not paying attention- especially in this age of electronics
  • Always be aware of your weather and street conditions as much as possible, such as potholes, gravel, debris, ice patches, tree limbs etc, and if riding in a group please call attention to hazardous spots or conditions giving as much time for maneuverability around such situations.
  • Keep an eye out for vehicles pulling out of driveways and parking lots
  • Keep an eye out for parked car doors opening street side
  • Keep to the right lane, but not so close to the curb that you can not avoid debris. I prefer to take the whole lane, meaning riding center in my lane especially on bike lane marked streets and streets of 2 or more lanes. On single lane roads this the Primary Position on center of road, making you more visible and hopefully avoiding cars from squeezing into your lane or over taking you on curves.
  • Always make your intentions clear to other riders, pedestrians and vehicles when stopping, turning or changing lanes. Use hand signals which you can practice on quiet roads or bike paths if you are not comfortable letting go of your handle bars.
  • Always check behind you before turning or pulling out of you lane
  • Always be courteous on bike paths and on the road, calling out “Passing”, or “On your left” or “Bike Up” in a group so no one passes you while oncoming bicyclists and be alert for anything
  • Make eye contact with drivers and pedestrians, especially at intersections. If you get no reaction, assume you have not been seen and  proceed with caution
  • Being seen is crucial. Hi Viz [visibility] apparel helps but has not proven to avoid collation. I am proof of that. But it can’t hurt
  • Use lights, white in front, red on rear – I use one on my helmet, one on seat post, sometimes on ankles and thanks to a wonderful friend I use a rear radar from Garmin Cycling that alerts me to oncoming traffic as well as all my stats and routes. Even reminds me to drink and eat at timed intervals. 
  • When using blinking lights it is preferable to have them on different blink cycles. Makes you stand out more and drivers are therefore alerted more easily and will not get that hypnotic follow the light condition. 
  • Ride in pairs or groups, especially if still learning. But please make sure to keep maneuverability and braking distance from your
  • bike buddies.
  • Helmet Care  No, do not put it in the dish washer. Practically every bicycle helmet comes with instructions for care and cleaning. 
  • Please follow the manufactures directions as they are the best source for their product’s materials and usage. The most standard procedure is very mild soap, a bucket of water or sink and a soft sponge. You can let it soak a while but not for hours. Rinse well and air dry. There are specific cleaning and odor eliminating products for helmets. Some are spray and foam and are not expensive. Available on line and in some bike shops as well as Bell motorcycle helmets.
  • Taking care of your helmet is a must. Or why bother to wear it? At the low cost of sporting helmet hair, it’s a worthwhile investment for you head and face. Aside from the the safety it provides, there are plenty of reasons to wear a helmet; especially being a good role model for younger bicyclists who often are resistant to wearing helmets, and parents. Seriously, who will take care of your kids when you are lying in the ICU with head trauma or a fractured jaw. I often see a family out riding and hand out stickers to the kiddos with helmets on. Then just have to bite my lip when mom and dad are not wearing their lids.
  • No two skulls are the same so here’s how a bike helmet should fit:
  • The helmet should sit level on your head, just above your eyebrows, and cover your forehead.
  • The strap dividers should sit just below your ear lobes.
  • The chin strap should be snug enough to only squeeze two fingers between your chin and the strap.
  • Helmets come with features to improve the fit of yours. They vary by type of helmet, but often include a fit system for height, fit system for circumference, and strap dividers under the ears and chin strap. Before you pop your skull protector on see what adjustments can be made to get the most secure and comfortable fit.
  • Keep your helmet in a dry and dark place for storage. I know you’re out riding in the sun, but leaving it bake in the rays will breakdown the materials as well as bug spray. Do Not use deet products on your helmet. Instant ruin.
  • I am often asked if painting or decals effect helmet material integrity. My recommendations are to follow the manufacturer’s specific instructions regarding paints. Most common stickers and decal are not generally harmful to the performance of the skull protector. As well with cameras that are adhered, please follow all directions set my the manufacture of the helmet and the camera for safety. 
  • If you have a new helmet and you have fallen and crashed while wearing it, it’s time to replace it. Sorry. A big truth, even if you just got it.
  • Helmets are designed to absorb shock by partially destroying the shell and liner, often you will not see the damage. If you’ve hit hard or dropped it heavily it’s time for a new lid. 
  • You should probably replace your helmet even if it hasn’t been in an accident or it’s approximately three years old. 
  • Helmets have a limited life span and easier to replace than your brain or it’s protective skull.

These are some of the most basic and important safety measures you can take. I hope you do and enjoy your ride with more confidence and joy.

bicibits is a bicycle lifestyle apparel, jewelry, and art woman rider owned small business on a mission to get your ride smile on.

bicibits sponsors, volunteers and donates to various groups locally and nationally, that promote life on bikes, teaching women to ride and become instructors programs, safe streets and trails initiatives, athletes with disabilities advocacy programs, and bicibits also volunteers at community events and supports brain injury survivor programs.

My motto: Pedal on! 

There is always a way, even if it’s one small pedal push at a time to continue moving forward.

As always with much fierceness and love ~ Silvana