In a series of blogs with Dave Bowes, a Team GB paraclimber sponsored by Birchall Blackburn Law, we follow his fight back to fitness after a shoulder injury and gain insight into how his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) impacts on his aim to be ready for the Paraclimbing World Championships this September.
Dave suffered multiple brain injuries as a result of a road traffic accident in 2007, which left him with a neurological disability. He refused to let the injuries stop him from climbing. He has since become British Paraclimbing Champion, ranked second in Europe and fourth in the World, and even earned a place on the able bodied GB Ice Climbing Team.
His achievements are incredible when you know that his brain injuries left him with permanent symptoms of concussion, no sense of balance, a sleep disorder, over sensitive hearing, migraines, depression and a complete change of personality.
We caught up with Dave again about four months after his operation to repair an Anterior Bankart Lesion (ABL) – a shoulder muscle tear – he sustained during the finals of a national ice climbing competition.
After a serious setback during his earlier rehabilitation stages, it was good to see that Dave was making good progress every day and feeling stronger. The icing on the cake was news that he was back on the climbing wall.
Dave said: “Easter weekend was a big breakthrough. I progressed from hand walks and half press-ups to touching my nose to the ground while doing a full press-up. I worked three days over the weekend and then took three days off. Yesterday was my first day back climbing, which is highly ill-advised unless you’re a climber and have the advice of a specialist physio. I was told by the surgeon not to go anywhere near a climbing wall for at least eight weeks after the operation but it was day 28! It felt fine and was great.
“I worked out the angle of weakness and did not put my arm out further than that. Also, I only kept to 40 per cent load, which means that you keep your hands close to your sides or against your pec when you lift. That keeps your centre of gravity close to the body. It was a very calculated assessment and I was able to climb some harder grades than I expected.”
A typical trait of a brain injury survivor is that there is no halfway point; it’s either all or nothing. Physiologically, holding back is one of Dave’s biggest challenges during his shoulder’s rehabilitation. His brain tells him he can continue pushing the repaired shoulder, when physically it is not yet strong enough. Dave has developed techniques to help him keep to a sensible training schedule.
Dave says: “I almost have to think: ‘Don’t be Dave’. My whole life has been invested in climbing. Whenever I’ve gone back to climbing after an injury I’ve never eased back into it – I just can’t wait to get back to the fun and challenging stuff – and with the TBI that desire to put everything into getting there quicker is even stronger. After the crash, it’s all or nothing. Do or die. So, it’s double the danger of ripping my shoulder again and missing the Paraclimbing World Championships in September.”
To stop him from pushing his shoulder too far, Dave uses a routine and approach inspired by the climber and bouldering machine, Jan Hojer. Dave stretches every day but does not do a daily exercise routine. Instead he works on strengthening his shoulder every other day with ground level exercises, such as press-ups, the plank and walking on his hands. Dave knows that he could probably do the strength exercises every day but by sticking to the rest day routine he gives his muscles the time to heal and rebuild after each session.
He says: “I don’t want that stress on my shoulder to hinder me and so I’ve stuck deliberately to a slower progression. It is a very small set of muscles I have to work on and I don’t want to attack them every day. You know that if you’re an experienced gym member, you have leg, arm and chest days and don’t continually do the same muscles.
“To be the best you don’t have to train every day for five hours. Some guys can do it but they’re usually superhuman and 19-years-old. Jan Hojer trains three times a week but at a very intense level for several hours. The rest days then give his body time to recover. Jan is one of the strongest climbers and regularly stands on the podium using that routine, so I’m more than happy to go with that! Due to my fatigue and only recently starting training again, I can train three times a week but for three-hour sessions and give my shoulder the rest days. As my fitness improves I intend to increase the sessions to five times a week with four to five-hour sessions.”
Dave says: “Since my accident I’ve been told not to over think and over analyse things. It’s a common TBI trait that the mind becomes obsessed with every detail and worry, but my shoulder rehabilitation is exactly the time to be over critical and analytical.
“As a result I’ve done so much research and must have read 10 published medical papers on muscle lesion, repair, timelines and recovery by surgeons, sports injury therapists and physios. I’ve obsessed about the maximum angles and ranges I can push my shoulder and carefully listened to every twinge and ache. It has meant that at day 20, I was at the equivalent of week 20 along the rehabilitation process.”
Dave’s Sports Injury Therapist, Phil MacDonald, agrees and says: “Considering Dave went under the knife just a few weeks ago, his progress is remarkable. He recovered near full range of movement early on in his rehab, and the shoulder strength is coming on in leaps and bounds.
“I’d definitely put this down to his attitude – rarely have I seen someone so determined to get back to fitness, and so disciplined in pushing himself, but within safe boundaries. Dave’s got a pile of exercises to be getting on with, as well as climbing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much he’s progressed the next time we meet!”
If you want to read more about Dave’s journey back to the World Championships, from a climber’s physical point of view, then we recommend checking out Allcord’s blog HERE…
Keep watching our @BBalwaysthere Twitter feed to catch the next blog from Dave and what happened to his shoulder after pushing himself too far…