Dirty Kanza – Bike Race or Vision Quest?

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into for Dirty Kanza. I knew the race was on gravel roads – I had a gravel bike. I knew the race was 200 miles – I had done a 150 mile training ride. I knew the race had 11,000 feet of climbing – I had done that before in training. I knew how to eat and fuel well for long distances – I am a professional endurance athlete after all. My team at Skratch Labs had even put me through an accelerated bike program, teaching me about everything from saddle sore prevention to bike handling skills, drafting, and nutrition. I thought I was prepared, but honestly, Dirty Kanza was nothing I could have prepared for.




I say this in the most positive way, because a 200-mile race isn’t just a race. It’s a journey. It’s a vision quest. It’s a deliberate decision to keep pushing into the unknown and finding out if you have what it takes to finish it, no matter what problems are thrown your way. I had an incredible team helping me along the way. Allen Lim, co-founder of Skratch Labs and Urielle Carlson, a nutritionist, helped me with all the fueling leading up to race day and during the big event. They made me a healthy dinner the night before and kept me going with rice cakes (from Allen’s “Feed Zone Portables”), Skratch Labs Energy Chews, Sports Hydration Mix, and Anytime Energy Bars. Throughout the entire 200 miles I consumed 4 packs of Energy Chews (all Matcha flavored!) 1 Anytime Bar, 9 rice cake portables and I drank 12 bottles (6 of which had Hydration Mix and the other 6 were just plain water).  All of this fuel kept me happy and smiling all day. I kept my energy even all day and didn’t suffer from any extreme energy bonk. I had fun out there, even though it was the most technical bike ride I have ever been on.





Photo credit: Greg Erwin


Now, nutrition can easily get messed up in a race, you can easily fall behind or forget to fuel if you are in a low spot – but it was one of the few things I was actually prepared for in Dirty Kanza. I had practiced nutrition many times while running mountain races for hours on end, so I knew how to fuel, however I wasn’t prepared to fuel on such a technical course where I couldn’t take my hands off the bike – because I didn’t want to crash! So, I had to be strategic and take advantage of flat sections or aid stations to make sure I stayed on top of everything.


Photo credit: Greg Erwin


That brings me to my next experience of Dirty Kanza, how extremely technical and steep it was! The gravel roads in Kansas are nothing like the ones I trained on in Colorado. In Kansas the roads are more like crushed rock than gravel. They are sharp rocks, sometimes pretty big rocks in fact. There were nice-looking sections of gravel roads, but when you were on them with your bike, even those sections were rough, so riders had to find their way to the side of the road where it was a bit smother and less chunky. There were also some extremely rugged and infrequently traveled tractor roads that we had to navigate, with deep ruts (about a foot deep), river crossings, holes, loose, squirrely gravel and more chunks of rock. There were mountain bikes and fat bikes doing this race too, and it seemed like everyone was getting flat tires. I had 38 mm tires on my bike and at times, I felt like they were too skinny. But, even with my limited bike handling experience, remember this was my very first bike race, and I had only been riding gravel for 2 months – somehow, I found a way to get through the technical terrain. I kept telling myself to ‘be loose’ to ‘relax’ and, most importantly I told myself to ‘keep breathing.’



Photo credit: Greg Erwin


The most important part of this bike race for me was to have fun. I didn’t want to injure myself (that’s how I started riding in the first place) or to hate riding bikes at the end of the event. I wanted to enjoy it, to learn and to challenge myself in a new way. Dirty Kanza had an incredible community. In many ways, the gravel bike community reminded me of the ultra-running community. Everyone was so encouraging, helpful and excited for the event. The whole town of Emporia came out to support the event and every aid station or checkpoint I came through; the people were electric. It was impossible to quit when there was so much energy around me. I even got a flat tire during the race (again, the rocks were brutal) and I got the chance to change my first flat, ever – putting in a tire boot to repair the slash, then throwing in a tube to hold the pressure. It held too, for the remainder of the race.




I learned so much about bikes during the Dirty Kanza. But I also learned so much about myself. I was reminded of the power of the human spirit and the ability to surpass limits – limits you put on yourself, and those that can be overcome if you’re willing to try your best no matter the outcome. I learned to push outside my comfort zone and to keep showing up in uncomfortable situations and give it my best effort. There’s beauty in trying something new, something scary and something challenging. It’s through these opportunities when you figure out what you’re made of, and it’s one of the most satisfying experiences to finish something you didn’t know you could do. Dirty Kanza was my first bike race, and it was so much more than a race. It was an experience; one I hope to have many more of – through racing bikes, running or trying something new that challenges me, forcing me to bring out my best and to teach me what I’m capable of. I encourage you to search for those experiences that do the same.



Photo credit: Greg Erwin


Finding the Balance: An Ultra Runner on a Gravel Bike

Ultra running can be time consuming. It requires a lot of time to train in the mountains, a lot of time to recover, stretch, rest, eat . . . always eat. You can get caught in a cycle of doing too much or thinking you must train crazy hours on the trail to be successful in a race. While I agree, running is the most specific way to train for a running race, there is a point of  diminishing return, when there’s too much running and not enough recovery (or playfulness, in my opinion). I was definitely in danger of becoming consumed with only running, and stressing about needing to run and train all the time. But, that all change back in 2017 when I nearly died, falling off a cliff during a race, and was faced with the harsh reality of injury and that running might never happen again. It was during my recovery from those injuries that I discovered gravel bike riding.


Photo: Emma Ziobrzynski

I started riding as a way to recover, as a way to explore the mountains, to get outside and to move my body. I didn’t ride very long or very far, I think I did a ride once that was 3 hours long—max. It was for the enjoyment. It helped me to fall in love again with being outside and to regain fitness and return to running. Once I started running and competing again, I still used cycling as a way to cross train. I found it beneficial to my running and overall strength. In fact, my coach Adam St. Pierre, encouraged me to keep riding my bike and saw it a fun addition to my training, my fitness with the added benefit of not get overly concerned about only running.




I’m really thankful I had at least started to cycle when this winter, a slip on the ice and an ankle twist caused me to break my ankle. I was faced with another surgery, another recovery, and I had to cancel my early season running races.

Of course, I was devastated, having to move forward from another injury. The thought of having to start over again felt overwhelming. I turned to my team of physiotherapists at REVO Physiotherapy and Sports Performance, a group that’s put me back together so many times that they’ve basically become family. That’s when I met Joe Lewis, a retired professional cyclist, a coach at REVO and the founder of First Wheel Coaching. Along with my PT team, and coach Adam, Joe encouraged me to get on a bike as soon as possible so I could prevent further loss of fitness. So, as soon as my doctors cleared me for partial weight bearing, I brought my bike into the gym.


Photo: Jenni Lewis

Joe helped me set it up on a trainer, and I started riding. At first, I rode with a normal shoe and a flat pedal for my injured leg. I couldn’t even push all the way through with that ankle, but eventually I progressed to being clipped in and started to push myself. Joe monitored my progress, provided modifications and helped me increase the quality of my workouts by raising my Functional Threshold Power (FTP—basically a metric in cycling measuring your threshold, or the amount of work you can do in an hour, all out).


I saw progress more quickly than I would’ve thought possible, and was relieved to feel like I wasn’t losing fitness during recovery. I was really starting to enjoy cycling and was learning a lot, not just about the sport, but also about myself as an athlete (see my other blog post, Getting Out of my Comfort Zone, and how I started from scratch with a new sport).


Not long after being cleared to ride a bike outside, I got a call from my good friend Allen Lim over at Skratch Labs. He had an entry into a gravel bike race for me. And it wasn’t just any gravel bike race, it was THE gravel bike race: the Dirty Kanza, a 200-mile gravel grinding bike race. The idea of doing 200 miles on a bike, something I’ve never done before, really scared me. I didn’t know if I could even do it, especially coming off of an injury. But, that was the beauty of it; it was intimidating and challenging, but it motivated me. I told Allen I was in.

The next day, as I was sweating it out on the bike trainer, I told Joe about the race. He had a big grin on his face as he said, “Well, I guess we’ve got a lot of work to do.” He was all-in and ready to help me tackle my biggest challenge yet: racing the Dirty Kanza.


Joe wrote me a program prescribing different workouts and longer rides. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we’d meet up at the gym for cycling workouts, and Joe was there to push me and walk me through what would come next. I think during every cycling workout so far, I’ve looked at Joe with my wide eyes and said, “I don’t know if I can do this!” But, as usual, he just shakes his head and tells me, “You’re stronger than you think you are. You can definitely do this.”


I’d end the day smiling, tired and proud to have another hard day of cycling under my belt. With his help, I learned how to train for two sports at once. This was important because I wanted to get back to running as well, so Adam and Joe worked together to help me increase my running volume as I was coming back from my ankle injury, while training for the bike race. It was a lot of work, but the process has been so much fun.


My cycling ability has improved an incredible amount while working with Joe. He made training as a cyclist accessible, pushed me harder than I thought I could go and helped renew my optimism for my future as an athlete by optimizing my recovery. Even more than that, he’s given me a new excitement for cycling. So much so that I even signed up for another gravel bike race—a stage race! Who knows, maybe I’ll end up balancing racing on my gravel bike and ultra running in my future seasons.

With Dirty Kanza and my stage race still ahead of me, I look back on this process and appreciate how far I’ve come. Cycling is more than just a means to an end or a bridge to recovery. It’s a challenge in and of itself, and one that I’m enjoying and embracing fully. But, most importantly, it has led me to a new community, one that’s always there to help me up when I’m down and willing to create new paths to success and recovery.


If you’re looking to get into cycling and don’t know where to start, or you want to learn how to race or use riding for recovery, look up Joe and First Wheel Coaching. Not only has he changed my perspective and helped me to get back to doing what I love, he’s also helped me uncover a new love for cycling that I’ll carry with me throughout my athletic career.

What’s The Best Way To Recover?

One of the hardest pats of recovery is learning to trust your body again. I’m not talking about the physical aspect of recovery . . . learning to run again or gaining fitness. I’m talking about trust. Really trusting in my body and the movements it makes.


The human body and it’s complexity fascinates me! Especially how the nervous system works. Our nervous system is closely integrated with our motion, constantly inputting sensory data as we move through the world. This is true when we are running or playing a sport, it’s all connected – nothing is independent, or at least, each independent system requires the other to gain importance.


I learned this through my first injury. I had a major ligament injury in my foot. A ligament rupture in the arch. I had surgery and hardware placed (then removed). There was a lot of damage. The recovery was long and slow, but eventually the pain went away and I was able to get back to walking and then running. But there were still certain limitations to the movement of my foot.


Technically, my foot was healed. I was cleared by my PT and my doctor to start running. But there would be days, I would inexplicably feel uncertain and weak on my right foot. I was constantly worried about it, hyper aware if it was hurting, if it was swollen or was getting injured again. I had built an association of pain and hesitance in my foot, even though it was no longer injured.  This neuro-connection lead my body to start favoring it.


My good friend, Levi Younger, reached out to me and told me about this technique called Rolfing and we began working together. We worked on structural integration with manual manipulation of the injury site, but the most important aspect of it was talking through the emotional/mental side of the injury. We worked on associating new movements in a positive, safe environment so that my body learned to trust in the motions it once did. This in combination with my regular physical therapy at Revo was groundbreaking. I never had considered the power of mindset when working on a physical problem – I had just assumed they were separate.


Now, you would think I would be done right? Well, that’s never true. Even though it’s been almost 2 years since breaking my back and my ribs, there were still some days when certain movements were a bit restricted. I was doing fine and trying my best to integrate everything I had learned, but then I broke my ankle and had to really focus in on recovery again.


I always think things happen for a reason because through this injury I met Travis Jones, and he told me about Eldoa. It’s a technique that aims to increase the space between joints. It can be done on any area of the body, but we started working on my broken ankle, to create space in the ankle joint, to prevent stiffness and encourage full range of motion.



The more we worked together, the more I became aware of other areas of my body that still had scare tissue from my injuries 2 years ago! Sure, I was fully recovered and my bones were healed, but why was I feeling so stuck? I felt like I had certain restrictions to the motion and no matter how much I tried my body was good at resisting these motions; it was protecting me.



Working through some of these Eldoa techniques with Travis has helped bring awareness to the movement of my body and the importance of creating space between even the smallest joint spaces. It’s changed how I think about recovery from injury – focusing more on the support network of the body and how those influence the bigger picture. It’s impressive how a shift in mental perspective integrated with the correct manual manipulation can encourage a more productive recovery process.




If you’d like to learn more about Eldoa check out @eldoatrainer and share your recovery tips with me!

Who Makes You Better?

Who makes you better? The best version on yourself?

It’s a question I often ask myself, as a way to reflect and appreciate those in my life that have brought me to where I am today.

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, and women’s history month, I’m reflecting on those that made me the woman I am today. I think the best people in your life aren’t those that are the same as you, but those that challenge you to dream, to fight and to do things you never thought possible. For me, this includes men and women. For starters, it begins with my parents.

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Both scientists, my mom and my dad never told me that I needed to play with dolls, or that I needed to behave a certain way due to my gender. They saw that I was a curious kid and encouraged me to play outside in the dirt, to move, to play sports, to explore. They saw my curious spirit and encouraged me to pursue a career in chemistry. They saw my need to explore and encouraged me to study abroad and live overseas. My mother was in the Peace Core, so she saw the value in travel and learning who you are, by living somewhere else. My father, a Ph.D. scientist, encouraged me to take a chance on running, while I was in graduate school, deciding whether or not to continue with my Ph.D  It was by their example that I have learned to be brave, to be unapologetic about my passions and deliberate with my choices. I think, being a strong woman – a strong person – requires not only strong women role models, but strong men as well. Those that don’t think you’re different due to your gender but see your attributes as a human being and push you to be the best version of yourself.


When I think about my career as a runner, I’m brought back to two people: my middle school run club coach, Jim Kruse and my good friend and mentor, J’ne Day-Lucore.


I’ll start with middle school. I was not a cool kid. Remember how much I liked to play in the dirt and explore and play outside? Well, add in some bug catching to that list and you’ll begin to get a picture of what I was like in middle school. I also really liked school, so when I wasn’t outside getting dirty, I was lost in the library with science books. My older sister was the cool kid and a great athlete at that. She would go to run club every day after school, and because I liked to run around too (although mostly just for catching bugs), my parents encouraged me to go too. That’s when I met Jim Kruse. He was the math teacher at my school and absolutely loved running. At first, I didn’t see the point of running unless you were chasing something, but with Mr. Kruse, he brought it all to life. He created community out of our little run club, meeting up on Saturdays, at 5km races that were themed, where we got to wear costumes and enjoy running together. He made running fun for me. I looked forward to going. I wasn’t very good and would get easily distracted (especially if I saw a bug), but to Mr. Kruse it didn’t matter. To him, the kid having the most fun was the best that day. I took that with me years later, when I started to run, and have never forgotten the importance of fun and playfulness.


J’ne Day – Lucore is another important person in my life. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She is the embodiment of strength, persistence, joy, and the deliberate intention to follow what you love and never apologize for being yourself. When I met J’ne it was my first run, at 5am, one cold, dark morning in graduate school. I was 24 and had no idea what I was doing. Mr. Kruse had taught me to run for fun, but J’ne and this group of women were some serious runners.


Photo: Matt Trappe

J’ne is a multiple time qualifier in the Olympic trial marathon and she held multiple records at prestigious mountain races around the US (Pikes Peak ascent and Mount Washington ascent to name a few). But, with J’ne’s encouragement, I started coming to run club 3 days a week and then 5 days a week.


J’ne coached me to my first road marathon and while training for that, she introduced me to trail running. She encouraged me to trail run and from there I tried an ultra-marathon. She taught me to problem solve and to find the positive side when things don’t go your way – in life and during a race. She maintains a contagious optimism and will to achieve throughout her life. She’s constantly pushing her limits and that’s what I learned most from J’ne, not from her accomplishments, but from her unyielding spirit; her relentless tenacity to keep pushing forward with an infectious smile, no matter what life brings.


Photo: Matt Trappe


So, I ask you, who inspires you? Who makes you better? Let’s take the time to appreciate those men and women who encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.
Because success is that much sweeter, when shared.



Move equal this march. Check out Strava’s blog to share stories of those who inspire you.




Power Your Own Adventure

This post is sponsored by the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang initiative.


Photo by Josh Uhl


Traffic drives me crazy. Literally. It’s one of those things that I will avoid at all costs. I rearrange my schedule, I ride my bike to appointments, I carpool, I even get up before sunrise to be the first one at the trailhead. But, sometimes getting in a car and being stuck in traffic is inevitable.

I’m a Colorado native, so I’ve been witness to the incredible growth of the Front Range the past decade. As someone who dislikes the extra bustling on the roads but loves to recreate outdoors and in the mountains – which I totally need a car to get to – I’ve had to get creative to avoid those traffic jams, while still getting to the places I enjoy most.

So, I got really excited when I learned about CDOT’s Bustang lines. It’s a bus service that commutes along the front range of I-25 and the I-70 mountain corridors and links major transit systems together. Right now they’re even providing extra routes to DTC from I-25 to help with commuter traffic from all the construction.


As a professional endurance athlete, I train in the mountains. I live in Boulder, CO, so the foothills are accessible from my doorstep, and for those trips I like to get to where I’m going by using the power of my body. Whether that means riding my bike to a trailhead or starting a run from my house instead of at the proper trailhead, I like to power my own adventures. But, let’s be honest, to have access to the bigger mountains, I can’t always ride my bike there, I need a car. Driving, however, takes time and energy, especially with all the new traffic on the roads. This is where Bustang comes in –  I was intrigued by the opportunities for adventures without the headache of traffic and driving.


I wanted to try out Bustang and see how reliable and easy it could be. There’s a lot of  route/trip options Ride Bustang offers, but I decided to take the South Line to Colorado Springs, one of my favorite places to trail run. But, once I got there, I didn’t want to be limited without a car, so I decided to bring my bike along on.


Riding to Denver on the bike path from Boulder

For this adventure I wanted the theme to be as ‘self-propelled’ as possible. I also had some company along the way too, because adventures are so much better with a partner! From Boulder, I wanted to ride my bike to Union Station in Denver to catch the bus. So, we packed up our bikes with a few changes of clothes, lots of warm layers, an assortment of food and running shoes.


Our packed up bikes


The ride to Denver from Boulder is a continuous bike path, and then there was less than a quarter mile of actual road to reach Union Station. I already had our Bustang tickets downloaded on my phone with the Just Ride Bustang app, so I just scanned the tickets, loaded the bikes on the rack and we were ready to go. The bus ride to Colorado Springs, even in rush hour traffic, was less than 2 hours. I was already impressed.



Once we got there, since I had my bike, transportation was simple. Our Airbnb was a short ride from downtown Colorado Springs, same with all the restaurants. So, it was pretty straightforward to get around with my bike and Google maps.

The next day was when the real fun began! I had mapped out a route to ride my bike from downtown Colorado Springs, up a gravel dirt road, to the trailhead of Mount Rosa. The peak itself, which is visible from the city, sits at 11,533 feet, but since the gravel road dead-ends at the trailhead (around 9,500 feet) we planned to lock up the bikes and go by foot from the trailhead to the top of Mount Rosa.


I wasn’t sure of the road or trail conditions, but I was pretty certain there would be some snow and ice up high – again, it was December. But, I read the road was maintained, so we thought we’d give it a try. We packed up the bikes with extra water, extra warm clothes, and lots of food – it was going to be an all-day adventure.

Photo by Josh Uhl

Going south from downtown, we headed to Cheyenne Mountain State park to find Old Stage Road. This road climbs 22 miles and 5,000 feet of steep terrain before reaching the trailhead for Mount Rosa. What’s incredible is that this road leads all the way to the summit of a neighboring peak, Mount Almagre too – and Almagre sits at 12,367 feet! As the road reached more of a plateau, it got rather snowy and icy, which made for some interesting bike riding.


The road got fairly rough and really icy around 9,000 feet, so we found a good spot to hide the bikes, switched into running shoes and started running toward the trailhead for Mount Rosa. Once there, it was all snowy trail to the summit. Even for December, the weather was clear and the sun was out, although it was 30 degrees.

After returning to the bikes, it was time for a chilly descent back into town – and lots of food!



photo by Josh Uhl

The next morning we reversed the trip home, catching Bustang back to Union Station and then riding my bike back to Boulder. It was such an incredible trip and not having to sit in traffic or deal with the headache of driving made the trip even better! CDOT really has provided a reliable and fast alternative for commuting along the Front Range and it’s a resource I plan to use again. I’m already planning my next adventure, this time heading west! Where would you want to take the ‘Stang?


I am better than a result

I am better than a result. I have inherent worth. There is no such thing as good enough because I am innately good.

Despite the challenges of my injuries, I am certain that my best physical and mental days are ahead – that being the best athlete I can ever be is only possible because of the challenges I face now.


These are the mantras I repeat, daily. My days are not always perfect, and there are times I question if I’m moving in the ‘right’ direction or forward at all. I face some sort of doubt and fear, every day. It’s an active choice to acknowledge them, confront them and lean into them.

Especially as I return to running, I am still holding onto many doubts surrounding my body, its capabilities and abilities to sustain the activities I want to do.


Photo: Running in the Dolomites

This past week I faced some huge fears. I planned to complete a route I had always dreamed of completing – the HardRock 100-mile course. A group of good friends planned the adventure, aiming to complete the course in 3 days, averaging about 30 miles per day, with 10,000 feet of positive elevation gain, traversing the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado. I knew this undertaking would test me physically, but more so mentally. I was excited, yet anxious. Fearful of the technical terrain and its impact on my (still) recovering injuries.


As I look back on the hours spent in the mountains, I’m in awe of our bodies and their resilience. I’m also in awe of the human spirit, how energy can ebb and flow. Entering this softrock endeavor, I was certain I would be the weakest one. But, each person in the group had their low moments and high moments, including myself. We supported each other – encouraging and supporting during the low moments, and doing the same when energy and motivation returned.


Photo: SoftRock Day #2, on top of Handies Peak

I learned that energy is not constant, and no matter how well-trained an athlete is, there is also doubt and insecurities to face. It was empowering to see every single person confront these fears head on. One practice that helped me to confront my fears/insecurities and to keep pushing forward, was to say – out loud – three things I am grateful for, and one reason why I am great. My good friend, Lucy Bartholomew, had the idea. The only rule – we couldn’t repeat the same three things twice and we had to come up with a new reason we were great each day as well. It was a humbling practice and gave me strength to look for the positive, instead of focusing on my doubts of completing the route.

Filling my head with positive thoughts, even when I hurt, lacked energy, or was lagging behind on a downhill, wouldn’t allow room for negative thoughts or doubts in my head. It’s a daily practice I’m going to incorporate into my routine.


Photo: Ice Lake

Upon writing this piece, I thought I was going to focus on the feelings of each day, and the pride of finishing such an epic course, just shy of a year from my accident. But now, I’m hoping to use it as a benchmark in my mental training, to remember it’s possible to accomplish the impossible if you’re willing to try and challenge doubt. Positivity and gratitude can alter your course, if you allow a little light to shine through.


Photo: Silverton, CO after finishing the Hardrock 100 mile course.

Lift The Label: My Experience with Opioids


Photo: Mike Thurk

This post is sponsored by the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health’s Lift The Label campaign.

Pain and I have an interesting relationship. As an athlete – and runner – I’m pretty comfortable with it. In fact, a main goal of training is to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. The only way to do this is to experience pain, to invite pain into my training, to wrestle with the physical sensation of wanting to quit, wanting to stop moving, but continuing, despite the physical cues insisting otherwise. Then, do it again.

Pain is my training tool, and I think many other athletes can relate to this well. I’m describing a hard workout, a race or an ‘off day’ in training. They are painful. These hard days are instrumental in getting stronger mentally, but also physically. Some of the best-trained athletes are those that have the highest tolerance to pain, at their peak in a training season (Endure by Alex Hutchinson). I know that’s the case for me.


So what is my relationship to pain, besides familiar? Is it healthy? Extreme, maybe? I experience pain on a daily basis and use it as a barometer to effort level, progress and the onset of an injury. Although my relationship with pain is a bit extreme compared to most, I think it is my familiarity with pain that allowed me to avoid other potentially dangerous conditions.

After my near fatal fall in Tromso, Norway, I sustained multiple, serious injuries. I was admitted to the hospital for nearly two weeks, had a total of five surgeries with twelve broken bones, and a very lengthy recovery process. Even as someone very familiar with pain, this pain was new, more intense, and at times, unbearable.


I remember the first nights in the hospital, being unable to sleep due to an unrelenting pain. In order to receive some comfort and relief, the nurses gave me morphine and other prescription opioids so I could relax, sleep, and my body could try to repair itself. At this point in my recovery, I needed the relief so I could start to heal, so I could rest and not focus on the unyielding sensation of pain. But, as I made the transition to home, after my last round of surgeries and new prescriptions of painkillers, when was it appropriate to stop taking them? A sensation that I referred to as useful, as a mark of progress, had now turned into a sensation linked to fear. I was now afraid to feel pain. I didn’t want to feel it. I wanted to numb it. I wanted to be able to sleep, to relax, to feel normal. If I was in pain, I couldn’t sleep, I could hardly focus. I couldn’t live that way.

But the more I read about the effects of my painkillers – opioids – on healing my bones and ligaments, the more I questioned my use of them. I was instructed by my physicians to take the painkillers, insisting they would help me as my body healed from my accident. Opioids are prescribed extremely regularly – in fact, the prescribing rate for opioids in Colorado is 59.8 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. Yet, I was unconvinced. So I stopped. I didn’t refill my prescriptions and I became re-acquainted with my body, and how it was truly feeling.


My story with opioids isn’t how everyone’s story goes, unfortunately. In the U.S., 2.1 million people suffer from opioid addiction and 115 people die every day from opioid overdose. Prescription opioids are incredibly normal – they’re prescribed to everyone, regularly. Grandmothers, teachers, children, you or me – we could all receive an opioid prescription from a doctor, so they can seem harmless to take. The truth is, opioid use is not so straightforward. It’s terrifying to think it can take as little as 7 days of opioid use for a person’s brain to become dependent on them.

Some people may be able to choose not to take them, like in my circumstance; some may take them and be fine.  Others may one day find themselves a part of the 2.1 million statistic. Prescriptions are often cited as the way many people first come into contact with opioids – 80% of people who use heroin first misused opioids from a prescription, and 40% of those overdose deaths I mentioned come from prescription opioids.

In addition to my familiarity with pain and its use as a training tool, I also have a master’s in neuroscience. So, my knowledge of the brain, addiction and its response to chemicals made my skepticism of opioid use even higher. Often, opioid use has the stigma of being seen as a moral failing, something a person chooses to do. This is just not true, it’s not how the brain works. Can you stop yourself from feeling hungry or thirsty? Or from telling your heart to beat or your lungs to breathe? There are certain things your brain overrides, and this is what happens when addiction takes over. It’s no longer a choice. Scientifically, we know that opioid addiction is actually a brain disorder – an actual illness that needs medical treatment.


Photo credit: Mike Thurk

In Colorado, there are 22 certified opioid treatment programs and 600 doctors, physicians assistants and nurse practitioners statewide who can prescribe buprenorphine treatment. Often, what keeps those with opioid addiction from seeking help from these resources is that same stigma. The one that equates addiction with failure or poor choices. These labels only cause more harm, so, if you’re looking to make a difference in the opioid crisis, I’d encourage you to remember this –  beneath the label of opioid addiction is a person just like you or me, whose use of opioids may have started innocently, but then found themselves wrestling with a very real medical struggle.

If you or someone you love is suffering from opioid addiction, please reach out! You can also visit LiftTheLabel.org for more information, or if you feel your or another’s life is in immediate danger, call the Crisis Hotline at 1-844-493-8255.