A BMX racer since he was nine years old, Mike Day has wrangled a number of impressive accomplishments throughout his career, including an NBL (National Bicycle League) #1 title, two prestigious NORA Cup awards for Racer of the Year and a silver medal from BMX racing’s debut in the 2008 Olympics.
Behind the scenes, however, Day has been dealing with long-standing problems with his back, which finally pushed him to the breaking point last fall. An MRI revealed a degenerated disc in his back, at which point he started on a long road to get back into top shape, unfortunately without the bike he’s been attached to for the last 16 years.
He’s currently recovering from surgery and still faces an arduous regimen of physical therapy ahead, but he’s focused on returning to the podium and pocketing some hardware in London in 2012. We checked in with him after an outing on his road bike to see how things were going…
When did you first start noticing problems with your back?
It’s been off and on for the last few years; some days it would hurt and some days it wouldn’t. Last September I went to a race in South Carolina; I got there and did a couple of gates and [my back] just felt terrible. I knew something was wrong, it felt way worse. Ever since then, all of October, November – it just wasn’t going away. It was constant pain; I’d have to stretch for a half hour just to ride at the track. I’d do one gate and something would twist wrong and my session was done.
I finally got an MRI two days before the ABA Grands in late November. The first doctor I went to was a total stiff; it was like talking to a wall. He said, “You’re young, you should quit what you’re doing while you can still live somewhat of a normal life.” He said it like it was no big deal: “You should quit riding your bike.”
I sought out a sports doctor and met him for the first time in late December. With back issues, first you do all the therapy possible to prevent surgery, that’s the ultimate last step. I hit therapy really hard for four months; I didn’t even touch my bike. I started getting my core super strong and just did everything I could to avoid surgery. I finally went to a race in March and I just sucked. I hadn’t ridden my bike for so long, but it was also super painful.
Was it hard to finally make the decision to have surgery?
There was a point when I called my dad after a practice session and said, “If I don’t do something I think I’m going to have to quit. It’s just not working.” Once I had that realization, I figured I would just get the surgery and see what happened.
We talked about all the scenarios; I could have done a few more months of therapy, but just getting out of the car was hard to do some days. I felt like I was 90 years old. I was at the point where I just wanted to get it fixed. Every doctor told me I’d have to get something done eventually, regardless.
When did you have the surgery?
May 10th. I spent the night there, and early the next morning I went home. I spent the next 10 days in my bedroom laying down most of the time; I’d take ten-minute walks four or five times a day. About the tenth day I felt pretty damn good, but to be honest, I knew that I felt better right when I woke up. That’s how bad it had been.
How do you feel now?
I feel great. It’s only been two months and it’s a night-and-day difference, it’s awesome. In that first ten days, there were big steps; I felt better every day. I felt like I’d be riding again in a month. After I hit the ten-day mark, it leveled out. I actually haven’t even started therapy yet because they want to really make sure it sets in there right. I hope to start therapy within the next week or so.
After riding every day for years, what have you been doing to kill time?
I’ve been going mental. I’ve just been taking care of a lot of stuff. I think it would be cool to do a documentary-style video from now to the Olympics, so I’ve been trying to work that out. Otherwise just hanging out, not doing much.
So what’s the plan for the next two months? Six months? A year from now?
At two months I hope to be mid-therapy, getting ready to start riding. I circled October 1st on the calendar as the day I want to be back on my bike. Not necessarily jumping a supercross track, but definitely starting to feel where I’m at.
Six months from now I want to be racing and seeing where I’m at against the other double-A pros. A year from now I want to be at full gas and podium-capable. April is when the Supercross series starts, and that’s when all the Olympic qualifying races are going to start counting for individual points. I want to make the team again. That goal is overwhelming and it’s a lot of hard work, but after going to the Olympics and being put on that stage, I know that’s what I want to do again.