AK Mackellar Follows Their Body’s Lead
After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a mountain-biking accident, they found their real estate job intolerable. Taking a bold chance at a new career changed everything.
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A.K. MacKellar told their story to producer Ann Marie Awad for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I remember having this moment and feeling like, If I don’t go right now, I’m gonna be too scared and I’m not gonna go. So start biking.
I am in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I am the founder of a body inclusive movement platform specifically for LGBTQ+ folks, and I do that full-time, running an online fitness community as well as getting outside and being active.
In 2019, I was in a mountain biking accident, and I had a traumatic brain injury as a result, which completely changed my life. I’d started riding maybe four or five years earlier, and I was really excited to explore Sedona, Arizona. This weekend was just more about exploring the sport and being among people who love it as much as I do.
You bike all the way up to the top of this plateau, and then go down. It’s this notable trail in Sedona and has some tough features. I was pushing myself a little bit outside my comfort zone to do it, but in a way that I felt encouraged and I should go for it and challenge myself.
We had stopped at part of this trail that was a little bit of a technical feature, a big rock roll where you couldn’t really see the bottom. A couple people had gone ahead of me and they were fine. But I didn’t know that you couldn’t just roll your bike all the way down and be fine. You had to lift your front wheel, otherwise your front wheel would be too vertical, and with the momentum you’d go over your handlebars. So it’s interesting to reflect on that moment of wanting to beat the fear, but without all the information.
I am feeling my body weight go forward, and feeling myself leave the bike, and seeing the rock ahead of my head, but knowing that, there’s no stopping myself, there’s nothing I can do. You just see the thing in slow motion, but it’s really the fastest occurring motion. It’s seconds or less than seconds that it all happens: hitting the rock, having the bike fall on top of me, and lying on the ground for a second. In that moment, I didn’t know that anything was wrong. I just thought, Whoa, OK. That didn’t go as planned. And it wasn’t until I stood up that I recognized that my body wasn’t OK.
I’m nauseous, I’m feeling dizzy. I had played competitive hockey growing up, so concussions are very common in that sport. And recognizing this feeling that had occurred before, and knowing that my body wasn’t OK, but not knowing at all at the time the extent of it.
Once I got home I recognized how rough a shape I was in. In high school I had a friend who had had some really bad concussions. So I messaged her saying, “What should I do?” And she gave me the contact of a sports medicine doctor who specialized in traumatic brain injuries. I remember calling them up and needing a lot of help. They were like, “Oh, we only have an appointment with a physio. Do you want that right now? Or do you want to wait for the doctor?” And I remember being like, I can’t make this decision. I don’t know. Cognitively, my functioning was so low.
Over the course of three to four months as I was trying to go back to my office job in real estate, my body was not tolerating that. I started to recognize that forcing myself to go back to this office job that I wasn’t passionate about anymore was not the path that I needed to walk down.
Even though it was terrifying, I decided to quit my job and start my own business in personal training. And the funny thing was, the next day, a bunch of my symptoms went away. The stress and forcing myself to do something that wasn’t right for me having a real physical effect on my body was a big eye-opener, and something that you almost can’t recognize until after that big moment happens.
At the time, I was working with a coach, someone who believed in me, and told me, “Jump, take the leap. You can do this.” At the same time, I had a really supportive partner who said the same thing, “Why not take the chance?” My parents thought I was crazy. They did not support that decision at all. And I told them, “I really don’t want to hear it anymore.”
I think the biggest takeaway for me is that my body and the signals it sends are really important to listen to. Whether it’s a headache, or jaw pain, or your eyes not functioning, or your brain not functioning, they’re signals that you need to slow down, that you need to rest, that you need to take care of yourself or prioritize that.
And it’s frustrating, and it doesn’t work well with the realities of our daily life with work, and socializing, and responsibilities, and childcare, any of those things. But it really is the only way.
A.K. MacKellar is a certified personal trainer and fitness coach and the founder of Free To Move, an inclusive online platform offering movement classes and community for all kinds of people.
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