Alex Showerman Embraces Her Full Self
When she broke her neck in a crash, the mountain biker was forced to face what she’d been unwilling to admit
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Alex Showerman told her story to producer Lushik Lotus Lee for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It was almost this coming to a head of all of these things I was burying deep down inside, that I just wasn’t addressing. I think it just came literally crashing on me.
I am just outside of Bellingham, Washington, in the very, very, very Northwest corner of Washington state. I am originally from Vermont.
Growing up I was always a really active, outdoorsy child. Pretty much every outdoor activity you can think of a kid growing up in rural Vermont doing, I did. Cross country skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, pond hockey, organized ice hockey, cross country running, tree climbing…all of that. An irony in my life is that my mom was always terrified. She was like, “You’re gonna break your neck, calm down.”
It was In 2019 in Waterbury, Vermont, my hometown on my favorite trail network that I was deeply connected to. I was on this trail called S’mores, which is actually an intermediate and beginner-friendly flow trail. It was sticky and hot, and clearly my brain wasn’t fully focused on what I was doing.
I remember having a really heated discussion with somebody about, of all things, diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. And I was still in the closet. It was this fascinating thing where I actually had this very deep, personal experience of being terrified of coming out because I didn’t want to lose the community that I’d built in outdoor sports.
I was lost in this thought, and I went over this root, and my right hand slipped forward. I fell forward on the bike, and went head first into this tree that was just right next to the trail. And had the most excruciating pain of my life. It was a 10 on my pain scale.
I remember laying on the ground, and there’s just like pine needles everywhere. Looking up and there’s these big, tall pine trees above me, that smell of pine, and then hot, humid summer day.
I don’t think it hit me like how serious it was. It really wasn’t until I got accepted into the hospital for the weekend that it was like, Oh my God, I broke my neck. How is this gonna change my life?
Being in the hospital at night by myself in and out of it with pain meds, and total loss of independence where I couldn’t get out of bed by myself to go to the bathroom. Those were definitely really dark, dark days.
I had varying levels of fractures in my C-6, C-7, T-3, T-4, and T-5 vertebrae. Then I had a fusion of my C-7 and T-1 vertebrae. I wound up having to get surgery, which was terrifying. Like, Whoa, you got to have surgery on your spine, what if something bad happens?
I think there was definitely a grieving process, where you have these plans and hopes and dreams and these things that you want to do, and then suddenly this rug gets ripped out from underneath you. But I think I just had the vision that there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get back to being able to do the things that I love in the outdoors.
When you have an injury like that, you have to sit still, you have to sit with it. And it was going through that process that I really finally addressed that Yeah, this is who I am, and I don’t want to live a life where I’m not being authentic to myself. I think that was really an impetus for giving me the strength of coming out.
One of the things that I’ve really come to learn about injury is that it happens when life is out of balance, and I think it’s really important to focus in on what is it that’s going on in life that’s pushing that lack of balance and how can I refind it? What’s the next step? How do I grow? What direction do I go to get back to that? And I think having both that guiding light of, I want to be here, but then also the small steps and problem solving along the way, was really important to me. Having that mission was critical. It was really after going through that recovery that I then started the process of coming out as trans and transitioning.
That helped me have the courage to process fear and failure and anxiety and loss, and overcome other major hardships that happened after, like breaking bones, or quitting my job and becoming a full-time athlete, and living full-time on the road in an RV, and unlocked a lot of potential that I didn’t know I had.
Alex Showerman is a professional mountain biker who happens to be a queer trans woman. She is an athlete, a storyteller, and an advocate. In June 2022, she was named one of the top 20 most influential people in the outdoor industry by Outside Business Journal. You can follow her on @alexshowerman.