Scott Nydam left cycling after a series of crashes in 2009 left him with an “eggshell” of a brain, banged off his own skill far too many times, opening the young Nydam up to a cluster of maladies, from anxiety and dementia to Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I’ve definitely seen things from a different angle. I feel like I’m looking back upstream on this,” Nydam said. “It becomes your identity before you know it. For all that to be on stilts — it’s a house of cards, you know?”
Indeed, it is. Nydam, now 35, ended up walking away from the sport, as no doctors would put pen to paper and sign off for him to race a bike, after two crashes in two days at the SRAM Tour of the Gila left his brain reeling. He stayed in the sport full-time for a while, writing training plans for his BMC Racing squad. It felt like hanging out with an ex-girlfriend, he said: never quite right, always in-between places and feelings. There’s no moving on.
Nydam recently cut back to part-time with the BMC team and moved with his wife, Jennifer, and his young son, Jack, to the Navajo Nation, just north of Silver City, New Mexico. They’re expecting another baby in December. Jennifer works as a midwife on the reservation, because the student loan repayment program is solid and living expenses are low.
Nydam contemplates the cliff’s edge facing professionals, every one of them a catastrophic injury away from unplanned retirement.
“Dude, we’re all hanging by strings,” he said. But bike racers, top-competitors in anything, really, don’t like to be confronted with their own mortality. It’s not something that serves them, unless, of course, they crash out.
“These conversations are hard to have with other riders, because they’re in the game. I’ve always been one to promote chasing your dream and doing what you’re passionate about… I think it’s an easier thing for the riders who, throughout their career were able to put away hundreds of thousands, if not millions, for retirement. Whereas riders like me — I wasn’t doing that,” Nydam said. “I don’t know if there’s an exit plan that’s so clearly marked for riders like myself. It’s a difficult balance; the second you start think about what’s next after riding, then it’s already over.”
Too often, it’s over before it’s supposed to be.
“Bottom line, it’s complicated. There’s two different parts going on. I wish I was still out there just buzzing with fitness, trying to reach my own limit and potential. I love that experiment. I miss it. There’s not many things that are as daunting. It’s huge, trying to put yourself up against the highest standards in cycling,” he said. “And even at that point, it would still ask you for more. And it will take and eat up every bit that you give to it.”
And sometimes, the sport takes more than anyone’s willing to give.