Bryan Larsen competes at the Hellyer Velodrome in San Jose in 2019, prior to his accident.
Bryan Larsen’s life has pretty much always involved a bike, with many of the past 18 years spent competing domestically and internationally as a road and track cyclist.
Then, in July 2019, his bike almost took everything away from him. Larsen was taking part in a road race, the San Rafael (Calif.) Twilight Criterium, when he took a very hard fall while rounding a turn in a pack. He was going about 40 mph when the force flipped him over the handlebars and smashed his head, face, right shoulder and neck at an awkward angle into the pavement.
He was in the ICU for weeks, with doctors wondering about the recovery to heal his spinal cord and right arm. The accident pulled the nerves out of the shoulder’s connection to the spinal cord and left him impaired.
It’s now nearly a year-and-a-half later and Larsen, 30, is still in recovery. He’s regained some mobility in parts of his arm, but more importantly, he’s back on his bike. Larsen, thanks to encouragement from U.S. Paralympian Chris Murphy, is hoping to qualify for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021. He’s got some work to do, but Larsen is feeling strong and hopeful for his burgeoning riding career in Para-cycling.
“I am not going to lie, I have had some really dark moments the past 14-15-16 months,” Larsen said. “I’ve gone from being in the ICU, in pain, to then docs telling me I’d get better in a week, then a month, then a year — to now I’m probably going to be this way. Each doc and surgeon gave me worse news than the first. But overall, I am starting to trend better. I’m training, I have big goals again.”
Larsen’s injury is termed as damage to the brachial plexus, meaning he does not have function of the whole arm and hand. He’s had surgeries, which brought back some bicep function. He can do things like lift his cell phone, but not his hand. Anything he does with his right hand has to be supported by his left hand.
He’s adjusted to the challenges of going from being a righty to now a lefty.
“There is so much, like try texting with your left hand, or drinking coffee — those moments feel foreign if you haven’t done them before,” he said. “But I am learning. There are times where I forget that I am impaired and this really all happened. But then I am reminded that I am impaired. It’s a weird space to be in.”