Ride to Victory

By Nick Harden

After a devastating injury during one of the most grueling mountain bike races in the world, professional cyclist Nick Hardin is stronger than ever —and ready to take first place, after intensive rehab at Mid-Columbia Medical Center.

Set in the heart of the Cascadia Mountains, Trans-Cascadia is a four-day mountain bike race that attracts elite cyclists from around the world. Riders compete for the fastest combined time in a series of timed downhills and untimed uphill climbs.

Hardin completed Trans-Cascadia a couple of times, finishing in the top six in 2014 and 2015.

But experience does not provide much of an edge in a competition where riders are given only enough information about the course to meet the shuttle buses that take them to the starting line.

Unlike most races, athletes take on Trans-Cascadia blind.

“All the other races, we’re allowed to see the course at least once,” Nick said. “We’ll run that practice run and film it with a GoPro and watch it multiple times before the race.”

Trans-Cascadia 2016 took place during his best season ever. By day three Nick was in second place, well within striking distance of first place.

“I just came around a corner, caught my pedal and took on a pretty solid tree stump,” he said.

After a two-hour hike with a shattered shoulder blade and joint, he was extracted from the course.

Determined to overcome the potentially career-ending injury, he was referred by Mid-Columbia Medical Center Sports Medicine Orthopedist. Mark Cullen for surgery at Oregon Health & Science University, followed by intensive physical therapy at MCMC.

“The bone was in multiple pieces and it needed major surgery,” Dr. Cullen said. “We felt that with the complexity of the injury, it would be best to take it to OHSU in Portland.”

Dr. Robert Orfaly pulled the pieces together, with the help of 16 screws and over four hours in the operating room.

Surgery came with a warning —recovery would take at least six months and include strenuous physical therapy to regain his strength and movement, but he might never raise his arm above eye level again.

He made a full recovery after just three and a half months, with the help of intensive rehab with MCMC Physical Therapists Zack Chown and Ed Andree, and careful coaching by his wife Kim Hardin. Kim, a professional mountain biker, underwent her own treatment with the MCMC Rehabilitative Medicine team after facing a similar injury several years earlier.

Around the World

Married for two years, the couple works together at the restaurant they purchased in 2015. KickStand Coffee & Kitchen is a popular Hood River restaurant with a laid-back vibe, featuring an outdoor fire pit, food, and a full bar.

Monday through Friday you can find the Hardin’s at KickStand serving coffee, beer, and food from locally sourced ingredients.

The two also train seven days per week for at least three hours per day and maintain a strict diet. The rigorous program was designed by Kim, a former physical therapy aide, exercise specialist, and personal trainer at Water’s Edge Outpatient Therapy Clinic in The Dalles.

“We’re gluten, dairy, sugar, and alcohol-free from November first until the first race,” said Kim, a former professional kayaker who won every national kayaking event she entered for almost a decade.

Kim has enjoyed similar success in mountain biking. Since switching to the sport three years ago, she has only lost one national mountain bike competition outside of the Enduro World Series.

With the help of sponsors such as Santa Cruz/Juliana Bicycles, Dakine, Giro, Chris King Precision Components, Dumonde Tech, and Race Face, the Hardins compete in 8-12 mountain bike races each year.

On average, they attend at least five international events every season in countries such as Colombia, Chile, and Spain, where they try to enjoy the local cuisine.

“We’re not going to visit Spain and skip the awesome Spanish cheese, “Kim said.

In It to Win It

Although Nick made a full recovery in time for the 2017 racing season, he was forced to cut his usual training regimen short to rehabilitate his shoulder. Unable to reach peak physical condition, he was forced to slow down during races to avoid reinjuring himself.

“I might be riding Kim’s coattails a little bit,” Nick joked. “I didn’t lose a single sponsor. All of them stuck with Kim and me.”

After the injury, Nick was eager to resume normal training. A large part of his rehab plan included education about the normal healing process, Chown said.

“I spent more time than normal telling Nick to be patient, that his shoulder needed time to heal,” Chown said. “We spent time during each visit outlining where we started and where we were headed. Nick is an amazing athlete and deserves full credit for his recovery.

” He also received plenty of encouragement and advice from Kim. At Water’s Edge, Kim worked directly with Chown and some of her patients came from Dr. Cullen. As a former member of the MCMC rehabilitation team, Kim was very familiar with their approach to treating injuries. When she developed severe pain in her shoulder, Kim knew where to turn.

“Kim was incredibly motivated to get back to competing at the highest level,” Chown said. “She was dedicated to her rehab program and focused her time and efforts on getting back her strength, flexibility, and controlling pain.”

In 2013, after years of competition as a professional whitewater kayaker, Kim developed severe pain in her right shoulder.

A regimen of rest and physical therapy failed to correct the problem, and surgery by another area orthopedist left her unable to paddle — or even lift her arm above her shoulder.

"I’ve been a professional athlete since I was 12-years-old,” Kim said. “Being unable to train, it definitely feltlike I had lost my identity. That’s why I feel like I owe everything to Dr. Cullen and his methods."

After injections of cortisone and prednisone to loosen the joint, Dr. Cullen referred her to physical therapy with Chown. The physical therapist put her on an aggressive stretching regimen, which allowed her to regain her full range of motion. Using similar techniques, Nick was also able to regain his full range of motion.

“Now I have more range with this shoulder than I do with the other one,” he said.

This is his first full season of training since the injury, and Nick has timed his regimen, so he is in peak physical condition for Trans-Cascadia.

“I want to win that Trans-Cascadia that I was so close to winning,” he said. “That is a really big race to win.”

Additional reporting by Stu Watson.

Side bar to the Story

Giving Back to the Community

When Nick and Kim aren’t traveling for competitions they are running their bicycle-themed restaurant KickStand Coffee &Kitchen. This Hood River hotspot, features global flavors from locally-sourced ingredients, a full bar and popular microbrews on tap.

Nick and Kim purchased the restaurant in 2015 and have used it as an opportunity to raise money for local causes, offering raffles and prizes to draw in crowds.

“We look for nonprofits, school programs, churches, whoever may need help raising funds,” Nick Hardin said. “My goal for this year was $25,000 given back to the community. We surpassed that.”

Causes have included Columbia Gorge Peace Village, which offers a weeklong summer day camp with discounts and scholarships for low-income children; GO! a nonprofit that supports businesses in the Gorge; and coaching for the Hood River Valley High School skiing and snowboarding teams.

The couple also hosts special events for local athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, such as the annual avalanche awareness discussion, and recently helped raise money for an asphalt pump track at the high school.