Ryan Nyquist is a pro amongst pros. Not only has he been competing professionally since 1996, but he's won countless contests, pushed the envelope of backflip, 360, and 720 variations, blew minds with his section in the video End Search, and he's been doing it all with a smile on his face and a kick-ass attitude. Ryan has been off his bike for six months (the longest he's ever gone without riding) due to a broken hand that has gone from bad to worse, read on for the full story…
Interview: Jeff Zielinski
Action Photos: Ryan Fudger, Hand Photos: Nyquist
Ryan, it looks like you have a friggin' bullet hole in your hand. Please tell me the story…
It's a long one, but I'll try to make it quick. I crashed on a 450 in the Dew Tour park finals in Portland last August. I broke two bones in my hand and a week later had surgery to install plates to fix it. It sounded simple enough and I might have even been back on my bike to ride the finals in Vegas in October. The surgery went well and I scheduled my first physical therapy appointment for about a week and a half later. In the meantime my hand was immobilized from most movement by having it in a splint. I started physical therapy and it was very slow moving. I saw minimal progress over the next few months and I was really starting to question if my hand was going to get back to normal on it's own. As it turns out, my body develops scar tissue at a very rapid rate, so that first period of almost two weeks after surgery where my hand was completely immobilized was a terrible thing for my healing. My scar tissue grew and attached itself to the tendon for my index finger and basically grabbed it and wouldn't let it move back and forth freely. After three months of physical therapy and very little progress, I asked the doctor to have another look at it and see what he thought. I pleaded my case, and we both decided that having another surgery to remove the scar tissue from the tendon was the best option. So surgery number two happened in mid November and my hand was really feeling great afterwards. I had great range of motion and had been bending my finger and joints since I got out of surgery to ensure that the scar tissue would not stick to the tendon again. Two weeks after the operation the doctor gave me the okay to ride and my physical therapist gave me one more week of appointments until I was home free and during this time I had been making tight fists and keeping my hand moving. But that ended up being a very bad thing because there was a bunch of swelling on and around my knuckle and the skin is very thin there, so it began to split open from the inside out. I started to notice a small purple line forming where the incision scar was and it kept getting bigger and bigger. The doctor dismissed it as a little bit of blood that got stuck in the scar tissue and was just pushing it's way to the surface. One day at physical therapy I noticed that I could see something moving through that purple line when I bent my finger back and forth. I asked the physical therapist to have a look at it, and after much brainstorming and talking about the possibilities, we both concluded that my hand had almost split back open and there was a very thin layer of translucent skin holding it together. We tried using Steri-Strips to push the two sides together in hopes it would heal on its own, but had no luck. The doctor wanted me to stuff gauze soaked in saline solution inside the actual hole to promote tissue growth, but that didn't work either. The worst thing about it was that I was in this very bad catch 22, where I could do nothing right—with my hand being mobile and doing the exercises that were necessary to keep my range of motion good, it meant that the wound would never heal because the skin would constantly be stretching and moving, not allowing any new tissue to form. On the other side of that was that if I immobilized my hand so the wound would heal then I was jeopardizing the range of motion of my joints and tendon. So what I ended up with, after a month of trying, was a 3/8" hole over my index knuckle where you could literally see my tendon move back and forth, and a severely stiff joint that was getting worse and worse. I went to the doctor again and we both decided that a third surgery was needed. So last Friday I had another surgery to remove scar tissue, liberate the joint, and close the incision up. It will have been almost six months exactly since I broke my hand.
What about your ACL? Last we spoke you had re-torn it and you needed another surgery. It seems like the last few years have been a myriad of surgeries for you.
Yeah, that's still torn. I'm not looking to get that fixed anytime soon. My knee isn't really an issue at all. I wear a custom CTi brace that keeps it tight. I can run and be active without it being a problem. I'm lucky.
How has this affected your time on the bike? Been tinkering in the garage more?
What's a bike [laughs]? I was able to do some demos in Israel with Haro which was nice, but other than that I haven't ridden my bike consistently since I broke my hand last August. It's been killing me, too. I never realized how much bike riding is a huge part of my life until I can't do it for a long period of time. This has been the longest amount of time I've spent off my bike ever. I've basically just been spending a lot of time with my wife and kids and trying to keep myself happy.
Have been able to film anything for Still Searchin’?
Not really. I actually backed out of the project a while back because I couldn't find people to film with and it was hard getting away to do road trips and the things needed to film a video part. I'm not sure what the status of Still Searchin' is right now, but I wouldn't mind getting some clips in the video.
You've been back in NorCal for a few years now, how did the transition go for you overall?
It was a little tough. The move out here was very abrupt, and getting used to a whole different scene again was a challenge. Finding different parks to ride and making new friends was fun, but it was also a lot more work finding people to ride with during the day. Most people out here have full time jobs and can't exactly meet you at the park for a session. In Greenville it was so easy to just send a text or two out, and there would always be someone to ride with.
I'm sure the scene has changed a lot from when you were younger, right?
Yeah, definitely. When I lived here we had the Ramp Club and a couple great sets of trails to ride. Now there are a lot of smaller cement parks that are fun to jib around in and some fun trails to ride, but I think I spoiled myself by having The Unit at my disposal. That place is just the best.
Has the separation anxiety from The Unit worn off? Do you have some go-to spots you're happy with now?
I don't think it'll ever wear off. Every time I see a video or something with some shots of the Unit I get so jealous. I would love to have something like that out on the west coast. Not only for my own selfish reasons, but I feel a park like The Unit would help so many riders out here really progress their riding to what ever level they want to take it to.
Besides The Unit, how has your departure from the Pro Town scene affected your riding, like from a motivational standpoint?
It's a bit harder to get motivated for sure. I've spent many days alone at the Santa Cruz park just going through the motions of a session trying to keep on my bike, but that gets old fast. There are not a lot of people who live in my area who want to go to the park and send a 720 over the box or session flip variations. The people who I do ride with are awesome, though, and if anything, it's really made me appreciate what I have here in Northern California, and what I had in Greenville.
You're 32 years old, been a top pro rider for pretty much half your life at this point, and hands down have one of the best attitudes in BMX. What's your secret to longevity?
I think having a good attitude and having fun go a long way in our sport. Nobody likes someone with a bad attitude and who is negative all the time. I love having fun and smiling on my bike. As far as the competing goes, I enjoy the challenge of putting a run together and testing myself to see what I can accomplish.
What happens after your hand ordeal is finally behind you?
I'm going to get on my bike and ride. Slow at first, but I'm motivated to get back to where I was. I want to film some more web edits, too. I have some good ideas brewing in my head, so that'll be fun to bring those to life. I'm also going to be training for a triathlon in April with my wife. Lots of pool time swimming laps and running around the neighborhood.
Would you like to give some thanks?
Thanks to my sponsors for sticking by me and being understanding during my injury. Thanks to my family and especially my wife for putting up with my grumpy self for the past six months. Thanks for this interview as well!