Saturday 26 October 2019

Sport after a life-changing injury

Recently two elite athletes were badly injured in cycling accidents. The circumstances of the incidents were slightly different, but the outcomes will have been equally traumatic.

Edo Maas
On 6 October 19-year old Edo Maas was hit by a car that strayed onto the course while he was competing in the Mini Tour of Lombardy (Il Piccolo Lombardia) Under-23 cycle race.

As he was coming down from the Madonna del Ghisallo climb between Asso and Canzo a car whose driver had ignored the "stop" signs that there was a race, drove onto the course.

Edo, who was travelling at 70kph (38mph) per hour had nowhere to go and couldn't brake in time collided with the vehicle and crashed to the ground leaving him unconscious with a broken back and neck, plus lesions to his face.

A prompt emergency response saw the Dutch youngster air-lifted and operated on at Niguarda Hospital in Milan and doctors were able to save his life. However, the doctors were unable to repair the damage to key nerves in his back, and they said that it is unlikely that Edo will ever regain the use of his legs.

The woman driving the car is now being investigated for causing serious injuries by dangerous driving.

Team Sunweb, the team that Edo races for made the emotional announcement two weeks ago, and they, along with the Maas family have urged the UCI to give higher priority to rider safety during cycle races.

Last week, we then learned of the news that Claire Danson, a European Triathlon Champion at the 30-34 Age group championships, and sister of Team GB Hockey player Alex Danson has been permanently paralysed.
Claire Danson

In a post she wrote on her Instagram account Claire revealed that on 28 August she suffered multiple fractures and punctured lungs following a collision with a tractor while riding her bike.

Claire's injuries are healing, except for the injury to her spinal cord at the T9 vertebra, which has left her paralysed from the waist down.

These incidences occurred just over a year after the German World Keirin Track Cycling Champion Kristina Vogel lost the use of her legs after a high-speed collision with another rider while training at the Cottbus Velodrome near Berlin in June 2018. The then 27-year old severed her spinal cord a the T7 vertebra leaving her permanently confined to a wheelchair.

I feel so sorry to hear these pieces of news. All of these athletes were in their prime, at the top of their game, and sport was a central part in their lives. Then to suddenly suffer these traumatic injuries must be so heart-breaking.

Kristina Vogel
Kristina gave a heart-rendering interview to the BBC last year a few weeks after her injury.

Naturally, Kristina had cried a lot and had to come to terms with her new situation but the quote that stood out for me was when she said: "I still love my life. So nothing changed, really. Just how I move. I'm going to do a lot of things in my wheelchair. It's different, but it's still my life, so why not be happy."

I, and many people were so impressed and inspired by her strength, courage, and positive attitude in the wake of this life-changing injury.

This takes me back to when another athlete who suffered paralysis after an accident. In 2001 in the days when I did triathlon, Paula Craig, an age-group triathlete was the woman to beat in my age-group. The detective sergeant who was part of the Metropolitan Police triathlon team, was doing one of her last bike rides the week before doing the Bournemouth Triathlon World Age Group Championships qualifier race when she was hit by a car on a country road. The car, travelling at 60 miles per hour was driven by an 84-year old man who admitted he was not wearing his glasses.

From one moment to the next Paula went from being a triathlete to a para-triathlete when she was confined to a wheelchair.

Paula Craig MBE (with Dame Cressida Dick,
Metropolitan Police Commissioner)
This was quite shocking for all of us in what was quite a close-knit community. Paula spent five months in hospital, and during that time she bought herself a handcycle and slowly began to do light exercises as part of her recovery.

A year after her accident Paula competed in the wheelchair race at the London Marathon and is the first person to have competed as an athlete and a para-athlete in that event. (As an able-bodied athlete she had done 2h 57 in the London marathon.) She also competed in the World Para-Triathlon Championships and won that.

As well as keeping her job at the Metropolitan Police which saw her promoted to Detective Inspector at the Homicide Squad and the Terrorism Squad, Paula became a motivational speaker, and in 2005 she was awarded an MBE for services to the police.

Paula's story goes to show how she has made something positive out of a life-changing situation and I feel inspired by her. I hope that I can have the same attitude as she does in very difficult life-changing circumstances. I also wish Kristina, Claire, and Edo all the best.

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