“Did you drive yourself here today?”
“Uh..” I look into the crowd for a moment.
“I can’t see my girlfriend so I guess I must have driven myself.”
“Ok, what’s your girlfriend’s phone number?”
I immediately recall her number to the first aid lady. Yes, believe it, I (fortunately) know my girlfriend’s number off by heart.
I sit there for a moment while she dials, and look down and see I’m wearing trackies over my skinsuit. I ask, “did I get changed?”
“Yes… just a minute ago.”
I’m confused for a moment, then it hits me. Not the ground, that was 20 minutes ago. What I realise is that I’ve been concussed, again, while racing my bike.
On May 27, I was racing the Melbourne Omnium at Darebin International Sports Centre (DISC) and have been told that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when two guys crashed in front of me during a sprint. I went over the top of them and hit the ground headfirst. I don’t remember the crash, much of the day beforehand, or barely anything from the following three hours.
I do remember a few novelties, including recalling my girlfriend’s phone number and speaking to her. I don’t, however, remember anything from the conversation. I assume it’s all related to different parts of my brain. Medicine students might understand that better than I.
I told my girlfriend a story told to me about the aftermath of the crash four times on the way home. The second time, she said, “do you realise you’ve already told me that story?”
Still groggy as hell, I replied, “no I haven’t.”
The third and fourth time, she said, “oh, really, that’s crazy!” I’m lucky I have a girlfriend who is so patient when I’m repeating myself and talking complete nonsense (including when I’ve been concussed).
The two months after the accident were long and frustrating. I felt sick, tired, bored, and a little bit scared that I wouldn’t be able to race again after yet another brain injury. I was completely off the bike for three weeks and did almost nothing in that time. Lachie told me to take my time getting back to fitness and I was regularly being advised by my local GP on my training load and my sleep patterns. It was a long time before I was able to wake up naturally before lunchtime.
The team asked me to come up to Gold Coast in late July to race Battle Recharge – I basically had done zero proper training since my crash but had been really keen to race there, so obliged and was on bottles duty for the two road races. I missed the time cut in the second stage and took photos of the time trial (as my alter ego @blokewithacamera) instead of racing it.
I then started to do a little bit of training and raced the Tour of the Great South Coast in early August. I was thankfully able to be a little more involved in the racing for the first few days but again missed the time cut on the second last day, and was relegated to taking photos of the final criterium in Portland.
I started to feel a bit more like myself on the bike and went into the Tour of the King Valley in late August with a bit more confidence. I decided (for a change) to avoid the chaos in the criterium, and was actually involved in the race the next two days. I even spent some time off the front on the final stage, and I managed to finish the tour, which was a minor but valuable step in the right direction.
I arrived at Amy’s Otway Tour in mid-September having finally been capable of some substantial training, and we had a really positive weekend results-wise. Rylan rode off the front and took enough time bonuses to finish 6th on GC, and I took my first ever NRS top 10 in the bunch sprint. It took three and a half months for me to fully recover from the effects of the crash, and my personal result there was the culmination of a lot of focus, hard work, and, most importantly, patience. I’ve seen a lot of athletes train and/or compete despite clearly being affected by concussion, or shock at least – becoming aware of both short-term and long-term health effects of concussion has been a valuable lesson.
I was once told a story of a Madison race on the track, in which one rider finished the race and, while warming down, looked down and realised he’d torn his kit and was missing skin on his arm and hip. He asked his teammate what happened, who incredulously replied: “we crashed during the race, don’t you remember?”. He has seen photos, but still has no recollection of the crash.
Hopefully, in time, we will understand more about concussion, and enforce a much more conservative approach to allowing athletes to return to competition from crashes and injuries. I’d like to thank the officials at Melbourne Omnium (whom I kinda remember), the medical team at the Austin (whom I don’t remember at all), to my teammates and Lachie who’ve been a great support, and to Melbourne University Sport, including Tony Sephton who helped me ease back into gym work after the crash. I’d also especially like to thank my family, my girlfriend, and her family, who’ve all looked after me. Here’s to a strong end to the year.