Coping With Injury – An Athlete’s Perspective

Welcome to Sporting Insights, the place where we hear from athletes about how they cope with and excel in the pressurised world of competitive sport.  Here in the first of my interviews with athletes is professional cyclist Emma Silversides.

Emma has been riding as a full-time professional since 2008 when she signed for the Lotto-Belisol team in Belgium. Throughout the next two years Emma built a good reputation as a dedicated and talented rider and in 2010 took another step forward by signing for the Redsun ladies team. With Redsun Emma was cycling alongside a very talented group of professionals headed by Olympic silver medalist Emma Johansson.

What makes Emma’s progress in the competitive world of cycling even more remarkable is the fact that she did all this despite suffering some very nasty injuries. So I asked Emma about those injuries and how she coped with them…

Stuart: You have had a few accidents during your professional career that have lead to quite serious injuries. How did they happen and what injuries did you receive?
Emma: I had a series of accidents during the 2009 season which interrupted the racing considerably. The first was at Easter and occurred during 3 days of racing in Drenthe in the north of Holland. I did not crash with significant speed- maybe around 40kmph but I did land on top of another girls bike. The hood (gear/brake) impacted my ribs and I displaced 4 on my left side. This is an extremely painful and restrictive injury. I returned to racing late April and began to show good form again for Tour De L’Aude, a 10-day stage race which began on 10th May. On day five I found myself in the front group of about 40 after a tough climb and was comfortable in the group. A very fast pace of 50+kmph was being held through some small villages littered with traffic islands, speed bumps and restrictor. In taking a 90° turn I was sat just to the left of the wheel in front and without warning there was a reservation there in front of us. It was impossible to avoid and I came down very hard. I remember very little of the accident since I was knocked unconscious. I broke my collarbone and sustained serious road rash (loss of several layers of skin through abrasion against the tarmac causing a severe burn). I crashed ‘lightly’ again in early August, this was of little consequence to my physical being but did see me crack my bike frame and take another mental knock! The final accident occurred while driving my car. This was a collision at a speed of about 45kmph and saw me heavily impact my breastbone against the steering wheel. I attempted to start a stage race with this injury but it really was too much for my body. Simply breathing was an excruciating exercise in itself.

Stuart: How did you cope with and deal with the injuries?
Emma: Not coping simply was not an option for me. That does not mean to say that I did not struggle, A LOT. However, no one has a magic wand and at the end of the day only you yourself can make the necessary steps to recovery. You can surround yourself with positive people and put yourself in a positive environment to help you remain ‘happy’ throughout the recovery. I would think about how good I could be when I was recovered and attempted not to dwell on the races and opportunities that I was missing out on; that would always make me feel bad. The collarbone was extremely testing; you become very reliant on other people to care for you for at least a short period; for an independent person like me that is really hard. I then had to tackle 15 days of very tough training on the turbo trainer- invariably 2 ½ – 3 hours per day in two sessions. The body was being pushed to the limit but the head never gave in; it was sheer determination to succeed.

Stuart: What did you do whilst you were injured to stay motivated?
Emma: Train and then rest was the daily medicine. I would take myself to see friends as soon as I was mobile enough. I would think about the races that I would be able to do as soon as I was race fit. Doing things that I often did not normally have time for- family, correspondence, painting…..

Stuart: What gave you the strength to carry on with your cycling?
Emma: That just sat inside me; I love to race my bike.

Stuart: Did you have fears about crashing again once you began to ride again and how did you conquer those fears?
Emma: Yes, that was a big problem after the first crash since I related that to sitting in the middle of the bunch. The broken collarbone was not so much of an issue- I did not remember the experience and knew that it could have happened to anyone. I was nervous in the peloton but you just have to take a deep breath and get on with it. I practised some visualisation techniques that you introduced to me; these helped enormously to put me at ease again in the peloton.

Stuart: What have you learned from these experiences and how have they made you stronger?
Emma: There are a lot of things that are out of your control; it’s a waste of time and energy worrying about these things. Your time and energy can be better spent on the things that you can control. You learn to have patience and you learn new limits; the latter is very important.

Stuart: What advice would you give to someone else who’s suffered an injury?
Emma: Never give up. Be patient. Focus on what you can do to improve your situation and not what you can’t!

To hear more about Emma you can visit her website: www.emmasilversides.com

Next up on Sporting Insights is Australian Free-Diving record holder Ben Noble who gives us a glimpse of his amazing talents and this incredible sport.

Enjoy the game,
Stuart.

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