PEOPLE | RIDERS WE LIKE STICKS & STONES started this year with big plans – first up would be the XCO World Cup opener and then the Cape Epic with Amy-Beth McDougall. After that I was heading to the States for a three-week training camp. The day before the World Cup event, I was doing a final run of the course when I lost control of my front wheel and catapulted into a bush. I jumped up, thinking, “F* that was stupid,” only to look down and see the head of a stick in my leg. Housty, my team manager, said, “Yanks, it’s not that bad, looks like it’s just under the skin, I’ll pull it out quick.” So he grabbed it, yanked it out while I looked away, and threw it into the bush, trying not to make a scene. I think if I’d seen the size of the stick, I would have passed out. Housty hustled me to the medics, where the doctors diagnosed it as rather serious, as it was very close to my main nerve. The doctor got on the phone with Stellenbosch Medi Clinic and said, “I think it’s about a 4cm deep hole in her leg.” Housty then said, “No, it was definitely deeper than that. I’ll go back and fetch the stick.” So off he went, while the doctor tried to keep me positive saying he could get it cleaned up, perhaps have a skin graft and still be able to get me on the start line for Cape Epic in eight 82 | MTB | risky business days. Sadly, the World Cup the next day was off the cards. Housty returned with the stick and upon seeing it, everyone was shocked into fright. They quickly phoned the hospital again, “Scratch that, it’s easily a 10cm deep hole in the leg, about the size of a R2 coin.” They rushed me to hospital while I cried my tear ducts dry, then I was taken for X-rays, and about 20 minutes after that was put to sleep in – as I’d probably never have 100% functionality in my leg again. Dr Dillon, who looked after me, was at first optimistic about my situation, but every day he brought me worse and worse news. First was the fact This is what a blunt instrument will do to your leg if you land on it. “IT FELT LIKE A SECOND HEART IN MY LEG WITH ALL THE THROBBING!” surgery where they cleaned it all up. Because the stick was so blunt it completely mangled everything in its path, damaging a lot of muscle and skin that they had to cut away, turning my hole into the size of a R5 coin. The doctors said I was really lucky that the stick didn’t hit my main nerve – it literally missed it by a fraction that I had to stay in hospital for the weekend in case of infection, while a suction on my leg was draining all the fluid out. But Epic could still happen! I was in High Care and the nurses were unbelievable, checking up on me every hour and looking after me so well. I was given three courses of antibiotics at the same time, as well as hectic painkillers. The following day I said to Dr Dillon, “How will I race the Epic in a week after all these antibiotics?” He responded with, “I didn’t say you could race, I said you could get on the start line.” Sunday came, along with more disappointment – no Epic. On Monday I was seen by Dr Strydom, my plastic surgeon, who said he could find enough skin from my leg to close it shut, by basically skinning me like a fish. After that surgery, I was put on really strong painkillers and had to keep my foot elevated. As soon as those wore off it felt like I had a second heart in my leg with all the throbbing! A month later, I was back on the bike and starting rehab, just grateful to be in one piece, with my dreams of competing still very much alive. My leg was feeling better, just all the muscles were taking a bit of a hit trying to protect the wound. I’m still a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, so for now I’ll smile at the confusion and laugh through the tears. Perseverance is key – amazing things can happen if you just believe that everything will work out. I missed the World Cup opener, I missed Epic but I’m still keen to race, as long as I feel okay. When you’re testing the course one last time, the day before the XCO World Cup opener, and the next thing you’re lying in a bush. Bianca Haw tells us about her freak wipe out.