Amanda Batty recalls her first bike crash at the tender age of 3. She was, of course, trying to learn to ride without training wheels.
Years later, her penchant for biking hard and fast helped her quickly make her way up the ranks as a professional downhill racer. She's now one of the country's best downhill mountain bikers on the ProGRT series, the largest national series in the U.S. Last year, she finished second overall, which included a win at the legendary Kamikaze Games in Mammoth Lakes, California.
But that win didn't come easy, as seen in the accompanying photo. It's hard to look at the image and not wonder, "Did Amanda Batty die in this bicycle crash?"
The answer is, no, she did not. In fact, she won the race. Yes, that's right -- Batty peeled herself off the rocks and beat every other rider.
One year later, as Batty goes for a repeat win this weekend at the 2014 Kamikaze Games, we checked in with her to ask some of the lingering questions left after viewing that crash photo.
What happened to cause the crash?
Batty: I've replayed that moment so many times in my head and run through every possible choice I could have made. I hit someone's GoPro that was hanging on a pole onto the course, and I lost my speed and concentration. With spectator involvement like that, there's not a whole lot we can do to control the situation, and we're just stuck with adapting and responding to incoming stimuli. In a rock garden/tight section like that, there are only a few possible routes, and the one I crashed on is the line I practiced all week. In fact, my crash during the race was the only time I didn't clean that line!
Once you realized you were crashing, did you think about what to do to mitigate the injury?
During a crash, accepting the fact that the ground is approaching your face at a rapid pace can be really tough. But the sooner you accept it, the faster you can deal with it and loosen up. With this wreck, I knew I was going down but all I really had time to do was soften everything and wait for impact, then try to pop back up as soon as possible and do a fast crucial systems check.
How did you get up and keep going?
The wreck was one of the hardest and most painful race crashes I've ever experienced. I felt like I couldn't see, couldn't get air, couldn't stand up and couldn't pedal after the wreck, but I somehow managed to do all of it. During the wreck, I pegged a flat rock going too slow, and it was over the bars and damn near game over. I'm not quite sure how I got up and kept going. All I remember is the pain as I pedaled out. I tried to tell myself to breathe and just finish. I was shocked when I got to the bottom and a few minutes later, a friend told me I still held the lead.
What did you do in terms of immediate recovery once you crossed the finish line?
Well, in this particular instance, I was running through everything in my body, making sure all of the important stuff was still operational, and then I took off my helmet, quickly followed by my shoes. The tingling in my hips and feet from some nerve damage was so intense that it felt like my feet were going to explode through my toes, so a friend helped me yank most of my gear off and check my eyes, pulse, and help drop my heart rate. It's always an interesting adventure to get to the bottom of a race run and have something broken that you don't even realize. After the wreck, it hurt like hell to ride, and the pain definitely registered on the radar, but it was only after I crossed the finish line that I realized how bad it was.
How long did it take for the full impact of the crash to take hold in your body?
I was really sore and in pain for about a week after it happened, but I chalked it up to muscular damage and figured it would go away. The pain got worse, though, so I went to see my orthopedic surgeon, who nearly blew a gasket when he found some pretty severe vertebral damage. I needed surgery, then months of physical therapy. It took about seven months until I could race again.