My Summer Was Over Before It Even Started

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After an injury-packed 2015 I decided that I should take a break from racing in 2016. Realistically I should have just stopped when I was doing well the previous year, but the trouble is my competitive side takes over! So as 2016 was to be a year of ‘no racing’ I started off in February with my first downhill race, coming 3rd. Racing again in March with an incredibly tough Vallelujiah Tweedlove Enduro, coming 4th, and a summer Alps road trip had me entered in to the Mountain of Hell, Megavalanche and two Enduro World Series races.

Before it all went wrong. Credit: SDB Photography.
Before it all went wrong. Thanks to SDB Photography for the use of the image.

I’d never done any training other than just riding my bike in the past, but this March I joined a gym and was secretly training hard to make my riding easier, which it was – I noticed the difference during riding and recovery was faster. It was tough going to a gym class after 12-15 hour days at work but I knew it would be worth it come the summer, and I actually enjoyed the classes. Again the competitive streak in me made we want to do the most reps, biggest weights and hardest exercises in all the classes.

…as the boys were going for one last run I decided to go with them…

All this training needed to be put into action before going out to the Alps so I entered an enduro race on the May bank holiday weekend, along with my other half David and our friend Mike. The tracks were incredible, just what I love: techy, rooty super steep, loose, muddy and off camber! Riding down mud chutes that looked vertical and popping out onto the fire road stage finish I was so excited about the race the following day. After a good day of practice, we got to the van about 6pm, I thought about swapping my tyre from a Rock Razor to a Hans Dampf for more grip on the fresh tracks but as the boys were going for one last run I decided to go with them.

I’m lying on the floor, leg in hands screaming.

We go to take one last look at the tracks by pushing up one stage and riding down another. The tracks were soooo steep, it meant carrying and sending the bikes up along a chain of people. We got to an off camber section of roots which were in a very dark patch of the woods, to which I commented, ‘I’m struggling with this bit, I think i’ll just unclip and scoot along!’. ‘Do you want to win?’ I was asked. Well, yes! So a new line was shown to me, something I’d never have seen, but it looked like a good option so I walked up a bit further to get some speed in to it. Not enough speed it seems! Dave shouted to stop as I wasn’t fast enough to make it, but I just thought I’d put in an extra crank.. then the next thing I’m lying on the floor, leg in hands screaming. My pedal had hit the floor, bounced me up and thrown me down the track sideways. I heard and felt the bones snap every time my bike rolled over me, it was surreal, as were the next few hours.

Nicole Broken Leg Rescue
The real thing, not a simulation.

I knew I was broken, and held my leg screaming, Much to Dave’s shock when I let go for him to have a look, my foot spun and was now pointing the opposite way to my leg! Sh*t! I then spent a good few minutes screaming, but not because of the pain – adrenaline had taken care of that for me – but because I had screwed up my whole summer of plans (for the second year in a row) literally a couple of weeks before it was all supposed to start. After a few minutes of being very melodramatic and telling my bike off, apparently I said ‘Right, well we best get out of here then’ and set off bum shuffling up the track!

Being late we were the only ones up there. I went to rest my leg on a tree but Dave said there was too much damage, don’t rest it on anything. The bones were on the verge of breaking the skin and that would have made the situation a hundred times worse. David had a genius idea of using track tape wrapped around my neck to my thigh to hold my leg up. Every time I moved, we heard bones crunching. Mike left me with his tin of Kendal mint cake and went to get help. Cue track rescue nearly two hours later, with gas and air and stretcher rides down to camp, followed by ambulances and a long journey to A&E.

Nicole Broken Leg
Those meds must be good.

Picture those faces people pull when they see something horrendous….that was what the radiographer and the two doctors who came in whilst I was being X-rayed pulled. Erm, excuse me, I am here you know, and you’re not making me feel any better about this! I think the shock had hidden from me how bad it was, obviously I knew it was bad, but not that bad. I thought they’d see this kind of thing regularly but apparently I won the best X-ray for the week! Cheers!

Nicole Broken Leg Xray

They let me look at the X-ray and that’s when I realised I had done a good job. Well if you’re going to do something, then do it properly, hey? I spiral fractured the fibula, a clean break on the tibula and just to top things off, dislocated my ankle, snapping all the ligaments on the way. My ankle had now been out of place for a good seven hours and the skin was going opaque from being pushed so hard for so long.

My ankle was put back in under painkillers, enough to put an elephant out and gladly I don’t remember any of this, although Dave said I was awake and chatting to him! It was 4am by the time they took me to a ward and let me sleep off the meds.

Nicole Broken Leg Xray
Altogether now…eeurgh.

Nurses came round in the morning to prep me for surgery, but disappointment came on the doctors’ rounds when they said they didn’t want to do it, surgery was going to be very complex and they were sending my scans out to two surgeons to see if one could come in and fix me up. It was that bad that the trauma doctors said they didn’t want to do it in case they ruined my chances of riding again.

Nicole Broken Leg
Not the wheels Nicole was hoping to be riding.

Two days later the specialist came in to fix me. I’m not ashamed to say that he made me cry when he told me what they’d have to do, and the high possibility that they’d have to x-fix it, meaning I would have a cage through my skin for eight weeks.
I went for surgery at 9:30am, and came out at 6pm. Oh my life… I have never felt pain like it! I now have that number 10 on the scale to compare future pain to and I never want to go there again. I like to think I have a high pain threshold too. What had they done to me?! I’d been cut open a good eight inches and had two plates, a number of screws to hold them into place, and two new ligaments, topped off by 38 staples! Ouchhhhhhhh ouch ouch! Though to my relief I could see no metal outside my body.

Nicole Broken Leg

So now the road to recovery starts. I’m fixed and ready to come back stronger. I just had to figure out what would keep me busy for the next eight weeks in plaster… four of which I’d be in the Alps for.

Nicole has been riding and testing a Focus Jarifa ebike as part of her recovery. Follow her on Instagram to see how she’s getting on, or check back here for her next update on the road to recovery.

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