If you follow Amanda Batty on social media, you’ll be well aware that a few weeks ago she crashed and injured her lower leg in ways that are not only leg threatening, but life threatening. Having just undergone another round of major surgery to install metalwork in her leg that she hopes will allow her to resume an active lifestyle in due course, she’s just published this announcement explaining why she’s retiring from professional downhill racing. Spoiler: it’s not because of her leg.
Frankenfootleg is starting to look like an actual body part these days rather than bloated dangling meat, but the zombie coloring is my favorite — the nerve pain tells me we’re coming back. I have more surgeries ahead and no timeline of recovery, of PT or any expectation of how this will end and I’m perfectly okay with that. The rules of the game have changed for me with this one. I’m not going through the stages of grief, obsessing over the loss, engaging in suffering. I guess planning retirement and enjoying the ‘lasts’ of everything gave me time to mourn, but even that wasn’t painful… I’m glad. I’m grateful. Even with metal bored into what’s left of my bones, I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m challenged by this and the daily changes I’m making to accommodate myself, and the newfound patience and compassion for others… But the warrior is still there. The gratitude hasn’t softened my will to thrive and give back just as passionately as I’ve lived thus far, and there won’t be an end to my advocacy. But as I transition from racer into something much, much more than that, I’ll remember this. I’ll remember the pain, the heartbreak, the work and effort and soul that goes into every attempt made by every racer and athlete out there, and I’ll pour myself into change. Because what we do is accept, adapt, grow and fight, zombie limb or not. Testing boundaries and crushing limits and building something bigger than ourselves, leaving something much better behind than just a race record. ⚡️⚡️⚡️ #notdead #fuckingextraordinary #liftasyourise
The post is an eloquent insight into the risks and rewards of being a professional racer. Thanks to Amanda for allowing us to republish it in full (but see the original if you want the swearing) here.
A few of you may have heard that I’m retiring from professional DH racing. Some of you may have even extrapolated that it’s due to my recent injury sustained at USACycling’s MTB national championships — a reasonable conclusion by any means.
But you’d be wrong. Fortunately.
I started racing downhill mountain bikes in 2012 and went pro in 2013. When I got my pro license, I remember telling my best friend that I had five years to accomplish my goals. “Why five?! You’re fast! Why limit yourself to five years?” and I responded that I wasn’t dumb — nobody can be an athlete forever. I’d seen that clearly enough in the snowboard industry and was hell-bent on never being the scarred-up 90-year-old pro who had never lived anything else.
Racing takes a LOT out of a person — especially the way I’ve done it. Physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually, romantically. I gave it all I had, though, and I don’t regret any of it even a little bit… Not even how it ended. Could I have played it smarter? Sure. Would I have? Never. I’ll never wonder whether keeping my mouth shut would have made me more successful, because we all know it would have… But it would’ve also robbed me of the honor. Would crashing have cost me less and given me more chances? Of course. But not going all-in has never been my style, regardless of the armchair quarterbacks who enjoy(ed) pretending that I‘m a sub-par rider. I took risks because progression requires risk and because risk is the price of admission to the only game I ever cared about: improvement. There was a debt to be paid for the love of this sport and I paid my dues, over and over and over again, in every way. To sacrifice relationships and opportunity and stability and conventional freedom is to be obsessed with the addiction that racing downhill was for me, but that sacrifice never made me a martyr; it made me better. It made me a more disciplined, more determined, more focused, more kind, more stalwart, more cutthroat, more hungry version of myself, and so much ‘more’ on so many levels. On every level. I sacrificed for that because it gave me a glimpse not only into how much I could be but what I could share with the world through my unique abilities. It was never about glory, but leverage — what change could I leverage with my efforts? From an environment non-profit and getting more girls and women into racing in the earliest days to the cultural conversations we’re having now surround sexism and equal pay and podium girls, I knew I could do well and I knew I could build something better than just a reputation on doing well. I was an opportunist of a different sort, I guess.
But as time wore on, I got tired of so much collateral damage. I was worn out. I started looking for the exits last year at National Champs. Then I did well, and was back in. I set my sights on bigger goals, more leverage — “they can’t dismiss a National Champ” soon became “they’d have a hard time hassling a World Cup winner” and eventually, it was “they wouldn’t dare f*** with a World Champion”, ‘they’ being the hordes of critics and commentators who’ve spent the last five years talking about how angry/fat/ugly/slow/lazy/loud I am. But I never made it to World Championships in 2017, and was seriously injured in October with a bad concussion and a hip fracture. So I swore 2018 would be my season. My YEAR.
And during that giveaway, I realized that real change doesn’t require a ‘win’; it doesn’t need leverage. It never had. I realized a few things, like how much money I’d spent on the supremely selfish and egotistical pursuit that is racing, all for… What, exactly? Why was I spending tens of thousands of dollars to break myself off in the pursuit of some stupid f***ing title nobody will remember in two years let alone ten? A worthless title in a niche sport becomes a whole lot more worthless when you can assemble a small group that changes the lives of 200+ kids between 1–13 in less than three weeks with no prior planning.
Unfortunately, I’d made commitments and plans and reservations. And I still had a tiny bit of that vanity left, the desire to ‘show them’. But the hunger that kept me lucky and safe for so long was missing… And it cost me, dearly. I was tired, so damn tired, and in March it cost me my left shoulder.
Three weeks ago, it nearly cost me my leg.
The exhaustion has been all-encompassing this year. As I battled through the winter and spring and had breakdowns in front of my coach ‘for no reason’, then came into the gym broken and battered. That same exhaustion manifested in a condition called ‘pulmonary fibrosis’ that was finally diagnosed after my crash in Tennessee due to the life-threatening pneumonia that saw me hospitalized in Knoxville… And left me with a destroyed shoulder. But I came back, because #goals. Or something. Something stupid and scary and careless. I’d lost my motivation and knew that it was going to end badly, but I figured I had the rest of the season. As I lay here in my hospital bed writing this after my third surgery on the leg I just wrecked, it’s pretty obvious that no, I did not.
But I’m not unhappy. For the first time this year, I’m not completely f****** miserable. And I think if you crush the shit out of your leg, end your racing career forever, have multiple operations and just feel total relief that you‘re finally free again, you should’ve stopped racing a while ago regardless of whatever commitments. *shrug* So here we are. And I’m okay with this. I’m okay with leaving pro DH — I never accomplished what I wanted to anyway. Would I have? Who knows? Who f****** cares?
Now I get to give away bikes. Now I get to finish a cookie book and not be some stupid persona on the stupid internet. Now I don’t have to be the person who gets tagged into ridiculous arguments between idiots who don’t really give a damn about sexism in sport or else they’d speak up themselves and stop asking me to do the dirty work. Now I get to ride my bike without dudes trying to race me on the trails or show off. Now I don’t even have to ride my bike if I don’t want to. Now I get to be a person again instead of a nebulous, one-dimensional caricature people project their insecurities and needs onto, and I get to tell them to f*** off without worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to beg my way into suspension or tires or chain lube again this year.
Now I don’t have to pretend that I’m actually considering sleeping with product managers in order to get on a product roster in the first place. Now I don’t have to walk the fine line between ‘c***’ and ‘c*** who seems like a bitch but actually is Down As F*** because she plays so many different roles because this industry won’t even let a woman live’.
And now I get to live my way, the real way, and when the heavens fall, I can just turn my phone off and wander into the woods.
That’s why I’m leaving professional mountainbike racing, the bike industry and anything resembling ‘the bike world’ at all. It’s been unreal. 😉
Amanda is seeking to support Little Bellas and NICA with this collection of cookie recipes, hop on over there if you’d like to help her out. She’s also partial to cute pet pictures on Twitter, so if you want to wish her well and brighten her day, send her a picture of your dog looking as goofy and cute as possible.
Having been a voice beyond mountain biking, bringing questions of social justice and responsibility to an audience often focused on straight up leisure, we’ve enjoyed and appreciated her contributions to industry and will miss them. She’s written a number of columns for Singletrack, which you can read here, and we hope that maybe we’ll be able to persuade her to continue to write from time to time. If not, we wish her well with her next chapter. She’s mentioned law school…look out world!