Shannon Malseed on her Bay Crits crash and the importance of staying positive

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Shannon Malseed’s season didn’t start as planned. On January 4, she crashed heavily on the final lap of stage 2 of the Bay Crits, fracturing her scapula and a vertebra. It looked like it could have been a lot worse — the 2018 Australian champion spent more than an hour on the ground as paramedics tried to stabilise her and load her into an ambulance.

A month later Malseed is well into her recovery and is eyeing off a return to racing in the weeks to come. CyclingTips caught up with Malseed on the evening of the women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race where her Tibco teammates had been racing. In this interview Malseed reflects on her crash, her recovery, and the importance of a positive mindset.

CyclingTips: How’s the recovery coming along?

Shannon Malseed: Yeah, pretty well. I’m pretty surprised with how quickly the body can heal. It’s like four weeks in now and I feel … I’m moving my shoulder around heaps and training normally but just on the wind trainer. But I reckon I’ll be on the road pretty soon. I can almost do some weight bearing stuff.

So yeah, just been doing lots of things like physio and training, but easily. I’ve started to ramp it up now which is nice.

You’ve got your sling off now as well?

Oh yeah. That came off in like the first week. The advice from my sports physicians and my physio was just to move it as soon as possible but to be guided by pain. So if it hurts don’t do it. So I’ve just been going with that advice and it seems to be working really well.

Have you got any pain at the moment?

Nah. Only if I do something stupid. But I can move it quite a bit. I don’t have any pain when I’m riding. Sometimes if I wake up and I’ve been sleeping on it it might hurt a little bit but that’s new as well because at the start I couldn’t even roll over onto that side. But now I’m kind of waking up on that side and being like “ooh, this is a little bit sore now.” Sitting down for a long time … it gets a little bit sore.

Do you mind if I ask you about the crash itself?

Yeah, that’s fine. I don’t have bad PTSD or anything!

What do you remember of it?

I remember everything. We were on the final lap and coming into the finish. It was stage 2 of Bay Crits along the eastern waterfront there [in Geelong]. It was kinda dumb because we weren’t even sprinting for the win. We were coming in for eighth place or something like that. I was like “I might as well give it a go, see if I can get a top 10. Who knows?”

And so I was kind of positioned towards the front of the little group that we were with. So I think I was like fourth wheel and then there was just a touch of wheels in front of me. Emma Chilton came down in front of me and yeah, I think she just touched the wheel of the rider in front of her because there was a bit of an erratic swing from one side of the road to the other.

And I just couldn’t avoid it by the time I got to her. And then I was just directly behind her and then crashed over the top of the her. I don’t think I hurt her too bad — I think I came off worse! And then it was just a whole bunch of pain for the next hour while I waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Malseed’s friend and teammate Sarah Gigante sat with her after the crash.

You were down for a long time. Did you get the sense that it was pretty bad?

Yeah, I knew that I had broken something as soon as I hit the ground. I was like, “OK, I’m not moving because this really hurts.” I’ve never broken a bone before. I might have cracked a rib or two, but nothing that’s put me in hospital or had me have to take time off the bike or anything.

So it was just that different kind of pain that I just knew “OK, this is what a broken bone feels like.” And I also hit my head pretty hard. So I was a bit worried about my head as well. As soon as I hit it [I thought] “Wow, that was hard.” I didn’t even think about getting up. It was like “Nope, this is where I’m staying.”

And then it just took so long for the ambulance to get there. And I had no pain relief either. So it was just like an hour of breathing really heavily trying not to … Well, I actually wanted to pass out because it hurt so much. I was like “Please let me just black out, I don’t want this anymore.”

Do you remember Sarah Gigante sitting with you and comforting you?

Yeah, she was there the whole time. And then she came to the hospital as well the next day after the race, which was awesome. She gave me chocolates. Yeah, she’s a little champion. It was good to have her there. There was a lot of people there.

And so many people came to visit me in the hospital the next day. I had my dad there and my brother who lives in Geelong. And then my old team-mate Erin Kinnealy came, [race director] John Trevorrow came twice. Yeah, there was loads of people coming to visit me which was cool — it made me feel loved.

Malseed gets loaded into an ambulance.

I remember when it happened there was talk that you might have injured your leg as well. People were talking about your hip or your femur or something like that. But that turned out to be alright in the end?

Yeah. I just had a giant corky in my like leg, right in my inner thigh, right up near the joint. And so when I was trying to move it, they were like “can you move your legs?” And when I was trying to move my leg, I was just like “it hurts, a lot.” And so they were worried that I had a broken femur or something. But I knew that it wasn’t. I was just like “Nah, it’s just my shoulder.”

I didn’t know if it was my collarbone or my shoulder. I couldn’t tell. But they were prodding at my collarbone and I was like “Nah, that is not where it hurts.” So I expected it to be my scapula. But yeah, I wasn’t too worried about my leg; it just hurt to move.

But I just got a huge bruise and then like a gross, lumpy thing. You know when you get scar tissue in your leg? I’ve got that in there so it kind of hurts to stretch but I think it’ll go away. It’s going down gradually.

What’s it been like coming to watch races like the Nationals and Cadel’s Race from the roadside?

Yeah. I’ve loved watching. I wouldn’t miss it. Going to see Nationals — it’s such good vibes there. Even being on the sidelines, I enjoyed it. And obviously cheering for Sarah and being there to support her was why I was there. But also I have so many friends in the peloton, obviously in the all-Australian peloton. Like my ex team-mate Brodie Chapman and her teammate Lauren Kitchen. Basically all of them — I don’t know who to cheer for! But it was really enjoyable watching Nationals.

But it was pretty close to after my crash happened so then I just went home [to Ballarat] and recovered through TDU and watched that on the livestream which was really cool to have the livestream going this year. It got me through all of those trainer sessions that week.

And then I came up here [to Geelong to watch Cadel’s Race] because it’s close to home. Yeah, I really enjoyed watching Race Torquay and the race today. It was super exciting both times. We had successful racing both of those races with Lauren [Stephens] fourth at Race Torquay and she got seventh today. Unfortunately there was that crash that happened — two of our riders were caught up too. But I think they should be super proud with how they rode.

I went in the car today. It’s the first time I’ve been in a car in a WorldTour race and it was pretty exciting. Even though there was that patch through the race where the breakaway was up the road and it was a bit boring. But I still found it exciting to be in the car.

I’m going to go home after this, though, and keep training and doing my rehab. So I’ll miss Herald Sun Tour but yeah, I’ve really enjoyed coming to watch. I think it’s important for me to still socialise and not just lock myself up and be a sad sack. Like, just get on with it. I obviously love hanging out with my team, so it’s cool to be here and be around them still, even though I’m broken.

What do you think is realistic in terms of coming back? You said you’re going to be getting back on the bike soon? Do you have an idea of when you might be able to get back to racing?

Yeah, I’m pretty optimistic that I will be racing in early March. So with the Spring Classics that we’re heading to, we’re sending a team of eight over to Europe and we’ll sort of rotate through the roster. For the month of March there’s a lot of racing going on so having eight there is very good for us. And that sort of takes a bit of pressure off as well, bringing me there as well. If I’m not ready for those very first races, then maybe a week later I will be.

But yeah, I’m pretty optimistic. I think that my fitness hasn’t gone down too much because I only missed a week of training completely. And then I got back to it, but quite easily for the first few weeks. And then I’ve started to ramp it up. So I might have lost a bit but I haven’t lost a huge amount. And I think I can come back quickly, especially because I’m in a really good frame of mind and I think that helps a lot with racing in general and being a pro athlete.

If you’re in a good mindset, then you tend to just perform a lot better and that’s been my main focus through all of this. And even before this I was more focussed on the mental side, rather than just training. Anyone can get on the bike and flog themself for 20 hours a week but if you’re not enjoying it then you get different responses.

So I’ve just been focusing more so on enjoying my time on the bike. I think it’s really helped, especially now.

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