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“I went to our first date without crutches – way too soon but I really wanted to walk on our first date.” These are the words of Mischa Bredewold, a young and talented rider from the Netherlands who got hit by a truck a few weeks before the Road World Championships in 2018. She had just turned 18.
The young man she started dating is Edo Maas, a talented rider who, in his first year with the Sunweb Development Team, got hit by a car in the Piccolo Lombardia. Maas was left paralyzed from the waist down. He was 19.
They make a remarkable couple, both 20 years young but with life experience way beyond their years. This is their story.
“I remember the phone call from Edo’s mum the day of the crash,” Bredewold tells me. “I wasn’t too worried although he usually texted me an hour after the finish of his races. I thought he had a doping control or something.”
“Or perhaps I could have been on the podium too?” Maas offers with a smile.
“No, I knew you didn’t win,” Bredewold continues. “I always check the results. I wasn’t too worried until his mother called me and told me it was bad, that Edo had bleeding in his brain and was on his way to the ICU of the hospital in Milan.”
It was a phone call her own parents had received a year earlier. Bredewold, just 18, was on the shortlist for the Dutch junior women’s team for the Road World Championships in Innsbruck. She was out on her time trial bike when she was hit by a truck while crossing the road. The result: three broken vertebrae, six broken ribs, a broken pelvis, and a serious brain injury.
Fast forward to 2019 when Bredewold was back in a hospital, but now sitting next to the man she loves. “We soon heard that the bleeding in his brain was under control and there was no damage,” she says about those first days in the Italian hospital. “We did hear that first night Edo had broken his back and that there was damage to the spinal cord. That was our main worry.”
Edo looks at his girlfriend with a loving smile. On one side of his mouth a large scar moves with every shy smile. His greenish brown eyes are observing her when she speaks.
“I don’t remember anything at all of that crash in the Piccolo Lombardia, one of the last races of my first U23 season,” Maas says. “The first memory I have is waking up in the hospital after three days. Jelle de Jong, my sports director at Sunweb, told me everything. He saw it happen from the team car.
“I had worked for our team leader Leon Heinschke. My job was to bring him to the foot of the Madonna del Ghisallo. That’s what I did but I didn’t lose too much time in the climb. We knew the descent wasn’t a dangerous one, it had wide and flowing corners, so we tried to make up some time again. That car just came onto the road, in the middle of our race. I hit the side of the car at full speed and that was it.”
Maas was brought to the hospital in Como but they were not equipped to deal with his serious injuries. He was airlifted to the university hospital of Milan. That’s where his family saw him again and Maas’ long road to recovery began. He was diagnosed with a T6 spinal cord injury which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“I met Mischa when she was still recovering in the Hoogstraat rehabilitation center,” Maas recalls. “I ended up in the same facility she had been staying at one year before.”
“I had told him to go there,” Bredewold says. “It was a 40-minute drive from his home in Rotterdam where they also have a rehabilitation center but my experiences with the Hoogstraat were really good.”
“Mine was a bit different — not the party memories you had of your time there,” he mocks her lovingly. “I couldn’t stay in the same young adult unit she had because I had a spinal cord injury. You automatically end up with older people. And their aim is to get you out of there as soon as possible.”
After four months, Maas left the Hoogstraat and continued his life in a wheelchair. “I did know pretty soon that my injury was definitive. The spinal cord is cut. There was no false hope in my rehab. I am a realistic person but I am only 20 years young and the future is still long.
“There are still a lot of medical developments basically every week. I still have hope that one day in the future they can treat spinal cord injuries like mine.”
He shares that future with Mischa. They met when they were both 18. “We already knew each other from the KNWU [the Dutch cycling union] junior training camp,” Bredewold says. “When I was in the Hoogstraat he started sending me direct messages on Instagram and asked for my Snapchat. Very traditional,” she laughs. “Edo helped me with my recovery. We did training rides together. Now he helps me with training and gives me advice. I know it’s not easy for him but he does it. He is very selfless.”
“I still love watching cycling but not the U23 category I was part of,” Maas says. “I still look at these races and then think what my job in that race would have been. That’s still hard and too close to home. I haven’t been to a race with Mischa either. That is also too hard for now.
“I am that guy in the wheelchair next to Mischa and people automatically know who I am. Their posture changes. It also happens on the street. People get that weird smile on their face. In my development as a cyclist it was never enough and now the smallest steps make me a superhuman to people apparently. It’s compassion I guess but I am still just the same person. I am not piteous. Mischa knows that.”
Indeed Maas shouldn’t be pitied. His life has changed drastically but he sees the good in the new things that are coming. He was just accepted into the Rotterdam School of Arts after submitting a portfolio with drawings he made of, among others, Mischa.
“I have it easy when you compare me to the other people I also saw in the rehab center; the people with paralysis much higher up,” he says. “I can use my arms and do manage to do almost everything myself. I have explored and rekindled my passion for drawing. That is something that wouldn’t have happened if I would still be on my way to a life in procycling.
“At home we weren’t a sportive family per se although I did a hundred sports before accidentally ending up on the bike. There was creativity at home though. My dad draws too.”
He looks forward to his new student life where he hopes to live in a student house with his friends and have nights out on the town drinking and partying.
Mischa is finding her way back into the women’s peloton after making a full recovery from her own accident. They’re on two different paths — something they see as a bigger challenge to their relationship than the misfortune they’ve both had.
“Because of what we both experienced we have a very solid basis and I don’t think there is a lot that can break that,” Bredewold says. “I think it’s important that we are equal. I am not his caretaker; I am his girlfriend. He has full use of his arms and can do everything himself and I always make him do everything himself. Pity is not what our relationship is built on.”
“She doesn’t want me to become lazy,” Maas counters. “The only thing she helps me with is that top cabinet in the kitchen.”
They help each other in difficult moments. “She has been through the same thing,” Maas says. “Our relationship could have moved in two directions after my accident. I am happy with the direction we chose. She knows I am not different. I am not Edo of that accident to her. She is not Mischa of the accident to me either. It’s not that I always want to talk about what happened but she makes me talk. That is now a good thing.”
Bredewold also finds solace on the bike — Maas’ bike. “I ride his Cervélo in the races now.”
“She doesn’t ride for me, I know that,” Maas says. “She has her own career and I support her in that. It’s sometimes hard to see that she is making steps I will never make in cycling but I am now also doing things I would have never done if it weren’t for what happened. I am looking forward to starting at the Academy of Arts and looking forward to see how Mischa’s career will develop as well.”
For Mischa, her first steps back into the women’s peloton were hampered by COVID this year. She is currently riding with the Watersley R+D team. She hopes to moves up to the UCI-level from here. Her dream?
“I hope to get as far as I can in cycling,” she says. “I am an attacking rider and that’s what I always do: attack. I don’t have a particular favorite race, but I really like the hard classics like Paris-Roubaix. It’s the race Edo made me love.
“When he rode it in 2019, I went along with him. Riding that race as a procyclist with him by my side would be really great.”