By Greg Johnson
Australian star track cyclist Anna Meares has returned to training on a bicycle for the first time since her life threatening accident at January's Track World Cup in Los Angeles. Meares, who is still aiming at contesting August's Beijing Olympics, has returned to small sessions on an indoor trainer with the assistance of a clothes rack to ensure her neck receives the support it needs.
In addition to the heavy skin grazing, torn tendons and muscle tissue sustained from the accident, Meares dislocated the AC joint in her right shoulder and sustained a hairline fracture to her C2 vertebra. Meares, who held a press conference in Adelaide last week after returning to Australia from the United States of America, is now out of the wheelchair she had been stricken to and is able to walk unaided.
"Two weeks after the crash and I am able to now walk unaided and move my arm," Meares told Cyclingnews, in response to a reader's letter wishing her well last week. "My burns have all but healed. On Friday I started my first little bit of rehab and that is getting back on the bike.
"My coach and mechanic made me a little rig where I can sit upright on a stationary ergo so as not to put much pressure on my neck," she added. "How simple an idea – a portable clothes rack. The first go at it I could only do one-two minutes before I got dizzy and had to stop. Later that day I did two lots of five minutes just fine and today I easily did 15 minutes. I have to say as sad as it may sound it was very exciting for me to even do the one-two minutes first up.
The accident in Los Angeles has a very real impact on Meares' Beijing Olympic Games bid. While Meares is currently ranked fourth in the qualification standings for August's games, the four to six weeks she's expected to spend out of competition will force her to miss the final two qualification events – the Copenhagen Track World Cup round and the Manchester World Track Championships.
With just 12 spots open for the Olympic Games – three of which places go to the reigning World Cup, World Champion and B World Champions – Meares' Olympic hopes lay completely in the hands of others. While she believes she will be ready for August's event, Meares is relying on either not being knocked out of the top nine riders following the upcoming qualification rounds or being awarded a wildcard.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) can award wildcards of sorts to riders, but only if a pre-qualified cyclist withdraws from the Olympics.
"Funnily enough after the first day of movement of riding I stiffened up a lot the next day but that eased the more I moved," said Meares. "I have also started physio and that is going very well. He believes my arm should be almost back to normal in just over another week. On Monday I am off for my two week check-up cat scan on my neck to check progress on the crack. I am still having to wear the neck brace for the next few weeks but the sling isn't worn unless my arm gets tired."
Meares has remained in high spirits despite the possible implications of the accident and thanked everyone for their support over recent weeks.
"I want to say a very big thank you to everyone who has sent get well cards, flowers and messages to me," she said. "They really have made a very big impact on me and kept me smiling and positive knowing so many people are behind me."
Anyone wishing to send their well wishes to Meares as she recovers and prepares for a possible Australian Olympic Games team berth should direct their letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.