In order to find her way back to cycling, Megan Dunn went underground. Just over two years since a horror six-month run of injury and accidents, the dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist is back in training and this summer will return to road racing with Specialized Securitor.
"Megan Dunn is the future of women's cycling." Those were the words of Cycling Australia women's track endurance coach Gary Sutton in November 2008 when as a 17-year-old, Dunn was crowned the best young female cyclist in the country. Earlier in the year at age 16, Dunn had won the Bay Classic ahead of seasoned professionals Belinda Goss and Katherine Bates, won the points race at the junior track nationals and then claimed three world junior titles on the track in South Africa.
The following year she added another national junior title, defending her points race championships and winning the omnium but in 2010, Dunn really made her mark on the international scene. As Australia's under-23 road champion, Dunn was top-10 at the UCI World Cup Open de Suede Vargarda, four seconds behind winner Kirsten Wild. On the track, she took out the points race at the Beijing World Cup and then hit the headlines back home winning the points and scratch race at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Sutton's words had not been mistaken.
A broken wrist that December, was followed by glandular fever and in April 2011, Dunn was the victim of a hit-and-run while training at home in Dubbo in the New South Wales' north-west. Worse was to come, when a month later Dunn hit a pot hole at 70km/h, crashed and was knocked unconscious suffering two fractured collarbones and a broken elbow. On the road, she awoke to find a truck bearing down on her. It was no wonder when talking about her latest accident on local television news, Dunn was questioning her future.
"Sometimes you feel like it would be easier to pack up and hang up the bike for a little bit, but I say that now only three days after the accident," she said.
The sentiment stuck to Dunn a little longer than intended, despite an Olympic Games on the horizon. Dunn decided that apart from time off to "let a few broken bones heal", some additional time off would help heal the mind. But it was never her intention, at age 19, to be on the sidelines for as long as what eventuated.
"If someone had of said to me I would have close to two years off the bike I wouldn't have believed them," Dunn told Cyclingnews a day after her 22nd birthday.
"It was never that I hated the bike," she insists easily. "I just missed racing so much. I suppose life just took a different direction and I stayed away from sport much longer than I wanted to. But I suppose now I'm just ready to come back."
It was in the intervening years that Dunn, with her bike in the garage, started driving a truck down the silver and copper mines in Cobar in the central west. Hauling the mineral fruits of the earth back and the forth in the dark, Dunn's hunger for the bike was slowly returning. The study she was doing in the meantime eventually allowed her to return to life above ground and behind a desk, finding a job in accounting.
"Life was going really well for me but I was missing that one thing," she explained. "My job allowed me to start training again and the more I trained, the more I wanted to race. I was getting fitter. Things were falling into place."
In Specialized Securitor, Dunn will be racing with arguably the best women's criterium outfit in Australia. Last summer the team took out the Santos Women's Cup in Adelaide off the back of two wins from Kimberley Wells who earlier that month finished on the podium at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic where Dunn won in 2008. Joining the team currently taking on the National Road Series, will be Amy Bradley, Carlee Taylor, Loren Rowney, Kate Finegan and national criterium champion Wells who returns from an impressive season in the US. It's taken team manager Liz Phillippou two years of coaxing Dunn but the rider couldn't think of a better team to ride for in her comeback.
"Liz has always been there and she's such a dear friend and it's so nice that she still thinks of me after all these years," explained Dunn. "I kept saying that it wasn't the right time for me and this year when she contacted me I thought, actually… well I kind of baulked at it and thought 'this is a commitment'. But I just said yep, I'm going to do it."
Committed to the road, Dunn admits there may be the odd track race in her schedule but where that leads, at this stage, she's not sure. There's unfinished business on the track, but Dunn knows at the same time, she never had the chance to reach her full potential on the road. For now, she's working on her base kilometres back with old coach Gary 'Gus' Dawson.
"He knows me better than I know myself. He knows how to get me fit and I've had a few talks with Garry Sutton," Dunn revealed.
Talks with Sutton and knowing that a Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is now just under a year away begged the question if a defence of her two titles was on the cards. Dunn, true to form, laughed before offering:
"It's in the back of my head. My biggest fear is that even if I can get to the fittest I can, I don't know what level the girls are at anymore. My best, might not be the best anymore.
"The only way I'm going to know is to get out there and race."