By Les Clarke
Louise Yaxley, one of the riders seriously injured when the AIS women's squad were hit by a car in Germany on July 19, a tragedy that took the life of team-mate Amy Gillet, is making solid progress in her rehabilitation, albeit slow.
"I'm halfway to being fully recovered," said Yaxley from her home in Launceston, Tasmania, following an afternoon water physiotherapy session. "It's slow progress, but it's happening, and we're still not sure how much extension I can get in my arms just yet."
Yaxley suffered severe injuries to her legs and arms in the accident, and although her legs have healed very quickly, her arms are still quite some way from full recovery. "My left wrist was severely damaged, and I've got seven screws in there. I can feel them moving about - but it's better than having my wrist fused, which is what they normally do."
Yaxley is already walking up to two hours a day, and she hopes to be running soon. "I try and do two sessions of at least 40 minutes a day," said Yaxley, "when I'm finished I look at my watch and make sure I've completed a full session."
In the next few weeks the 24-year-old Tasmanian will visit the plastic surgeon, which is "a big mental step." But it's a big part of the recovery process, albeit a scary one. "I think the thing I'm worried about the most is wearing knicks again. My arms and legs were pretty badly damaged, and I don't think the actual riding will be the problem, it'll be having people see the scars," said Yaxley. Even though the speed of her recovery has plateaued lately, Yaxley says that the speed of her recovery in the first three months after the crash has "surprised everybody."
But it's time for the hard yards now, and Yaxley knows it, saying, "The doctors couldn't believe it [the speed of her initial recovery], but the lengthier healing starts now." Doctors are still not sure how much she'll be able to extend her arms, affecting her ability to hold onto handlebars.
She's staying enthusiastic, however, and using her recovery so far as motivation for the battles ahead. "Staying positive is the only way to be. I think how lucky I am to be here. Amy [Gillett, Yaxley's teammate who died in the accident] wasn't so lucky, but I have been, so I have to stay positive."
Yaxley's recovery has been very ably assisted by boyfriend Mike, and parents Annette and Brian. With Mike returning to work, Yaxley's mother has become a home nurse for her daughter. "Mum's moved in and is like a home nurse. I haven't got much strength back yet, so mum helps out and she's been excellent. Everyone's been unbelievable."
There's extra motivation for recovery: "They've got a new a new Avanti Carbonia waiting for me at the TIS (Tasmanian Institute of Sport), but I've been told I have to be able to wrap the bar tape properly before I can have it. I've got the squeezing balls out, strengthening my arms for that already!"
Yaxley would be keen to use her experiences to raise awareness of cyclists' safety in the media, and although she hasn't been approached to do anything officially, she lets people know how important the safety of cyclists is.
"Anytime I get the opportunity - when friends are around or something like that - I let people know how important safety is. I don't let my boyfriend use his phone in the car, because it was probably that kind of distraction that caused the accident in Germany."
And Yaxley's aware that safety affects the motorist as well. "There are two sides to the coin. The drivers have to live with what's happened for the rest of their lives. Safety's definitely something that has to be pushed."
(Also see the AIS women's diary.)