Kristina Vogel made an emotional return to the track on Monday, making an appearance in front of home crowds at the Berlin leg of the World Cup series, where she was awarded the accolade of 'Cyclist of the Year' by the German Federation.
Vogel, a two-time Olympic Gold medallist and 11-time World Champion on the track, is paralysed from the waist down after crashing heavily while training in June.
After making her condition public in an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel in September, and then holding a press conference a week later, the 28-year-old entered the velodrome this weekend for the first time since the accident.
She emerged onto the track and completed a lap in her wheelchair, to what the German Federation described as a "thunderous ovation" from the 2000-strong crowd.
Vogel was also honoured as German Cyclist of the Year and was handed the award by German politician Heiko Maas.
"It was very moving," Vogel said in an interview with L'Equipe in Berlin. "I don't miss competition but on the other hand I do miss this community, these people. I've shared some very good and also very bad moments with them. They're my cycling family."
Vogel doesn't remember anything of the crash itself, but it occurred when she was doing sprint efforts at around 60kph with German teammate Pauline Grabosch and she collided with a rider who had just entered the track. She was airlifted to hospital and put into an induced coma with doctors describing her injuries as life-changing.
There was little further information after that, allowing Vogel time to begin her recovery and come to terms with her injuries before she revealed in September she was paraplegic.
"I'm not angry. Of course, there are moments when I feel sad, but I say to myself that I can do what I want, and I've always thought that the quicker you accept a situation, the quicker you can deal with it and bounce back," Vogel said in the L'Equipe interview.
"I'm not going to lie, sometimes I hate what's happened to me, I get a bit jealous of people who are walking in the street, but I also see people who are completely paralysed, who can only move their heads, and then I tell myself it's ok. I'm happy to be alive, I'm still the same person I was six months ago. You have to go on, that's all."
Vogel, who still sits on the track commission and athlete's commission at the UCI, currently has a packed schedule of treatment and rehabilitation. Much of it has centred around sport, and she acknowledged the possibility of one day returning to competition in para-sport, but insisted it's not on her radar any time soon.
"For the moment, I'm very happy to no longer be competing. At the level I was at, it's frightening. Day after day, it's all you think about - today's training, tomorrow's training, the next race. You'd like to watch a film but you've got to go to bed because tomorrow's session is a tough one. Everyone wanted to see me lose, and that was really very hard for me," she said.
"Now, for the first time, I only do things for myself and I can take my time. I missed out on a lot of things as an athlete. Now I'm very far from the concerns of an elite-level athlete. Being successful in Paralympic sport would take me several years, because I wouldn't want to be second - I'd want to win. At the moment, I want to live - that's all. Live like anyone else my age."
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