JANELLE Small was doing 54 clicks racing along Upper Lansdowne Road in June last year in Manning Cycle Club's Lyn Mathiske Memorial race.
The pace was on, with the group sprinting down hill. What happened next was described by a cycle club member as 'carnage'.
A clip of the wheels saw five riders smash into the road, like, as the spokesman continued 'a domino effect'.
Club officials raced to the scene and an ambulance was called. Janelle was the most seriously hurt, her hands and face taking the brunt of the impact. She was transported by Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital with horrific facial injuries.
"I do have some memories of waking up on the road and the trip by helicopter,'' Janelle, a nurse who works at Community Health at Manning Base Hospital, said.
"I had facial injuries - fractures and lots of wounds. I needed a couple of surgeries from the trauma team and the facial team. I was in John Hunter for a week and another three here.''
"Then I had another three lots of surgery after that. I was in a lot of pain,'' she added.
She had more than 60 stiches in her face and is resolved to the fact that she'll have permanent nerve damage.
Janelle also sustained multiple fractures in both her hands.
"I've had three lots of surgery on my hands so far,'' she explained.
The recovery process was both long, painful and at times, lonely.
"The pain was hard, but also having COVID lockdown meant I couldn't have friends or family come and help or stay with me. That was difficult,'' she said
"I needed help with everything - eat, drink, get dressed, go to the bathroom, shower. Everything.''
Not surprisingly, getting back on her bike wasn't an option.
"But one of the guys set me up on a smart trainer, with aero bars, so I could rest my arms and still try and exercise,'' she recalled.
Janelle's played sport for most of her life. She started cycling as part of rehab from a knee injury sustained playing football eight or so years ago. She knows injury is part of the process.
"But I didn't anticipate anything like that,'' she added.
Despite this Janelle was determined to return to riding - maybe not for competition, but at least to exorcise demons.
"It took me nearly five months,'' she admits.
"To be honest getting back on the bike was really frightening. It wasn't a race - I went for a ride at the crit (criterium) track.''
She didn't go far - three or four laps maybe. But when she finished it felt like she'd won the Tour de France.
"Overcoming fear is a very hard thing to do. It was frightening, but when it was over I was glad I did it,'' Janelle said, managing a smile.
However, more surgery, again on her hands, interrupted any serious thought she entertained of making a comeback to club competition.
"I didn't race until November at the criterium track. I was as nervous as hell and I didn't know if I'd enter until literally the last minute. I thought I'd just hang off the back and just have a go,'' she said.
"It was a massive moment to be able to do that.''
She's now back racing on the road - starting the season a few weeks back at Wootton.
"Again, I was frightened, but once I got on the bike I was alright.''
She described the support from the cycle club as 'fantastic'.
"There were other cyclists injured at same time, so it's affected a lot of people. I've made some really good bonds through the process of what's happened and the cycle community has been fantastic.''
However, the pot holed state of the road at Upper Lansdowne means the club doesn't compete there this season. She hasn't had to relive the accident.
Janelle's enjoying a successful season. She was third in her division in the recent Tour of the Manning, an event that takes in a road race, time trial and criterium In May she won her division (40-49 age group) in the club's time trial championship.
"I still have some restrictions with my hands, but otherwise I'm going pretty good,'' she confirmed.
At 46, Janelle laughs when asked how much longer she intends to stay in the sport.
"Good question. I really don't know.''
However, what she is sure about is that she'd happily recommend cycling to anyone who wants to take it up.
"Certainly,'' she said.
"It's a wonderful sport.''
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