Mountain biking: MacLeod refusing to give up after serious injury

Dunedin mountain biker Sheryl MacLeod is recovering at her Pine Hill home after breaking her neck...
Dunedin mountain biker Sheryl MacLeod is recovering at her Pine Hill home after breaking her neck. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Sheryl MacLeod still wants to get back on her mountain bike but knows there is a chance her international career is over.

MacLeod (30) broke her neck and dislocated her second and third vertebrae when her bike slid on a muddy surface halfway down a course on a training ride on Signal Hill early this month.

She returned to Dunedin a week ago to recuperate at her Pine Hill home after having an emergency operation in Christchurch to fuse the vertebrae with a bone graft from her hip. The surgeons also wired the broken bones of the neck.

MacLeod, New Zealand's top female downhill mountain biker, was targeting August's world championships at Canberra.

"I'm still feeling positive and am not planning to give up," she said yesterday.

MacLeod is keeping her options open but she knows that downhill mountain biking is risky and will not make a decision on her future in the sport until she has made a full recovery.

"I still want to have fun on the pedals," MacLeod said. "But I might concentrate on less risky bikes on the road or in cross-country mountain biking."

MacLeod, a qualifications assessor for Work and Income in Dunedin, is able to walk around her home and section unaided but must use crutches for balance on a long walk.

"I have to wear a neck brace for a few weeks and may need another operation," she said.

The orthopaedic surgeon at Christchurch wired the back of the neck.

"If it doesn't heal properly, I may need to have a plate and screw inserted through the front of the neck."

The original plan was for MacLeod to have two operations on her neck.

"But the surgeon in Christchurch thought it was too risky to have the second operation because my spinal cord was exposed. It was very dicey," MacLeod said.

She was put in traction in Christchurch Hospital to see if the bones would return to the correct position.

MacLeod's bike slipped on a muddy patch on a retaining wall drop andslid sideways. The handle bars twisted and a tree sapling pulled her off the bike.

The straps of her helmet grazed the neck and crushed her voice box.

"My neck was swollen and I talked like a 5-year-old for a few days."

MacLeod was in the best form of her mountain biking career. She was expected to dominate this month's North Island and South Island national series and be a top 10 contender for the world championships.

But she does not have any regrets.

"A lot of people expected me to be frustrated by not being able to race. But the overwhelming feeling I have is a sense of relief. I feel so lucky. I've been given a second chance and am happy for that.

"I've beaten the odds and I'm still alive and able to walk. Someone up there was looking down on me and people were sending me good vibes."

She is being assisted during her recovery by her partner, Warren Black. His mother, Rhonda, and McLeod's mother, Dale, have come to Dunedin from Riverton and Geraldine to assist.

MacLeod, like most downhill mountain bikers, is used to injuries. During her career she has had serious injuries to an elbow, shoulders and knees.


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