BMX queen Buchanan back on the bike
Unable to carry shopping bags or even reach up to get a plate off the shelf, Caroline Buchanan can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Canberra's BMX queen will get back on the bike six months after a life-threatening accident left her with collapsed lungs, a broken sternum, a broken nose and dangerous bleeding around her heart.
She'll be in California when she taps the pedals for the first time on Thursday.
About a week later she'll ride at her first event – the three-day Helltrack festival in Texas starting on June 22.
It's a throwback to the race in the 1980s BMX movie Rad – the film that started Buchanan's path to winning eight world titles.
"Finally the light at the end of the tunnel. I haven't ridden a bike since Christmas," Buchanan told Fairfax Media.
"For the first six weeks after my recent sternum surgery I wasn't allowed to lift grocery bags, put my arms above my head to get a plate out of the cupboard or anything.
"My first [event] is two weeks after I'm allowed to get back on the bike. It's not a race, it's more a three-day festival event.
"When I was a little girl growing up, doing gymnastics, I watched Helltrack and this Rad movie and I loved it."
While the 27-year-old doesn't know when she'll be back to full strength and her bike-riding best, she's full of confidence after getting some "new hardware" – a plate and 12 screws to repair the sternum that didn't want to heal naturally.
She's starting out with fun events and her mountain bike before slowly working her way up to the hurly burly world of BMX.
Buchanan felt like a new person as soon as she had the plate put in – it no longer hurt every time she laughed, coughed or sneezed.
Normally a non-stop adrenaline junkie, travelling the world for 10 months of the year competing at BMX and mountain-bike events, you would think the week she initially spent in hospital after the off-road-vehicle crash would have been the toughest.
But it was when she found out she needed sternum surgery that she struggled the most.
Mentally, she had to readjust from being back on the bike 3½ months after the crash to now missing the BMX world championships – which were held in Azerbaijan last week.
She finished second at last year's worlds, behind the USA's Alise Post, and watched this year's event on the live stream in Alabama.
"That mentally over the last six months has been the most challenging couple of days, just going from that expectation of 3½ months to be back on the bike," she said.
"If I was to get back on the bike then I would currently be at the BMX world championships racing and I have only missed a few world championships over my career.
"That deadline was hard. As soon as a I knew I was going to have the surgery there was a few of my favourite events that I crossed off the calendar and had to move the goal posts again.
"Hopefully this is the last event that I have to watch on the live feed of my competitors."
She's had a timely boost ahead of her return, with her efforts mentoring Australia's future female BMX stars bearing fruit.
Queensland's Kira Hill became Buchanan NextGen's first world champion – the teenager winning the 14 girls title in Baku – while NSW's Tahlia Marsh finished sixth in the 15 girls event.
Buchanan's put $37,000 towards helping young girls get to the worlds through the initiative she launched five years ago.
"I had a super proud moment … that's the best result of my Next Gen program that we've ever had. For me it was a goal that I'd be able to support a girl and for her to go on and win a world title," Buchanan said.
David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.
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