Anna Buick’s Journey: Cyclocross Racer, Hospital Bed, Learning to Walk & Back Again

Anna Buick had been racing cyclocross and cross country mountain bike since the age of 15, when an accident during a training ride saw her hospitalised and learning to walk again.

The realisation that her legs would never be quite the same again took some time to come round to, but she’s discovered a lot about herself along the way - creating her own media empire as a blogger and journalist, following the cyclocross and MTB scene.

We chatted to her about her journey from bike, to hospital bed, and back to bike again…

Brought up by cyclists, Buick’s early memories are of sitting in a children’s seat on the back of a tandem, punctuating naps with demands that her parents sprint to the next village sign.

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Despite early exposure, Buick herself didn’t start racing and taking it seriously until she was 15 – but after that she was hooked: “Thereafter, year on year, I raced more and more. The road racing scene was never my thing, I have always preferred to throw myself down rock gardens rather than the tarmac. Cross country MTB and Cyclocross is where the love lies, [I did] regional and National racing – even a World Cup.”

Most bike racers know that at some point they might come a cropper and find themselves on the ground, but in her early 20s, Buick suffered a crash that put more than just her next race in danger.

She explains: “I was in Cyprus. Dad and I were just out for a gentle few hours in the hills on our MTBs. I caught my foot in a bush that overhung the track and, because we were climbing slowly, I had no momentum to carry me forward. I stopped dead and toppled sideways, my foot caught in the bush and therefore unable to uncleat.

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“I fell, with my full body weight, onto the bush fire-burnt pointy stump of another plant. It penetrated straight into my right leg, about halfway up my thigh, between quadriceps and hamstring.”

The stump went 10cm into her leg – and stopped just 1.5mm away from her sciactic nerve (the nerve that runs from your lower back to your feet). Thankfully, the way it had been lodged meant Buick’s bleeding was limited – in fact, the stick saved her life in the journey to the hospital – but removal was complicated.

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She explains: “With all the cleaning to avoid internal infection, almost the entire length of my upper leg was opened up.”

The next stages were slow. For three months, Buick was reliant on her family, in particular her racing sister Imogen. She says: “I just dealt with each day, each stage of the process, as it came.

“The first three months – the operations, the crutches, the complete reliance on my incredible little sister to wash and dress me and help me balance precariously on the edge of the toilet – was in many ways the easiest stage. I was where I was. No prior experience, no comparison, no expectation.”

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Time moved on, and Buick had to teach her muscles how to work again. She says: “Ten days after I was discharged from hospital I had the 26 staples removed from my leg. I began trying to straighten my knee, very gently stretch the muscles, and reconnect brain to leg. I had to concentrate so hard to make the muscles move.

“I remember taking my first steps. I hobbled cautiously down the corridor to Imogen’s bedroom – it took her a second to realise I wasn’t holding crutches, and then she jumped up and came to hug me. That was a special moment.”

Buick’s family were a constant support during her rehab – she says: “I can’t think of any specific stand-out moment. I just have to thank my family the most because without the need for asking, things happened, and without the need forexplanation, things were understood.”

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There was never any time that Buick considered the idea of a life away from cycling – as she explains: “Not riding a bike is quite simply beyond my comprehension.”

Getting back on it, however – was hard. She describes the first rides – saying: “My muscles were playing Captain Clueless in comedy about drunken synapses. I vividly remember my first ride outside. I went off road with my Mum, about two miles around the village where we live. Those two miles were possibly the most tiring and exhilarating ever!”

Buick started the race to get back to racing too early – and the discovery that she was a long way off her old fitness was painful – she says: “It was a big dent in my eternal optimism and the subsequent months were the hardest in regards to coming to terms with the extent of my injury. I realised how much damage I had done, and how hard I was going to have to work, both physically and mentally, to overcome it.”

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Questions over her ability to race led to much more than struggles with physical fitness – as Buick explains: “I panicked, because if I wasn’t a cyclist anymore, then who would I be? I felt lost at that point.”

Not one to be beaten, she continued to work towards her goal: “A lot of physio followed and my foam roller and exercise ball became my best friends. I did a lot of balance work. Gradually the strength came back. It would sneak up on me when I wasn’t looking for it, so I tried to stop looking.”

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Buick began racing again last year – with success: “I won a race last winter and I celebrated like I had won a World Cup! I full-on cried. I’m sure I probably looked a completely delusional fruitloop to those who didn’t know me, but the feeling of winning a bike race was not something I was sure I would ever feel again.

“It’s not all about winning, though. It’s about my inner happiness. The racing bug has bitten again and I need to scratch that itch!”

It’s now been two and a half years, and Buick is gearing up for another Cyclocross season.

She will be racing for Newdales Cycles, who have sponsored her sister Imogen in the past. Putting a focus on the Eastern Cyclocross League, she says: “It’s nothing too big or bold, but it will be food for my soul. I look forward to the feeling of good form –  to accelerating out of the corners, sprinting up the straights and hitting the hurdles at full tilt knowing that it’s all under control…just!

“I want to feel that complete emptiness of energy, coughing cold air from the depths of my lungs, knowing I left everything on the course. I can’t wait to give the girls I’ve been racing with a big muddy hug and then go and drink tea.”

The accident forced Buick to find other entertainment, and that’s developed into a career in cycling journalism and working with the press – she says: “Not being able to ride my bike made me see all the other opportunities within the sport. I created which started as a place for me to blog, and has now become a hub for all my journalistic and media work within MTB and cyclocross.”

I have learned a lot about myself: how I deal with trauma (mostly by laughing); how to make a diversion in life into a huge positive

After all she’s been through, Buick has learned some big lessons. She says: “I’ve certainly grown as a person. That sounds terribly clichéd, but it is true. I have learned a lot about myself: how I deal with trauma (mostly by laughing); how to make a diversion in life into a huge positive; how my body fits together (and falls apart). As a cyclist, I think I am a happier bike rider, more appreciative.”

We look forward to hearing more from Buick during the upcoming season. Her page, is currently under construction, but you can see previous work here and the full site will be available soon.

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