It's safe to say that Katy Curd has had one of the most exciting careers in mountain biking. She's ridden and raced since she could crawl and her hard training and positive mental attitude has led her to scoop up a horde of awards and medals along the way. Delving from the mountains into 4-cross and then into downhill, Katy has done it all and has the shirts to prove it.
Last week I caught up with the 4X World Champ and Elite downhill athlete, Katy Curd whilst sipping tea in the cosy Pedalabikeaway café. Having come back from a seriously wet and muddy morning of coaching a women's basics course, I welcomed a mud-splattered Katy with open arms, before quickly stepping back and instead greeting her with an air-hug (I was clean and dry after all!) so we sat across the table from one another to do what we do best - talk about bikes and life.
When Katy isn't racing, she's riding her bike, or she's coaching the next generation of athletes but, more recently, Katy has been overcoming the harrowing effects of a brain injury she sustained last year. Now, it goes without saying that crashes can and do happen in mountain biking regardless of your ability. While the Rose Bikes rider has undoubtedly bumped her head countless times throughout her career, it was last year at the Fort Bill world cup round that the multiple impacts she suffered were the final straw.
"I would get back on the bike and feel ok, but as soon as I went back to racing it would go tits up again." - Katy Curd
One of the first things I asked Katy was how she was getting on with the recovery from her concussion. She said: "It's still going on now. When I first did it, I didn't know how serious it was. I just thought I'd hit my head and that maybe there was a concussion but that it would go away after a few days. Then I began throwing up and getting really bad headaches. I would get back on the bike and feel ok but as soon as I went back to racing it would go tits up again. It was when I went out to Canada for Monte Sainte Anne round when things seriously went downhill and I knew something just wasn't right. After one practise run, it felt like I'd drank 8 pints where I couldn't event walk straight. So I came back home, got an MRI scan which is when I learned it was pretty bad."
Brain injuries and concussions can be hard to spot, even for doctors. When Katy returned home, she headed to her local GP and explained what had happened and how she had been suffering. Hoping for some progress, her GP offered her some anti-depressants and sent Katy on her way - I know, I don't get it either. Unhappy with the outcome, Katy went private for an MRI scan, however, the neurologist at the hospital was unable to see any problems and yet Katy was still suffering from nausea, headaches and dizzy spells.
It was only after discussing her symptoms with her coach, Adrian at Pure Body Balance, that he popped Katy in touch with an American doctor who knows a thing or two about action sports and head injuries - it was him who confirmed that there was damage.
The road to recovery hasn't been easy for Katy but working with Adrian has helped immensely. Katy says: "He's [Adrian] given me 2 hours of exercises to do at home every day to help with rehabilitation. Nutrition and sleep have been altered and factored in to ensure I'm able to heal properly and I still do these every day to keep on top of it, but I hope there will be a day that I don't have to do them as often. When I look at the progress and my improvements, I can see it's working. Just 4 months ago I was struggling to string a sentence together and speak to people."
Her injuries caused Katy to sit out a number of big races which must be pretty hard for an avid and passionate racer. I asked Katy what her plans are for racing: "I need to still take it easy. Trying to take it race by race, but I do know the implications so I will try to get back to racing, but I've learned when to know when to put the bike down."
Katy on Redhill Bike Park
"We're putting every penny back in and doing a lot of the work ourselves, of course, with the help of friends." - Katy Curd
While in rehabilitation for her head injury, Katy and long-term partner, Jake Ireland have been extraordinarily busy behind the race scenes. Earlier this year the mountain bike community was stoked to learn of the news that Katy and Jake had bought Redhill Bike Park.
Located just 7 miles from the Forest of Dean where Katy does a majority of her coaching sessions, Redhill Bike Park has been a long-standing hotspot for enthusiastic MTBer's who want to hone in their jump skills, practise some 4X techniques and just have a blast with other riders.
When the news came out that Redhill was up for sale, Katy and Jake couldn't bare the thought of their beloved local site getting flattened. With the right time and place on their side, the MTB duo snapped up the lot with plenty of ideas to boot. Since taking over the site, the pair has been busy with friends to redeveloped the 4X track to make it flow and work better for racing on, as well as working on the dual slalom, dirt jumps and pump track.
Katy on the World Cup
Having sat out of the first round of the world cup season at Lourdes this year, I was keen to know what Katy's views were on the upcoming season and the changes we're seeing at the elite level.
"You can't take away from Rachel [Atherton], she has one hell of a skill set and she puts together a race like no other, but I don't think she'll have another perfect season. I know Tahnée [Seagrave] is hungry for the win and I think this year she may just get it."
At the first round of the world cup season in Lourdes, we saw the encroachment of the 29" wheels on downhill bikes. I asked Katy what her views are and if bigger really is better...
" 29" wheels are gonna ride faster because they're a bigger wheel but it's the same case when it went from 26" to 27.5". When's it going to stop? At some point bikes will get too fast, tracks will get harder and it's becoming more dangerous for riders. I'd rather it go back the other way, like a few years ago when riding tracks like Maribel - When you look at it, tracks are being designed for the bikes."
So what's next for Katy...
Between her busy coaching schedule, rehab and Jake running Sprung Suspension, Katy is focusing on getting back into racing and boosting the Redhill bike park. Perhaps the busiest couple in mountain biking, Katy hopes to carve out some much-needed downtime later in the year.
You can follow Katy Curd on social media for all the latest updates on her rehab, coaching and goings on. Later in autumn, she'll be once again teaming up with Pure Body Balance to host an incredible mountain bike retreat weekend in the heart of Gloucestershire.