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  • Maggie Coles-Lyster

Re-Defining "Resilience"

The bell was ringing as we flew into the last lap of the track race, shoulder to shoulder, trying to get an edge over the other ri… well, actually, I don’t remember anything about that race.


My first clear memory was waking up, lying trackside, surrounded by paramedics holding white sheets draped around me to keep spectator eyes away. Our team therapist was crouched behind me, supporting my head. The confusion I felt in that moment was overpowering, as I watched riders ride around me, waiting to exit the track. I couldn’t understand why I was lying on the ground and was not out there with them. It just made no sense at all. There was no pain, everything just moved in slow motion. I felt like I was inside a fish bowl, observing life take place on the outside. “What happened?” I remember asking my therapist.


“You crashed.”



I was in and out of consciousness until getting to the hospital, where the pain meds must have kicked in and the memories turned from confusion to hilarity. I remember waking up to a very attractive doctor standing over me with a pair of scissors. It took less than a minute for me to realize that he was about to cut me out of my cycling kit. I was highly embarrassed, but also felt ridiculously giggly under the impartial gazes of the rest of the medical staff in the room.


Afterwards, a nurse came to clean up the bloody mess that was my face. She noticed that my nose ring had completely disappeared into my nose, and set out to remove it. No way was I going to let her take out, for that meant the hole would close up and I would have to get it re-pierced. I put up a fuss until she reluctantly put my piercing back in place. The real MVP of the hospital, in my opinion, was that nurse, and I felt comically triumphant in my success of saving my nose ring.


The CAT scan revealed that I had 4 fractures in my cheek, a couple of broken ribs, a punctured lung and lots of pooled blood in my face, along with a severe concussion.





Remarkably, I only spent one night in the hospital, before being cleared to head back to the AirBNB with my dad who, luckily, was over there with me. I couldn’t fly home due to my punctured lung, for risk that it would collapse, so we spent 2 weeks in Copenhagen, which sounds great if I wasn't spending the majority of the time sleeping over 16 hours a night, frequently visiting various doctors and consuming 5 different painkillers a day.


On my 19th birthday, I was cleared to fly home. Not exactly how I had imagined celebrating it.





Once home and clear of a concussion, I was on the hunt to get back on the bike as quickly as possible. I thought this was what being resilient was. And remarkably, it worked. Or I thought it worked for me, as 3 weeks later I was in the full swing of training again and prepping for the road season ahead.


Just as I felt I was getting back to the place I was before the crash, I hit the pavement again.


This time taken out by another rider while pre-riding a road race course. Another brief loss of consciousness, another concussion, and a ride in the back of a cop car to get me home. The hardest part was that I still had to start the race so that the team could race, with the agreement that I would pull out after 1km. Absolute. Torture. The first race I pulled myself out of, and was definitely the right call as you should never race concussed, but that was a huge test of my willpower.


And once again, it was back on the now familiar road to recovery.


Again, I tried to flex my resilience and be back in the peloton as soon as my concussion was clear.


This time I slowly became aware that something just wasn’t right. I would end up at the back of the pack of riders without knowing how I got there. I would “check out” of sprints if I felt they were getting dangerous. I knew what I had to do in a race, but couldn’t control these unconscious reactions that were, ironically, putting me in more dangerous positions than I was in.


I blamed my weight, form and fitness for why I felt like I sucked at bike racing and would finish the races in tears. I started becoming self-conscious in these areas, which was doing me no favours on top of what I was going through.



Trauma is defined as “a deeply disturbing or distressing experience” and “physical injury.” The latter is easily recognizable and treatable, however, we often overlook or push aside the psychological trauma that can severely impact our life after an incident. I was a victim of overlooking the trauma, too. I didn’t remember the first crash, or the pain, or even the race. I figured as soon as my wounds healed, I would be okay.


It wasn’t until later that year, that I realized I wouldn’t be winning another bike race until I addressed my still gaping, psychological wounds.



In the fall, I was home and had a bit of a break from racing, and decided I probably needed help. I went to see a psychologist who specializes in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which, simply speaking, is recalling traumatic events while using eye movement or hand tapping to follow some rhythm. The idea is that you expose yourself to talking and thinking about the traumatic events, while being slightly distracted, so that the psychological effects that could arise are lessened. The goal is to remove that “block” or “freeze” in the nervous system that has prevented you from finishing the healing process.


Upon starting with the psychologist, our goal was to address the daily flashbacks I was having to the moment when I woke up, lying on the track, full of confusion. Amazingly, after many sessions, that moment turned from something I could vividly feel in my body to a story I could tell, as if I was just a spectator watching it happen and it no longer had the emotional hold over me.


Unfortunately, about a month after starting with this psychologist, I crashed for a third time at track nationals and suffered extreme whiplash and another concussion. This came only a couple of weeks before I was supposed to race an omnium for the first time at a Track World Cup. Having to pull out of that race was absolutely heartbreaking, even though it was for the best.



Photo by: Ivan Rupes


I was instructed to take two months off of bike racing, and had never felt quite so lost. I packed up a suitcase, and changed up my setting by flying down to California to stay with relatives, recover and do some easy base miles in the sun.


Since addressing that initial trauma in 2018, I have worked with other psychologists and sports psychologists with a focus on restoring my confidence and internal power as well as anything else that comes up in my life. And guess what? I had a stellar 2019 race season and started off 2020 just as good, if not better, before the pandemic hit.


This is what I’ve realized being resilient really is. It’s not coming back from an injury as fast as humanly possible, or racing while concussed and broken, or proving your toughness to anybody. It’s being brave enough to open up the psychological wounds. It’s addressing all of the different parts that make you human and discovering how they all work together to make you an UNSTOPPABLE FORCE.



Photo by: @tornanti_cc



Follow me on Instagram to follow my journey in sport and my version of resilience both on and off the bike. :)


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