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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

News feature, August 11, 2005

Brown vows to return to cycling

Australian cyclist Katie Brown, one of the five Australian team riders injured in the crash in Germany last month that killed team member Amy Gillett, is back home in Sydney and determined to get back on the bike. John Stevenson joined the media throng crammed into her home in Sydney as she spoke about her goals, the crash and the joy of daytime TV.

Katie Brown, surrounded by Sydney's media.
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

Sitting in a wheelchair in her parents' home in the Sydney suburb of Menai, in a trophy room full of older brother Graeme's jerseys and medals and almost swamped by a scrum of TV, radio, print and Internet media, Katie Brown emphasized her determination to return to cycling, even though it looks like being a long and hard process.

"It's my life; it's my career, and it's my job, and I love it to death, so I will get back on," said Brown. "I was hoping for a Commonwealth Games start but I'll look to the [2008] Olympics."

Despite cutting a fragile and still clearly damaged figure in leg braces and bandages under her Australian Institute of Sport uniform, Brown comes across as utterly single-minded about returning to top-level competition. "I was quite determined before the accident and now it's just made me a little bit more determined," she said. "It's just a setback. It's something to rebuild and focus on. They say that this will make us stronger mentally and physically."

First, though, Brown has to get out of the wheelchair. She'll be there, she says, "hopefully only another three weeks then I should be starting rehab with my right leg. They say that it'll be six or seven months [till I am back on the bike]."

Before that, Brown faces, "a lot of hydrotherapy in the pool, a lot of physio and a lot of exercise to build up my quadriceps and calves again because they have deteriorated to pretty much nothing." She is already undergoing physiotherapy for her injuries, with a physiotherapist visiting her at home until she is able to walk again.

Katie Brown holds forth.
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

Brown said she, "probably shouldn't repeat what I thought," when she found out it would be six months before she got back on the bike. "It was a bit of a shock," she said, "because I just expected - if you break a bone it's six weeks until you can get back on. Tendons are a lot harder to heal. There's a lot more of a process [to go through], a lot more to do with it."

Brown's collection of injuries will probably win her cyclists' scar-comparing contests for decades to come (as long as none of her current team-mates are involved). She sustained a fractured right patella; ruptured left patella tendon; cuts requiring stitches all the way down the right arm; all but two bones broken in left hand, and broken knuckle in ring finger; two broken ribs on the left side; and a collapsed lung.

The tendon injury will be the one that takes longest to heal. "I sliced the patella tendon in half and that had to be stitched back together. I've got surgical rope holding everything together in there," she said. Brown paid tribute to the German doctors and medical services that helped her and her team-mates. Without their skill, she would have lost her left leg, she said.

When she and her team-mates do return, Brown believes the experience they have all shared will bring them together. "We were pretty close to start with but now it's a bond that will never be broken."

Katie Brown listens
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

Another reporter suggested that the experience would help make the five an invincible team when they get back together. "Hopefully we will be," Brown said with a smile. "We work well together as it is, racing, but now we know each other's strengths and weakness and it'll be full-on and we'll be winning some races."

In the meantime, Brown is catching up with her studies - she is studying for a bachelor's degree in European languages - and "going a bit bonkers." And, she joked, catching up with The Bold and the Beautiful.

Remembering Amy Gillett

Asked about her memories of her team-mate Amy Gillett, who died when she was the first of the team to be hit by an out-of control car driven by an 18-year-old who had passed her driving test just four weeks before, Brown said, "She was absolutely hilarious and I loved her to death and we had a great time together and there's not a bad point about her. I enjoyed my time with her.

"I spoke to Simon Gillett her husband yesterday, and he sounds really positive and really well."

Simon Gillett has been working on the creation of the Amy Gillet-Safe Foundation, which will raise funds to assist young female cyclists and to raise the profile of cyclists on the road among motorists.

"The foundation is to build awareness," said Brown." Most motorists need to be aware of the cyclists out there, but also cyclists need to be aware of the cars as well, it's not just motorists that have to be aware."

Katie Brown smiles
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

Despite the crash and her injuries, Brown said she was unfazed at the prospect of returning to training among on Sydney roads, which have been described as some of the most cyclist-hostile in the world.

"This is where I grew up and learned how to ride my bike with the traffic," she said. "I think I am quite aware of traffic and how to ride in the traffic. I don't put myself in dangerous situations, so I am not that concerned about it."

Unlike some of her team-mates, who were knocked unconscious in the crash and consequently have no memory of it, Brown recalls it all.

"Unfortunately I remember the whole accident," she said. "I remember hearing the car, I remember seeing the car crash into us, I remember laying in a ditch, I remember going to the hospital."

Brown hadn't realized the out-of-control car was a threat until it was far too late. "I thought she was just doing a burn-out, like a typical teenager," she said. "Then I saw her come closer to us, and what I thought then, I don't want to say in public!"

The driver of the car, 18-year-old Stephanie Magner has released a statement apologizing for the crash, but Brown said she had no feelings either way toward Magner or about her apology. "I am just trying to deal with myself at the moment and the other four girls that are in my team. All I worry about at the moment is them and myself."

Her final comment, before getting on her crutches to leave the room and demonstrate that she is now able to walk short distances, was that she expected all her injured team-mates to return to cycling. "I think we will all get back on the bike," Brown said. "We're all pretty determined young ladies and this is our life."

Cyclingnews coverage of the Australian team crash and its aftermath

August 8: More support for Amy Gillett-Safe Cycling Foundation
August 3: Rhodes and Yaxley out of intensive care
July 29: Amy Gillett's life recalled in moving service
July 28: Rhodes and Yaxley recovery 'amazing'
July 24: Yaxley improving, Rhodes still unconscious
July 21: AIS head 'optimistic' about recovery; 'Brownie' tries his best
July 19: Unprecedented carnage in Germany
July 18: Amy Gillett dead after crash in Germany

Condolences & tributes

Cyclingnews has five pages of tributes from cyclists and supporters from around the world who've been affected by this tragedy. Please see: Amy Gillett: Tributes, 1976-2005, Part 1, and Part 2, Part 3 (posted July 21), Part 4 (posted July 22), and Part 5 (posted July 29).

(For further information about the Amy Gillett-Safe Foundation, please visit Cycling Australia's web site.)

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