Dani King: 'It was just a freak accident but I thought I was going to die'

Dani King, Olympic team pursuit champion, rides in this week’s Women’s Tour of Britain just months after her horror crash

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The Independent Online

The sensation remains very real for Dani King as she casts her mind back to last November and sitting in an ambulance on the side of the B road from Merthyr Tydfil to Quakers Yard in south Wales. “I’m going to die,” she thought.

Even now, the recollection does not feel like an exaggeration. It had been a standard outdoors training ride for the Olympic team pursuit gold medal winner, just like numerous ones before. The crash had been fairly innocuous too, a fellow rider hitting a water-covered pothole and skittling over most of the rest of the group.

As she hit the Tarmac, King’s cycling instinct was to do a quick check. “I remember thinking for a split second afterwards, ‘I’ve come off OK here’,” she says. But a moment later she was flattened by one of the bigger riders in the group and her mindset changed. “Then I knew something bad was happening.”

X-rays later showed three-quarters of the right-hand side of her ribcage had snapped in half, while a collapsed lung left her fighting for breath. For an hour she sat on the roadside as two others in the group were treated for head injuries.

“It was horrendous,” she recalls seven months on. “I thought I could have broken my back as I couldn’t feel my feet, but that was just because I was so cold. I’d had to have morphine just to move me on to the spinal board to get me in the ambulance, the pain was that excruciating. I remember thinking, ‘My body’s in a total mess, what’s going to happen to me?’”

While most people with similar injuries tend to take six weeks to get back to walking the length of a hospital ward, King had achieved the feat in days. During her 10-day hospital stay she also did three bike sessions in the gym using a chest drain, which in itself helped the damaged lung to recover. She treated herself to the pick’n’mix sent by Great Britain team-mates Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell during the recovery process.

That the 24-year-old is lining up at all for the Women’s Tour of Britain, which starts today in Bury St Edmunds, is a remarkable achievement, although she still has reminders of the crash.

“I can still feel my ribcage after a hard effort or after a road race – the right ribcage is so tight,” she says. “I can still feel the impact on my body.”

King is no stranger to coming back from adversity, though, and she was victorious in the first race of her return, the Tour of the Reservoir, in Northumberland in April.

Twice in the past she was rejected by the British Cycling academy programme. In 2011, at the third time of asking, she got in and helped win the team pursuit at the World Championships a few weeks later in Apeldoorn.

It is the track to which she wants to return and win the place in the team she lost for last year’s World Championships. However, the head of British Cycling, Shane Sutton, is adamant “she will find it tough to get back in”.

Her response is unequivocal. “I’ve been told so many times I’m not good enough, it’s a big part of my career,” King says. “I know it will be hard to get back in but I’m not complacent. There are some amazing girls coming through and the event is getting faster and faster,” she admits, “but I’m going to give it everything to get back in.”

The path to get to that point has already been arduous, but at no point, bar the immediate aftermath of the accident, has she felt she would not get back in the process. Yet it has also been mentally demanding. “I spoke to Steve Peters [British Cycling’s psychiatrist] about it and it was just a freak accident,” King says. “I’ve come off my bike so many times but I was hit by a heavy person in the wrong place. It doesn’t matter who it was, it’s no one’s fault, it was just bad luck.”

Her return to cycling was on the smoothest, widest and safest stretch of road she could find in Newport, known as “the flat”. Understandably, there were nerves but with each turn of the pedal they all but disappeared.

King has relished her time as a road racer and enjoyed the Women’s Tour last year. “It was an incredible event last year, bringing so much kudos and credibility to women’s cycling,” she adds. “It’s not something I thought would happen a few years ago. The riders coming over from Europe couldn’t believe it. For us British riders, it was like getting that fever of the Olympics again – just so many goose-bump moments.”

Yet it is her first love, track cycling, where she feels more at home and thoughts are already turning to next year’s Olympics in Rio and retaining the team pursuit title. “I’d love to be both world and Olympic champion again,” she says. “That’s what drives me. But I just feel lucky to be still riding my bike and to have had the chance to get back on.”

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Rowe & King is a specialist coaching programme offered by Dani King and Team Sky rider Luke Rowe. To find out more visit: www.roweandking.com

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