Nikki brammeier on her road to recovery concussion is a real injury cyclingtips hip labral tear surgery recovery

I remember the start, the first few hundred meters. I remember seeing a gap open up on the inside of the corner and a chance to move forward a couple of places. Next thing I was screaming on the floor, my helmet in bits hanging down over the side of my face. I was looking for someone, anyone, to help. I’d somehow face planted gravel at 50kph. This stuff doesn’t happen very often, especially not in cross.

The next thing I remember is [my husband, Matt,] standing over me. My European Championship attempt didn’t last very long. My face was pouring with blood, so were my knees and my arms. I knew where I was but everything was a little blurry and foggy. I knew my race was over and my body was a bit of a mess, but never did I know what I was going to be in for.

I’ve had lots of crashes before, it’s part of the job.

Broken bones, damage to muscles, cuts and bruises. You learn to deal with it. It’s nothing new. I’ve hit my head hard noticeably only once before when I slipped on ice at the Diegem cross a few years ago. I hit a lamp post and was briefly knocked out but I didn’t treat it with any seriousness. I felt ‘OK’ and was up and out on the bike the next day, racing only days later and carrying on with the job.

I met with a neurologist a few days ago, he asked me how that concussion left me feeling, did I have any symptoms… I had a scan over my training diary and it hit me straight in the face. “Feeling tired” “Not feeling myself again” “Sleeping bad” etc, etc – all the hallmarks were there, I just didn’t realise it and I was never made aware.

Last Sunday, myself and Helen (Wyman) spent the afternoon together in Accident Emergency. It wasn’t quite a social affair, more a night of pain, foggy memory and pretty much a nightmare. I had my face and lip sewn back together and had scans and X-rays on my head. “All clear” they said, and I was on my way back home.

Nothing was broken but I was a mess. My face was starting to swell and the pain soon started to get worse and the agony had only just begun. I was so happy Matt was with me. He watched over me all night, we didn’t really sleep much as I was in pain all night.

My head started to get a little concerning. It was the most intense headache I’ve ever experienced, the only way to describe it, is that it was like a hard metal headband tightening around my head and not releasing. I started to vomit, and I couldn’t really walk without help because my balance was totally off. All I could think is, it will get better.

The next day we travelled back to Belgium, 8 hours in the car, that wasn’t much fun. I was drifting in and out of sleep the whole journey. My pain was getting worse, my eye had now totally closed over and the other I could barely see out of. As it started to turn dark, the lights on the cars came on and I just couldn’t deal with them. I couldn’t deal with anything. Noise, people, any sound. It was just all too much.

I headed to the hospital that night for some more tests. I wasn’t convinced everything was hunky dory, but once again there wasn’t too much concern at AE. We decided to get back home to the US as soon as possible and get my head checked out properly.

Last week the symptoms continued, I didn’t leave the house and barely my bed the whole week. Some days I had to just sit in a dark room. I couldn’t stand any light. Or more than one person talking to me at a time. I was having panic attacks at night, I couldn’t react to conversation or even want to be involved with any kind of interaction because my head just couldn’t cope. My phone, the TV, any screens or lights were unbearable. It was all too much. The stitches in my mouth meant I couldn’t really speak and eating was difficult too. I was a complete mess. Everything I find happiness in was now out of my control.

So far the the healing is going well on the outside, my face has made great improvements, and I’m looking like myself again. My stitches are out on my face but I still have them inside my lip. The concussion symptoms are still ongoing, I’m improving now a little every day but I still have some headache, whiplash and dizzy moments most days.

Patience is something I usually struggle with but I have no choice at the moment. Concussion is a real injury, just like any other injury we need to give our heads chance to recover, time to rest and a gradual re-introduction to normal life and in my case riding.

You wouldn’t break you leg and go running the next day so why do we injure our brains and start using them the next day? It’s something that’s of course in the spot light in other sports but unfortunately not so much in our sport. I’d love to be able to take something positive out of the couple of weeks and in some small way increase the awareness of concussions in cycling.

I’m sure a few of you will be wondering when you’ll see me back with a number on my back. At the moment I have no idea. I’m taking one day at a time. I’m happy and confident I’ve done everything right this time around. I’ll get back to where I want to be and hopefully by the time I’m back we’ll have a bit of mud and some ‘real’ cyclocross races!