*Warning: This article contains graphic content. 

I can’t believe the day is finally here.

For me, rehab has come in waves. Today, feels like Christmas has come early; as I get back on the bike for the first time since New Years Eve, when the well publicised off-road buggy accident happened, of which I was a passenger.

My friend and I are lucky to be alive.

We were 45 minutes out of Cooma, NSW – so basically in the middle of no where. Neither of us had phone reception.

We were taken to Cooma Medical Centre before being transported by ambulance to Canberra Hospital.

Basically there was five hours from the time I left the farm, to the time I arrived to Canberra Hospital, to then having drains put into my lungs as soon as I rolled through the emergency doors.

I sustained two collapsed, punctured lungs; they call it pneumothorax.

I had blood and fluid inside them;  bleeding around my heart sack, broken nose and my sternum was also broken in half.

It was a life threatening situation and I ended up spending five days in ICU, and an extra six days in a recovery ward.

So that was my New Years; it was like ‘Welcome to 2018 Caroline!’.

I started 2018 not being able to sit up by myself; I had to roll in and out of bed. I couldn’t laugh, couldn’t cough, couldn’t sneeze because my sternum was in two pieces.

The rib pain and everything associated with that was like nothing I’d ever felt before.

Obviously being a BMX – Mountain bike extreme sport athlete, injuries have followed me my whole life.

At the age of five, I sustained a lot of injuries in my career; broken bones, bulging discs in my back, multiple concussions, been knocked out…you name it, and it’s happened to me.

But this one was very different…before they put the lung drains in I was struggling to breathe in oxygen.

To go into that state of just fighting for your life and doing things like the meditation breathing, it was a real eye opener.

Caroline Buchanan exclusive insight bmx

I was fortunate; I had access to some of the best medical staff in the country, and really lucky I’d recently completed underwater hypoxia training.

I’ve been regularly practising meditation; I went to one of the guided meditation villas in Wollongong a few years ago after the London Olympic Games. I decided to really delve into controlling my body, and my mind more.

So all of my mindfulness training really did save me.

So that was my start to 2018 and there has been the waves of just being grateful for my life.

Everyday I am grateful for the gains I am making, and having less pain than before. The support from the Australian Institute of Sport has been overwhelming.

Their injury rehabilitation program is amazing; they bring a lot of the athletes from all around Australia, anyone that has been seriously injured.

So at the time it was myself, a basketballer and a skier and to have access to their physio was invaluable.

I was spending roughly six hours a day, in and out of the AIS, and would go home and sleep for four hours every afternoon.

Access to the doctors, nurses and so on..there was days I would walk in and I might see a doctor and then I’d have ultrasounds on my chest, and then I’d be with the nutritionist, before commencing light rehab in the gym.

I was so grateful to have that facility in my hometown where I was as I wasn’t able to fly with my lungs for two-and-a-half months.

I think the daily reminder for me, I set an alarm and ever since the beginning of this year I just sort of woken up being grateful for the things I have.

This injury and the hard times, knowing that I wouldn’t be on a bike for six months,  and I won’t be under a squat rack for probably like eight months.

So I knew I was going to have to be creative with my training and learn to love other areas and that’s one thing I’ve been doing.

I’ve been hiking mountains three times a week, because I can’t get on a bike and I’ve got to get that endurance and bring my lung capacity back.

I would say this year has definitely gone in waves of emotions, but now finally be back on my bike is an incredible feeling.

If there is a silver living in all of this, it has definitely been that this accident has put my perspective on life.

It isn’t until you’re put into that situation, can you truly comprehend the magnitude of what happened.

I’ve never had to fight for my life before, or ever experienced pain where you have no option but to manage it.

To the best of my ability, I’ve really taken it on as a huge asset this year.

My Dad introduced me to Robert De Castella, one of my childhood mentors.

I was like 9 years old, I was about to go off to Paris for my first World Championships and he gave me a really good insight into my future aspirations.

He said “If you can be the complete yellow pages…and some athletes you can glance at and they look like they’re the whole package, but there is a lot of pages missing, you’d never know.

But if you can be that full yellow pages, anytime you need to turn to a strength you have that ability to turn to that page and use it”.

That’s going to be the asset to my career and be the defining difference between being an Olympic gold medalist one day and obviously now being an eight-time World Champion.

And that really stuck with me, anytime I questioned “Is it worth doing this or is it worth trying to do three different sports in one year.

I just remind myself, this is my yellow pages journey, it’s just those building blocks.

And this year has added another page in terms of resilience and understanding what the body can handle.

Being an elite athlete I’ve never had what you call a normal job. Like I ride a bike for a living. And I work very hard at it but it’s been that full time job, you never have a break, like I have a BMX track in my backyard.

So it became a 24/7 thing and now with social media, I find it hard to switch off. I felt by the end of last year that some events, I was turning up to and it did feel like a job.

It felt like I had to be there because there’s contracts I had to be there or there’s this box that I had to tick or there’s Olympic points on the line or there’s external factors and this year has really brought back to me the fact that I love riding my bike and out of all of this.

I’m hungry to turn up and race but I’m more excited just to be able to ride my bike. I realise now the freedom.

What drew me to riding a bike, when I was 5 years old girl, that’s what I’ve really brought back now.

And I see that as a huge asset going into the next two years into another Olympic cycle and wanting to have a career for the next 8 years.

So I see it as that 5 year old girl that enjoys riding a bike and I think it’s important to have that love and that passion and after going through what I’ve gone through that’s really brought it back for me!

I’ve recently been asked quite frequently, do I have any fears or hesitancy to jump back on the bike?

I know as I continue to hit the scheduled rehab targets, my confidence will continue to grow also.

The surgeon has already told me now that my chest is pinned and plated, it’s in there for the rest of my life.

I can’t change that, but what I can control is the attitude in which I continue to attack my rehab.

I’m just taking each milestone as a victory, and I’ve been treating rehab with same mindset I apply on race days.

And for me switching to that mindset it’s taken the fear out of it.

I’m not second guessing “are the bolts going to break”, “am I going to re-break it”, “am I going to damage something”, like all of that’s eliminated.

I think using the strengths you can gain from being an athlete and that process it is the same process for recovery.

Since my injury I have been sitting back watching a lot of my competitors and seeing where everything’s at, seeing their progression and that’s obviously made me really hungry but it’s also made me sit back and be able to study them more than I would generally than when I’m racing.

Caroline Buchanan exclusive insight bmx

So in some aspects I feel I’ve gained a lot more clarity with just racing and being able to analyse it and study it a little bit more, but at the same time life as well..this has been a big wake up call in just how fragile we are and I live an extreme action sport packed life where I am always on the edge.

But I definitely have a new understanding of I guess what the limits are. That does give me an excitement for the bike because I now know what injuries can obviously be achieved in motor vehicles and for the bike.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22: Australian BMX rider Caroline Buchanan at home with her french bulldog, Diesel during a portrait session on January 22, 2016 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 22: Australian BMX rider Caroline Buchanan at home with her french bulldog, Diesel during a portrait session on January 22, 2016 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)

Obviously, as an athlete I’ve always been quite calculated.

I’m never the first person to drop in the start hill at the Olympics and jump the triple first, I always let other competitors do it and I’ll see how the wind is and see how the elements are and I know it’s better to sort of be prepared and then execute it and not be injured.

So I’ve always sort of been quite cautious of not being injured in the past as I did have a little bit of fear towards it.