Return to play

Maddie Munro details the steps she and TFR took to make she was ready to race after her concussion

Ahead of her planned 2022 World Cup debut in Albstadt, Maddie Munro suffered a concussion while pre-riding the course. She immediately entered Trek’s concussion protocol, and sat out the race as she recovered from her symptoms. Below, Maddie writes about how Trek and USA Cycling staff and doctors monitored her condition and helped her recover so she could race in Nové Město this past weekend, and how technology like HeadCheck – and an app that helps identify, monitor and outline care for concussions – played a role.

My summer XC World Cup campaign was set to begin this year in Albstadt. When it was finally time to head across the pond I couldn’t have been more excited to race my mountain bike again, reconnect with all my teammates and spend some time in Europe. 

Unfortunately, my plans came to an abrupt halt when I suffered a gnarly crash about 10 minutes into our first day pre-riding the track. Maybe it was the lingering jet lag mixed with a lack of focus, but I found myself taking a hard hit to the head and scraping up my face, chin and shoulder. My helmet was destroyed by the impact, and I was quickly diagnosed with a concussion after experiencing some short term memory loss. All in all it was quite a morning, and my poor teammate, Evie, who isn’t the best with blood, had to witness the whole scene!

Maddie taking on Nové Město's gnarly rocks.

Thankfully, our team has some amazing soigneurs who quickly helped me start the recovery process to get my mind and body on the mend. We took a trip to a German hospital to confirm I was concussed and that nothing else was wrong. Once back home, I got patched up, took a few arnica tablets, and went straight to bed. 

That first night I slept for 16 hours plus a three-hour nap later in the day. I think it’s safe to say my body had earned this much needed rest. After consulting with the team and Dr. Michael Roshon, the USA Cycling doctor, it was clear that racing Albstadt was not a smart idea. I spent the rest of the week resting quietly, staying in darkened rooms, avoiding screens, and taking lots of vitamins and specific foods to help my brain and body recover as best as possible. 

I felt fortunate to have our two soigneurs, Silja Stadler and Felice Beitzel, taking amazing care of me. They worked magic on my head and neck with treatments and light massages. They constantly cleaned and dressed my wounds. They both ensured I completed my concussion tests through HeadCheck. They also helped me communicate with the Team USA doctors to make sure I was following a proper “Return to Play” protocol.

You only get one brain, and while I had to miss one race, I would much rather sit than prolong the recovery process and potentially face long-term consequences.

I was gutted to see my race end before it even started. I traveled all the way to Europe only to spend a week in bed. It was difficult to watch my teammates prepare for the races to come, but if I learned anything from this crash, it’s that head injuries must be properly addressed. You only get one brain, and while I had to miss one race, I would much rather sit than prolong the recovery process and potentially face long-term consequences. My village reminded me that while injuries are unfortunately part of the sport, we can gain mental and physical strength from overcoming these injuries as long as we are able to maintain a positive mindset and self-confidence. 

Working collaboratively with Dr. Roshon and Felice Beitzel, we determined the steps I would follow as I returned to activity that week. After the initial days of lots of sleeping and no activity, I was slowly able to ride again. Each day I increased time on the bike, but stayed in “zone one” – i.e., at an easy pace. Six days after the injury – the minimum number of days I had to sit according to our “Return to Play” protocol – the team was already in the Czech Republic to race Nové Město. After that first week of recovery, I was allowed to test riding at a harder pace and increasing my heart rate. Once I showed I could handle that, and was doing better on my HeadCheck concussion tests, I was allowed to increase time at a high heart rate until I reached the point when we would collectively make the decision whether I would race Nové Město. 

Maddie taking a post-race breather.

Based on my quick recovery and lack of symptoms when riding, we determined I was good to race that Saturday, 12 days after the injury. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I felt a huge relief to feel healthy and stable enough to race my bike again! I put my full focus on pre-riding the course, opening my legs back up before the race and fully enjoying the last few days with the team.

I had only raced Nové Město once as a junior and I absolutely loved the course. This track is full of natural tech: roots going every direction both on the climbs and descents, and big rock gardens. When it rains, riders are presented with a whole new level of challenge. As a younger rider on the team, I am lucky to have older riders who are open to riding the course with me and providing mentorship and support. This past week, one of my favorite moments was spending time on course with Jolanda to scope out and test different line choices. I’ve always looked up to her as a rider, someone with incredible technical skills, so having her walk me through the course was very helpful for my own riding and confidence. 

After a few days of pre-riding, the racing kicked off on Friday with the elite riders racing short track, followed by U23 racing the next day.  After spending more than a week without racing or big training, I was feeling a bit nervous. How would my form be come race day? Would I be ready to dig deep in the pain cave to compete at a World Cup level? On top of everything, I had a fourth-row call up. Not ideal for trying to make the split off the front group.

Maddie scouting the course with Jolanda Neff.

No matter, I was filled with all the positivity and self-belief I could muster. Having the chance to finally line up and race with heart and fire in my belly was more than I could ask for! The race went well. I rode smooth and steady, consistently moving up through the field. I rediscovered the edge of my limits, pushed my mind and body, and all the while kept the rubber side down! 

After finishing the race,  I quickly had to depart the venue to pack up and head to the airport. I had to fly home in time for my final week of exams at school before summer break. Soon enough, I’ll be back to World Cup racing in Leogang, Austria. In the meantime I will be home training and spending some much needed time with family and friends.