Biker who survived crash shows women how to get big, safely
April 13, 2012
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Karen Kefauver
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When Lindsay Currier broke her back in a mountain bike accident in Santa Cruz in 2008, her dreams were derailed. A novice downhill mountain biker who had recently discovered her love of competition, Currier, then 23, had to shift her life's direction.
Fast forward four years. After extensive surgery, exhaustive physical therapy and eight months wearing a back brace, Currier, 27, is not only back in the bike saddle again, but is riding the way she loves -- bombing downhill and hitting bigger jumps.
But there's a difference now: She's riding a whole lot smarter and she's teaching other women cyclists to ride smarter, too, specifically in the discipline of downhill mountain biking. At the Sea Otter Classic next weekend in Monterey, several Currier-coached women will compete in the pro division of the gravity events.
"It's hard to find women like Lindsay who do all-mountain riding," said Chris Wagner-Jauregg, owner of Another Bike Shop, the Westside Santa Cruz store where Currier worked for two years. "She goes for it; she's not afraid to test her limits."
CRASH AND BURN
Currier was testing her limits -- albeit without proper coaching -- when she crashed her mountain bike in 2008.
Currier said things had started smoothly on the trails that day in January.
"I was training with a group of guys and gals," she said. "I was trying to work on building up speed."
She remembers feeling eager to push herself harder. She had
recently competed in her first downhill race and felt strong and confident. But suddenly things went very wrong.
"I was using bike pedals that were not mine, and then I hit a feature -- a small drop -- and I went over the bars, hard. I wasn't even doing anything that crazy, just going really, really fast," she said.
Her memory of the events that followed is hazy.
"I was backboarded out by First Response. They carried me out and I took an ambulance to Dominican Hospital where I stayed for a month. I had shattered my L1 lumbar vertebrae, the first vertebrae before my rib cage," she said.
The doctor assured her she would walk again. He also predicted that Currier would ride a bike again, too, but in a gentle style, not in the way she loved -- racing downhill.
"I had to put the bike away, and put things in focus. I had to work on the little things, like getting out of bed on my own and walking properly," she recalled.
On top of that, she was going through a divorce.
"It was scary," Wagner-Jauregg said. "Her accident was a wake-up call to everyone on how you can get hurt. It definitely kept her depressed for a while."
Despite these considerable challenges, Currier, a native of Connecticut, never lost sight of her passion for downhill mountain biking. She decided to go back to school, enrolling at Cabrillo College to study darkroom photography. Her goal was still to make mountain biking her career -- even if she could no longer be a downhill racer or rider as she had previously hoped. That dream was on hold, possibly forever.
"I decided to start photographing my friends [on their bikes]. I wanted to find a way to ensure I could be a part of mountain biking. I thought maybe I would be hiking up trails and taking photos. That's how important it was to me."
She credits her family, friends and community for helping her get healthy and strong again. In particular, she believes her regular visits to students at Five Branches University, a graduate school for traditional Chinese medicine, aided her recovery.
"I made a solid effort to work through the pain," she said of starting to ride more aggressively again -- against the advice of some experts. "It still hurts me now if I don't stay in good shape. Climbing uphill can tear me apart."
During her downtime, Currier noticed not many women participating in the gravity events -- downhill and dual slalom -- and decided to do something about it.
Currier, who lives in Monterey, recently earned a coaching credential from International Mountainbike Instructor Certification. She also teaches skills clinics for women downhill mountain bikers to help them ride more safely, although she freely acknowledges that crashing is part of her sport. Case in point, she's recovering from November surgery on a broken wrist that happened during a ride.
Thinking back on her big crash, Currier said, "I never had coaching on my bike skills. My speed was causing my riding to be out of control."
In 2010, Currier launched a website that grew into a collective [not a team, she explained] of women gravity riders, called Shine Riders Co. [www.shineridersco.com]. Plus, last year she created a women's gravity event called Queen of the Mountain, held at Northstar Mountain Resort in the Tahoe area. This fall, she will host a new event, Shine SendHer, in Utah. She proudly notes it will become the first women-only, big mountain freeride competition.
Next week, Currier and her Shine Riders Co. will attend the Sea Otter Classic, one of the world's largest bike festivals. It runs Thursday through Sunday at Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey.
Members of Shine Riders Co., including Kirstie Douglass, Rosie Bernhard, Robyn Embrey, Andrea Napoli and Mary Moncorgé, plan to race in the pro category of the gravity events. [Bernhard may not race, pending recovery from an injury].
In addition to coaching, Currier provides the Shine women riders with promotional advice, like tips on how to approach sponsors. The women are members of other bike teams as well and have separate sponsors.
"Lindsay is an inspiration," said Moncorgé, 30, formerly of La Selva Beach and part of the Shine Riders Co. "She had broken her back right before I met her, and she got back into riding. That's amazing. She keeps a positive attitude about it. She is so motivating."
Rob Ross, an employee at Another Bike Shop who knows Currier, said the inspiration spreads beyond just the Shine team.
"Lindsay's raising the bar for all the girls around her," Ross said. "They see her being fearless and they step up it, too. That's how the sport grows."
In Northern California, there is already a talented pool of women riders that includes Kathy Pruitt, Annemarie Hennes and Megan Zemny, all of whom have close ties to Santa Cruz County.
But Currier feels there's always room for more. That's her ultimate goal: to see a lot more women taking part in the all-mountain biking scene.
Sentinel Spin City columnist Karen Kefauver, www.karenkefauver.com, will moderate a panel discussion called, "Fierce, Fabulous, and Over Forty," featuring Rebecca Rusch, Susan Otcenas, Beverly Chaney and RaeLynne Milley, at 1 p.m. April 22 at the Sea Otter Classic.
SEA OTTER CLASSIC
Hundreds of Santa Cruz County residents will head to the Sea Otter Classic to participate in both competitive and recreational rides in mountain biking events, including cross country, dual slalom, short track and downhill, as well as road biking events. The variety of events is designed to attract riders of all skill levels, ranging from first-time riders to professional cyclists.
The Sea Otter Classic is considered a veritable who's who of cycling and a good chance to spot current and former Olympic, world and national champions in many cycling disciplines.
Event organizers estimate 5,000 athletes will register for events and expect 50,000 spectators during the four-day festival.
Another big attraction of the Sea Otter is the vendor expo, featuring many bicycling industries based in or with ties to Santa Cruz County. New this year is a showcase of cyclocross races and an expanded slate of Women's Outreach Activities that take place daily.
The festival takes place Thursday-Sunday at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey. For details and registration information, visit: www.seaotterclassic.com.
-- Karen Kefauver
IF YOU GO
Sea Otter Classic
WHAT: One of the world's largest bicycle festivals featuring mountain and road cycling events for beginners through pro levels, plus a vendor expo
WHEN: April 19-22,
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
WHERE: Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey
COST: $10 per day pre-purchased or $12 on site; $30 for four-day pass ($35 onsite); free for 12-and-under and registered athletes
ON THE NET: www.seaotterclassic.com