Going Beyond The 98%

Izzy Flint
Some describe it as the worst crash they'd seen. Tasmanian mountain biker Izzy Flint shares her experience of concussion following a devastating accident overseas; and the real world implications of brain injury on her life beyond sport.
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Introduction

Much like Pop-tarts and the Wiggles, I feel crashing your bike are essential childhood experiences.  

My most memorable crash as a kid involved riding up a gutter and down a set of stairs before ending up over the handlebars. Despite the embarrassment, I came away unscathed with a cracked helmet and a few scratches.

My accident is quickly put into perspective however when talking to seventeen year old Tasmanian mountain bike rider Izzy Flint.

In 2019, Izzy lost control of her bike during the final practice run of competition in New Zealand, slamming head-first into a tree and subsequently flung down the side of an embankment.

Many at the event described it as one of the most horrific crashes they’d seen.

While the broken bones have healed, the injury to Izzy's brain continues to challenge her over a year after the accident.

In her article for the Tassie Athlete, we share her absolute passion for riding the dusty trails of Tasmania and the thrill of pushing her limits on the bike.

Beyond the thrill, Izzy shares how the term of 'concussion' - one loosely thrown about regarding sport these days - became central to her life both on and off the bike.

Getting off track

“I started riding when I was twelve after my dad got me into cycling at the Silverdome in Launceston," Iz begins as we sit and chat at Hobart's Meehan Range.

“I remember we hired this small bike and rode around and I just instantly fell in love with it, with cycling in general.”

“Eventually, I also discovered a passion for combining the speed of track cycling with the rough and tumble nature of the outdoors, and well, here I am today - absolutely loving the best of Tassie’s trails.”

Given this was the first time I'd met Izzy, I have to admit I was taken aback at how hard mountain bikers attack the trails (well, at least this mountain biker).

Even the names of the events are impressive.

In her short time on the mountain bike, Izzy has been crowned:

  • U17 National Gravity Enduro Champion;
  • claimed five state XCO championships;
  • Won the national cross country series twice ;
  • and at only the age of 16, was the Enduro World Series continental U21 Champion.

(Dom's note: Not to ruin any surprises, but Izzy returned to New Zealand in January 2020 - claiming the title as Oceania champion).

A long list of achievements suggests an absolute passion for mountain bike riding at such a young age.

Having watched Izzy tackle some of the surrounding steps and jumps to warm up, I also had to ask about her fears on the bike.

“The scariest thing about being on the bike is the feeling of not necessarily knowing; you sit right on the limit of being in control but you're also not really sure where it sits."

I’m hearing this, horrified behind the camera - while Iz is saying this with a somewhat twisted sense of enjoyment.

"I was actually talking about it the other day with someone,” she continues.

"The ability to go fast is about being 98% in control, and 2% out of control.

"If you’re too far over the percent, you’re going to crash, but if you’re not close to that rivet, then you’re going too slow. That real happy medium is probably the scariest part.”

I think all athletes can resonate with finding that happy medium in their sport.

In athletics, you have to push your body and mind often beyond their capacity and be as ‘close to that rivet’ as possible.

However with cycling sports, I feel there’s a difference in consequences. I’ve seen a spike in the hand, been knocked over mid-race and suffered a bit of track burn; but never have I ended up in hospital after an accident; so I'm confronted when Izzy shares her recollection of what happened in New Zealand.

A big crash and a long way from home

"Crashing is a part of any cycling sport. It’s so so extensive - you can crash on the silliest simplest stuff."

"I was in New Zealand and it was the last practice day, the last stage of the day too."

"From what I'm told, I lost control and hit a tree face first, before rolling down the embankment."

“To be honest I don’t really remember what happened. I know that I crashed, like really, really badly. I got told I was thrown so far that I ended up no where near my bike.”

“I was taken straight to hospital with suspected C-spinal injuries and a severe concussion.”

“At the time, particularly with the concussion, I didn’t really know what it all meant. I didn't even know if I was going to be okay."

"It is a bit of a confronting and strange time in your life when something like a big crash happens."

"The immediate feelings after a crash, it... it’s really just you in survival mode."

"I was in hospital for a really long time, and when I was eventually discharged, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck."

"I felt lost, so lost and just couldn’t comprehend both what had happened, as well as the journey ahead."

"I was like a zombie - I spent days in the room just in and out of sleep, not eating much.”

“They said with the concussion that I had to limit my screen time, so it was tough because I couldn’t read, or use my phone, no TV, I just had to let my brain rest."

No phone or TV for a teenage girl must have been tough.

She laughs at my remark, but derails my humour and I can tell how tough a time this was for Izzy.

“Deep down I just really, really wanted to get home.”

"I didn’t actually find out until afterwards but the friend I was with messaged my mum and said 'I’ve got Iz to the airport, but I’m really scared - I'm not sure she’s going to make it home...'"

“That was kind of surreal… having someone who was close to me say that.”

"Looking back on it now, they’ve said they weren’t sure if I actually should’ve flown home. Just with the severity and where I was at in terms of the recovery process, it was very risky.”

"The initial experience is still all a blur to be honest, but what stuck with me was the words of my Mum the day I got home."

Mum said, 'It looked like the lights were on, but nobody was home. This wasn't the daughter I knew.'"

The real world implications of concussion

"It took ages for me to improve and even begin my recovery."

"Officially, I walked away from the crash with whiplash and a severe concussionThat actually sounds pretty non-exciting....

“The biggest thing about the concussion for me was not remembering what happened. Like, no recollection."

“I lost all my balance, lost the ability to put words together in a sentence. I’d be speaking and have to be like, wait did I just say that."

"Mum would often say "Iz you’ve told me that three times already" but I just couldn’t remember saying that."

"With concussion, the effects are often invisible. If someone breaks their arm, everyone’s like 'yep you’ve got six week in a cast and then you’ll be back' - where as with a brain injury you just never know. "

"I wanted someone to be like 'Iz this is going to take 6 weeks, or even 6 months, and then you’ll be right'.

There were all these little markers along the way but I’d take two steps forward and one steps back."

“It’s not something that I’d really thought about before because I was just so fixated on my sport - but it really affected my life; not just the here and now but I started to question my future ability and ambitions.”

"I got to the point when I was ready to go back to school, but then I’d be there and get really tired. That would then compound into be not knowing where I was or I’d catch the wrong bus home and lose all comprehension of that sort of stuff."

"I felt like I was the furthest from 'Izzy' that I’d ever been; I felt like I lost who I was."

"And then you had to go all the way back to square one..."

A new outlook - on and off the bike

It was around August 2019 and I'd messaged Izzy to see if she'd be interested in doing a small piece for our Training Diary page.

What I got back was not just a full recount of her love for riding, but a considered and emotional two pages about how this previously unknown thing called 'concussion' had changed her life.

Reading Izzy's story in detail, the Training Diary article was never going to do her, or the real life impacts of concussion justice.

"Concussion is such a widely used word in society today, yet often people don’t really understand what it is."

"We often look at AFL and modern sports and see a 'concussion' - but there's a bit of a disconnect because we don't really hear what happens after or what they go through."

"It was over six months before I'd finally progressed back onto the indoor trainer. When that happened I thought it was the best thing ever. I was like 'yes, I can finally ride again!'"

"After another super long period, I was finally allowed on the road, but for no more than half an hour, on the flat, and had to have someone with me. With my balance, if I fell, the secondary concussion could be catastrophic."

"I look back on that time now and think with any situation in life, we always learn things. I've come to learn that taking positives and negatives is important."

It's getting close to a year after the crash, and I'd watched Izzy compete at the local mountain bike race. After she crosses the line, we chat about what Izzy's goals look like now.

"Before the crash, all my goals were always cycling related," she answers.

"It was like 'I have to do this, was looking forward to that.'"

"I was cycling - and cycling was me. It determined my identity. But it's changed after the crash..."

"I’ve taken a step back - I’ve got a real appreciation for being alive."

"That sounds so silly but when I was so close to not being able to live anymore, it was really liberating to step back and be like 'no, my life goals are to enjoy every day and make the most of things.'"

"On the bike, that new found appreciation is also transferred."

"I have new goals, but as a change - they aren’t results based anymore. I want to ride my bike because I love it."

"For me, the fact that I want to ride my bike will lead to better results anyway."

"Like for example, yesterday was just the best - we had a junior development day at Maydena with eighteen young girls all under the age of eighteen and I got to ride with them and some of the other junior ambassadors."

"To able to give that inspiration is fantastic."

"'You ride like a girl' - that's a thing of the past! I want people to see that riding like a girl is a bloody good thing!"

"I want to show the world that it’s really cool that girls ride bikes."

"At Maydena we took girls who’d never ridden before to right through to existing champions - we rode all day, we chatted, laughed and just enjoyed each other's company."

"I think that’s what’s really powerful - helping people with something they’re passionate about and to watch that grow, to be able to combine my passions of riding, and females; that's something that I’ll chase forever... "

Nervous feelings and article conclusions

It's the night before we're launching this article, and Izzy has messaged me to tell me that she's really nervous.

She's worried that people will respond to the experiences that she has shared, and how many are ones that she hasn't opened on to anyone other than her immediate friends and family.

Having spent some time with her now however - I think the fact that she's has taken this courageous step speaks volumes to her character.  

Izzy has allowed us to share her vulnerabilities, but all with the ambition of raising even the smallest amount of awareness around concussion. The aim is that anyone else experiencing the loneliness, frustration or questioning their identity can know that they aren't alone, that things can turn out okay and that there's people who can help.

On behalf of the Tassie Athlete, thank you Izzy for your insight and inspiration.

We know and regularly see how much you inspire and support those around you, so we in turn wish you the best in your upcoming competitions and return to cycling.

We also can't wait to see plenty of Tassie Athlete's kicking ass and riding like a girl on the trails soon.

- Dom

You can follow Izzy's progress and updates via her Instagram @izflint.


Have you or someone you know been affected by concussion? 

The Tassie Athlete is proud to partner with the Brain Injury Association of Tasmania (BIAT) to present this article on Izzy and her experience with concussion. BIAT is the peak body for brain injury in Tasmania and can provide valuable information and resources for Tasmanian's impacted by concussion or an injury to the head.

If you'd like more information or assistance with concussion, get in touch with BIAT via www.biat.org.au, their Facebook page or by calling 1300 BIA TAS.

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