The doctor delivered the news in a similar way to how he might order a coffee – dispassionate and disinterested. In fact, he didn’t even look at Emma Hadley as he mumbled, ‘you can ride your bike’.
Those words set off fireworks inside the 32-year-old. Something she hadn’t been able to do for a number of weeks, and something she hadn’t been expecting to do for many more weeks still, was possible again.
“I was super excited,” Hadley recalls. “I was very surprised because everyone else was telling me I wasn’t going to be able to do the Pioneer. To hear that I will, was great. The doctor just said, ‘yeah, you can ride your bike’. He didn’t really know what kind of riding I do.”
He certainly didn’t realise she was known by many as Crazy Emma, the girl who holds the women’s record for cycling four times around Lake Taupo, the girl who rode 1000km and climbed 10,000m in four days for charity or the girl who won two golds at last year’s World masters Games.
A month earlier, Hadley had been the girl who had been involved in a crash only two weeks before she was due to compete in the world amateur road cycling championships in Italy. She had been out on a training ride in Herefordshire with her partner, Logan Mort, and was pointing out a landmark when her front tyre clipped Mort’s, bringing her crashing to the tarmac and fracturing her collarbone.
The pain was so intense she nearly vomited. It didn’t help that the nearest hospital was more than two hours away.
Not only was she out of the worlds but she also thought she would miss the Pioneer, a six-day mountain bike race in the hills of Central Otago. As so often happens at times like that, it brought on moments of introspection.
“The time off made me realise that my life revolves around cycling,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. I was lucky in that I was at home [in the UK] with my family. I think it would have been very different if I was here and I was in my normal routine.”
Hadley’s normal riding routine was unrealistic when she got back on her bike again – she rode more than 20,000km last year – especially as her confidence had been knocked. That’s where some guidance and encouragement from Mort, who also doubles as a cycling coach who founded GRIT – Always Reaching Further, was necessary.
“I didn’t push her to do bunch rides and let her go at her own pace,” Mort says. “She needed to know that she didn’t need to panic about getting her fitness back. If you don’t ride for four weeks, it takes longer than four weeks to get it back so there was no way she was going to be able to do what she had done before.
“It was also important that she took it slowly and not do anything that would potentially knock her confidence any more. When you lose confidence, you lose everything.”
Confidence had not been a problem before. If anything, Hadley probably had too much before her accident. “I was a little bit fearless before, maybe too fearless,” she says. “Loges watched me descend down a hill at Taupo once and said I was going super-fast. I would ride so close to people because I had never crashed, so I didn’t realise how much it was going to hurt when it finally happened.”
Hadley is still a little gun-shy, and hasn’t been on many bunch rides, but her training has been all about the Pioneer anyway.
That’s meant lots of hill work, followed by more hill work and a bit more hill work to finish. It’s a brutal but brilliant event that challenges everyone who takes part.
It’s not really the 450km of riding that pushes people to their limit, more the 15,000m of climbing.
“I’m expecting it to be extremely hard but I’m kind of excited for it to be brutal,” says Hadley, who will be riding as part of team OFF & ON. “I’m more driven by things that are super hard because I would rather do crazy stuff.”
She also realises she’s not going to win – far from it – but, for someone who’s won plenty of medals from local level to world championships, she’s strangely content.
“I’m kind of pumped for it. I didn’t realise until after the Contact Epic [around Lake Hawea] that not winning is still cool. I had a great time and I pretty much came last.”
Given where Hadley was less than three months ago, moping around with her arm in a sling, she would settle for that at the Pioneer.