Isla Short overcomes two broken backs to go for Games gold

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Isla Short has broken her back twice, leading to the compression of her spine and the loss of two centimetres in height.

For a cyclist already on the petite side, she says that has been the most painful legacy of the crashes. But if she can fulfil her ambitions and win a medal, she will leave Gold Coast feeling 10 feet tall.

Mountain biker Isla Short, pictured outside Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, has twice fractured her spine in crashes that sapped her confidence, but she now feels her prospects for success in Gold Coast are looking bright.

Mountain biker Isla Short, pictured outside Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, has twice fractured her spine in crashes that sapped her confidence, but she now feels her prospects for success in Gold Coast are looking bright.

The mountain bike rider, who was born in Carluke but lives in Peebles, where she can hone her skills on the area’s world-class tracks, inherited her love of the sport from her dad but, while her mum is hugely supportive, Short says she is also wary after seeing her daughter hospitalised after crashes and tumbles.

“I’ve had some fairly serious injuries so far. I’ve fractured my spine twice and I seem to have a special talent for breaking my collar bone at the same time, because that has happened both times,” explains the 5ft tall 21-year-old.

“Once I was hit by a car when I was on a training ride, and the other one I went over the handlebars. But the course at Gold Coast doesn’t look super-technical. I’ve seen footage and it doesn’t look too scary.

The collision with the car happened five years ago and as well as the physical rehabilitation, some counselling was required to get her back on a bike.

“Physically I was ready after two months, but mentally I took a long time to get over that. It’s a lot more traumatic than just falling off your bike. My dad races as well, so he kind of gets it, whereas my mum, if she comes to a race she’ll stay at the finish line, she doesn’t want to see any of the descent. She just covers her eyes in case she sees me hurt myself.

“I’ve always cycled, though, we were always quite an outdoorsy family growing up, but I didn’t start racing until I was 14.My dad did 10-hour events and he persuaded me to do one with him, and that was me hooked.

“I still get scared. One of the hard things about being seriously injured is that I know exactly what can go wrong and it took me a long time to build up the confidence to enjoy doing that kind of stuff again. I still get to World Cup courses and I’ll lose sleep over certain sections but I’m in the frame of mind now where if I’m not happy with something I won’t do it. I love the sport but it’s not worth hurting myself over it. Don’t get me wrong, doing things that scare you is still the best feeling ever because it’s been such a big barrier to overcome.

“You see so many people crashing because they’re scared of a section and they’re riding it too slowly or they’re just a bit rigid, so a lot of the time you have to switch the mind off and just go for it.”

The bigger fear just now is her own expectations and, apparently, even just talking about them requires a degree of courage. “I find this really scary, saying it out loud, but it’s been in my head – I’d really like a medal and I know I’m capable of winning one, but I also know top five would be a nice finish.

“This is probably the strongest year there’s been for mountain biking at the Commonwealth level. There are two girls from England who’ll be fighting for medals, a couple of good Canadians and more from New Zealand and Australia who’ll have a chance. The competition is good but it is not beyond me.”

But that dream would not be possible if she had allowed fear to overwhelm her. Although she required counselling after the collision with the car, she says she never lost her desire to get back on the bike. In fact, she says, that was the moment she realised how much she loved the sport and wanted to get to the top.

“But the second time, I crashed at a World Cup event in Switzerland in 2015 and I just didn’t want to even touch my bike for two or three months. My support team were all trying to help me and saying: ‘Oh, you can do this gym session instead…’ but I just wanted to be left alone. I felt a lot of guilt over that because I had all these people behind me wanting me to get back and I just didn’t want to.

“I eventually got back on my bike after about three months – but it took me about nine months to enjoy racing again. I was back out racing World Cups before I was actually enjoying it again, but then I had one race when I won a four-way sprint finish in France and it was the first time I felt like I was good at it again. That was the race when I realised I could get back to the front of bike racing again, and that I actually wanted to get back.”