British mountain biker raring to go after "terrifying" concussion scare

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Tahnee Seagrave suffered a career-threatening concussion in 2022 (Image: Sam Dugon/Red Bull)
Tahnee Seagrave suffered a career-threatening concussion in 2022 (Image: Sam Dugon/Red Bull)

"I thought I was never going to ride a bike again."

In April of last year, British mountain biker Tahnee Seagrave was speeding down a track in Wales when she went head over handlebars and suffered a thumping blow to the head which threatened to end her illustrious career. Forced out of action for 10 months due to the serious concussion which was inflicted, this "invisible" torment compounded a series of other injury setbacks which the 28-year-old was attempting to put behind her following the Covid-19 pandemic.

But when she first stumbled home and shut the outside world away from her spare room, she had no idea that her road to recovery would be the most challenging ride of her life. 16 months on from her crash, Seagrave has returned to racing and recently opened up on her recovery in an exclusive chat with Mirror Sport, hoping that her story can help raise awareness for those dealing with the same struggles after a similarly "life-changing" concussion.

"It definitely felt like I hit a massive reset button," she began, speaking at Red Bull's Hardline event last month. "I kind of had to, it really forced me to take some time off - I wasn't able to ride for 10 months - so I'd had a year and a half out of racing. I thought I was never going to ride a bike again at one point, so you can imagine being at Hardline was pretty surreal!"

Like all elite-level athletes, being forced onto the sidelines brings a fresh set of tribulations, and there was no quick fix for the multiple World Championship medalist, despite her winning mentality. "I always explain it like having a bully in my head," the Red Bull rider, who was born in Crawley but moved to Morzine, France when she was eight, continued.

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"I always wanted more. If I won a World Cup, I'd want another one or I'd want to win it by more. When I was training, I felt like was never training hard enough, so it got a point where it just wasn't feasible anymore and it was very unhealthy for my mental health. I couldn't heal from my concussion like that, so I really had to drop everything and strip back to what actually mattered in life and go from there."

Of course, mountain biking is hardly the most risk-free sport out there. Bumps and bruises, even broken bones, are part and parcel of the fun for most daring riders. But this, as Seagrave revealed, was a whole new course to conquer after three years of persistent injury layoffs.

British mountain biker raring to go after "terrifying" concussion scareIn 2019 before her injury troubles, Tahnee Seagrave was dominating the World Cup circuit (Milos Vujinovic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

"With my injuries I had a bit of practice pre-concussion taking time off the bike, but what was so hard was not being to remain active because movement is medicine," she affirmed. "For me, someone who usually loves being outdoors, I was essentially petrified of being outdoors. It was a really tough and long road to recovery but it makes me appreciate now where I am and enjoying life for what it is.

"I think I've always known how risky [mountain biking] is and I've always been prepared for broken bones, but I wasn't prepared for such a shift in my life. The severity of it sunk in as it was happening, so it's definitely something now that I look back on and I'm weirdly grateful for because I've grown so much. But also it's terrifying knowing that that's what can happen other people."

Struggling to leave the house, burdened by battles with her mental health and attempting to cope with the near-impossible task of socialising, the fun-loving Seagrave lived a completely different life to the one she enjoyed before her concussion. She could, though, count on her family, sponsors and team to pull her through the darkness and back onto her bike.

British mountain biker raring to go after "terrifying" concussion scareTahnee Seagrave returned to competitive racing in June (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

"I think I'm in a very fortunate position where I am super close to my sponsors and my team," she added. "With concussions, there hadn't really been much awareness around them so it was a hard one to navigate at first, but I hope sharing my story will help other athletes and teams understand the support network that they need in order to get better. They will get back racing, it's just an invisible injury which sometimes requires more time than the doctors initially give.

"I think it's way more of an injury because it's not visible, people go through a life-changing injury and a very scary time. It requires so much support from the people around you, all I can do is raise awareness of my journey, and hopefully with the following and platform I have it is starting to get seen more. I've seen more and more people speaking up about it, so that's amazing to see."

Forced to ponder over early retirement plans, Seagrave's dad, Tony, had always been preparing for if something knocked his trailblazing daughter off her pedals. "When I was younger it was really hard to get sponsored as a woman in the sport, so my dad always made sure that I worked hard and put myself out there for other stuff to make sure I was really well-rounded athlete," she explained.

British mountain biker raring to go after "terrifying" concussion scareTahnee Seagrave (left) is among the biggest female trailblazers in mountain biking (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

"So I think that put a lot of pressure on me but in a way it's really set me up and helped me in situations like this where I am quite open minded with stuff that goes around just riding my bike."

Now a household name in mountain biking after nearly 10 years at the elite level following her storming success as a teenager, fans of downhill racing were delighted to see the resurgent star back in competitive action when the new season began in June. Once gunning for glory on the World Cup circuit, which she dominated in 2019 before her slew of injuries, keeping a love of the sport in Seagrave's priority for now.

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"Coming into the season, I didn't have any expectations," she continued, having already competed in Switzerland, Austria and Italy this summer in her search of her first World Cup crown following second-place overall finishes in 2017 and 2018. "I was on my road to recovery and just having so much fun on my bike, I thought I might as well give the World Cups a go because I thought ready to race, but I hadn't trained all winter or had my normal off-season.

British mountain biker raring to go after "terrifying" concussion scareThis year's Red Bull Hardline helped Tahnee Seagrave step up her comeback (Dan Griffiths/Red Bull)

"My main goal was to just gain more experience at every race but just keep my love for it and make sure that I didn't get carried away with my results and stuff. Then this Hardline event was massive, originally I didn't expect to ride, I just wanted to be here make sure the girls had the opportunity to ride and I could be alongside them. The fact I've actually ridden and ticked some stuff off has given me the confidence going through to the second part of the season."

Selected as part of Great Britain's squad for the UCI World Championships in Fort William starting this week, Seagrave is relishing the chance to start seeing the world again the only way she knows how - looking over the handlebars as she embarks on daredevil jumps. "Obviously we're so fortunate that we're able to travel to all these places but we always see the same places and the same tracks, so it's not like we get to travel around the countries we visit," she admitted.

"But at least were an outdoor sport because other sports might just see the outside of a stadium." Where else would she like to compete? "I'd love to go to Asia," Seagrave enthusiastically replied. "We've never raced over that side of the world, so that'd be incredible! But also anywhere outside of Europe would be amazing. We only have two rounds in America and Canada."

On and off the track, the bubbly Seagrave - who now calls Wales home and has a younger brother, Kaos, who's also a mountain biker - is a shining example for women in the sport, naturally feeling more a complete role model than when she was a junior world champion. "When I was younger I obviously wanted to win World Cups and as many things as possible," she went on.

"But I guess being injured over the past few years it's widened my perspective to see how much more can be done to get more girls involved and progress the sport in the right way."

Red Bull Hardline was the perfect event to showcase female growth in the sport. Before the main race was cancelled due to extreme weather conditions in the Dyfi Valley, Seagrave and five other women became the first group female riders to embark on what's considered to be the world's toughest downhill track, following in the footsteps of star Jess Blewitt who went solo in 2022.

Have your say! What more needs to be in sport to help deal with concussions? Join the debate in the comments section.

British mountain biker raring to go after "terrifying" concussion scareSix women rode the Red Bull Hardline track last month (Sam Dugon/Red Bull)

"The course is so intimidating, but from seeing Jess last year and what we've been able to achieve now, it's just insane," Segreave beamed after the event. "We've had no pressure to do anything we wouldn't feel 100 per cent comfortable with, but by ticking off feature by feature it makes you realise that there is a link to slowly piece it all together.

"What we didn't want to do was make the course easier, tame it down or change the event to facilitate the girls - but instead offer all the support and resources to create the best environment for all of the female athletes to progress together. With more time to practice and hopefully better weather next year I'm excited to see how close we can get to a full run. I can't believe I've left Red Bull Hardline thinking that next year I'd come back ticking more features off!"

She proudly concluded: "We have a national series which is pretty amazing and I think opportunities are opening up for seeing women at events like Hardline. Hopefully, younger girls will see that there are opportunities and want to take the path as well."

You can watch the female riders test and progress on the Red Bull Hardline track HERE.

Nathan Ridley

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