Injury fears won't hamper BMX ace Walker
Sarah Walker reckons the fear of dislocating her shoulder again will be present for the rest of her BMX career. And fear in a sport such as BMX, where bodies are put on the line at high speed every time the start gates are thrust open, can potentially be crippling.
But the Olympic silver medallist, former world champion and former world No 1 also believes she has found a way to deal with the fear so that it doesn't adversely affect her performances.
She's drawing on the mental work she had to put in before last year's Olympics where she overcame the dislocated shoulder, sustained during a race in Norway just three months out from the Games, to claim her silver medal.
"I had to deal with the injury as best I could but still focus on performing at 100 per cent," Walker says.
"A lot of the work I did then has carried through this time - even though I was afraid, I knew I could still push through that and that's what I learnt from London. You're going to be scared no matter what you do, it's being able to be courageous and push through that fear."
The 24-year-old thought she had fully recovered from the injury by the time the Olympics rolled around, and she was pain-free during the Games. But post-London, she was told her shoulder wasn't right and she did in fact require surgery.
About that time the pain returned: "It was an eye-opener to what the mind is capable of. As soon as I was told it wasn't right, I felt pain again."
So surgery it was, which meant five months on the sidelines. She returned to her bike two weeks ago and is now building toward the world championships at Auckland's Vector Arena in July. And though happy with the speed of her progress, the fear factor remains.
"BMX is so much about bike confidence and being comfortable on your bike and I wasn't sure how I'd feel after that amount of time off. It's just a matter of building up enough courage to start flying again," she says.
"I'm definitely still afraid of doing my shoulder again, that fear is probably the biggest thing I've had to deal with. I'm quite happy to take a broken bone if it means my shoulder doesn't go again. It's hard not to think about that."
Walker is not afraid to admit she reckons the fear of dislocating her shoulder again, and the pain that goes with it, will remain for the rest of her career.
"It will probably be there for the rest of my BMX days. I've never experienced that kind of pain before, and I've broken a few bones.
"I guess fear is something you learn, and I've learnt that dislocating your shoulder hurts a lot and I've definitely learnt that I'm afraid of experiencing that again. It's having to accept that - there's no way I'm not going to crash again - and take measures to reduce the risk as much as possible."
Otherwise, the comeback is going swimmingly.
She enjoyed the opportunity to have two months completely off after the surgery, which allowed her to say "yes" to all the requests for public engagements and school visits post-London without feeling guilty about missing training. Before returning to the bike two weeks ago she devised a plan, but that has been "blown out of the water".
"I've never had that much time off my bike before. Man, it felt like forever, so after five months I wasn't really expecting much. But it's progressing way more quickly than I thought it would. I made a plan where I wanted to be in a couple of months and I'm already ahead of that so going really well so we're taking it week by week at the moment."
Walker will head to the United States in late May for a month of racing as a final tune up for the world championships, a necessity given the Olympics was her last competitive outing.
"The tracks over there are less technical than the worlds' track will be so it'll be good to not worry about the technical side of my riding and just focus on being strong out of the gate and my mental routines and get that elbow-to-elbow action."
The 2009 elite world champion said the opportunity to race in a world championship with a home crowd behind her indoors at Vector Arena, was "hugely exciting".
"I'm so excited about the worlds, more so for the sport in New Zealand and showing off to the rest of the world that we know what BMX is, we're good at it and we can support it. There are going to be over 800 New Zealand riders (across all ages and categories) and watching some of them at nationals, it's guaranteed there will be some New Zealand world champions.
"Now, all I want to do is get my confidence and be comfortable on a bike again."