In August 2011 Oli Beckingsale broke his leg whilst competing in a World Cup cross-country mountain bike race in the Czech Republic. Only one week before this Oli's Olympic preparation for London 2012 had looked well on track as he recorded the best result for a British rider all year finishing 9th in the European Championships. Now, Oli has to overcome a mountainous challenge simply to make the starting grid of what would be his fourth Olympic final. Professor Louis Passfield, staff and students at the Centre for Sports Studies, University of Kent are also working with Oli to help him with his rehabilitation challenge.
Oli suffered a serious fracture, breaking the neck of his femur and needed a plate inserted in his leg to mend his broken leg. His surgeon told him it would be six months before he would be able to walk again and that there was a real risk that the bone may never repair properly and he may need a hip replacement.
Many thought that Oli, at 35 years of age, might find this injury a good reason to retire. Instead he decided that the London 2012 Olympics would be a fitting finale and embarked on a remarkable journey of rehabilitation to top line sport. As he was unable to walk or drive, his wife drove him daily to his local swimming pool where he began his recovery by running in the pool with the help of a buoyancy vest. On the days when he wasn't swimming he worked with his personal trainer Andy Wadsworth at “MyLife” on his uninjured leg and upper body in the gym so that he maintained his strength. Only eight weeks after breaking his leg Oli, was able to start riding gently, because of his totally committed approach to rehabilitation though even then he still could not walk unaided.
As soon as Oli was fit to travel Louis Passfield arranged for him to hold two training camps based at the Sports Injury Clinic at the University of Kent. During these two camps Oli underwent fitness testing, worked with the sports therapists on his rehabilitation and conducted some specialist training sessions to help get him back to peak fitness as quickly as possible. The results have been quite remarkable. Despite a couple of weeks of gentle indoor cycling, the lab fitness testing showed that as you might expect Oli had lost a lot of his cycling power. Both his peak sprinting power and his endurance had dropped off markedly. Moreover his injured left leg was not able to contribute equally to his pedalling. However, by the end of the first camp Oli's, left leg was contributing more and his sprint power had doubled and was only 20% down on normal. Working with Louis the results of the laboratory testing were then used to draw up a specific training programme for between the two camps.
In the Sports Therapy Clinic Oli worked with staff and students and began the process of learning how to walk again. Working on the AlterG treadmill, enabled Oli to exercise with his body weight partially supported. This enabled him to start the process of relearning his normal walking pattern. In addition, the Clinic's gait analysis system was able to show him graphically how his walking deviated from "normal". In just a few short sessions even a non-expert could see the improvement in Oli's ability to walk normally. And each day after the hard work of testing, rehabilitation and training, Oli was able to get a massage to help him recover ready for the next day's regime.
Between the two Kent training camps Oli trained hard both on his bike and in the gym. Indeed, on one occasion Oli's surgeon was amazed to bump into him in the gym in the middle of a training session. He had never seen someone progress so quickly from such an injury. On returning for the second training camp at the University of Kent it was evident that Oli's gains were dramatic. It was then exactly 4 months since his injury and he was able to walk in to the clinic, slowly but unaided. This was some two months before his surgeon had expected that he would even start to walk again. Laboratory testing showed that Oli had regained most of his lost fitness. In fact some of the specific power training that he had been doing was so successful that Oli achieved a new personal best for his sprint power. The sports therapy sessions helped identify some new exercises for Oli to address not only his injury but also some imbalances that he’d had before being injured. Again the AlterG treadmill was also used, but this time to enable Oli to run for the first time since sustaining his injury.
So startlingly successful has been Oli’s rehabilitation that he is only 2-3 weeks behind his normal training schedule. January and February see Oli fly out to Majorca for warm-weather training camps and hopefully bring him to near peak fitness once more. Oli’s has brought forward his race programme and travels to Cyprus in March only seven months after breaking his leg. Whether Oli can repeat his feat of 2011 and produce the best performance for a GB rider and make the 2012 London Olympic Games remains to be seen. But given challenges he has already conquered, a mountain bike race may seem like a stroll in the park.