Olympic champion rower James Cracknell has been talking about the lasting effects of the accident last July when he was hit by a truck while cycling in the United States which may have left him with permanent brain damage, and says that Australia’s compulsory bicycle helmet law may have helped save his life.
The 38-year-old, who won gold in the coxless fours at Sydney in 2000 and again in Athens four years later, was struck by the wing mirror of a petrol tanker on 20 July in Arizona as he filmed a documentary covering his attempt to travel across the country by cycling, rowing, running and swimming.
Although the rower-turned-adventurer was wearing a helmet – a habit the lifelong cyclists says he only acquired while cycling in Australia as part of his training for the 2000 Olympics, due to the legal requirement to wear one there – Cracknell suffered a double brain fracture in the incident, which also caused bleeding on the brain.
His injuries resulted in him spending more than two months in hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where he amazed doctors with the speed of his recovery, before being allowed to return home to Britain last September.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, for which both he and his wife, TV personality Beverley Turner, are columnists, Cracknell revealed, “I get annoyed by things that never used to bother me; I need much more sleep; my facial recognition and time-keeping can be poor, and I have a very black and white view of the world."
Reflecting on the accident itself, he said: "Despite being lit up like a Christmas tree, I was knocked off my bike by a petrol tanker just outside Winslow in Arizona.
"The truck’s wing mirror hit me on the back of the head, enough impact was absorbed by the helmet to leave me with “only” two skull fractures, a head full of staples and bleeding to the frontal lobes of the brain – the area that controls personality, concentration, motivation, planning and decision-making.
"It has been a frustrating five months and we still don’t know to what extent my brain will repair itself.”
Cracknell is aware that the accident could have been fatal. "I’m lucky to be alive,” he admitted. “The helmet that bore the brunt was a lightweight, carbon-reinforced Alpina Pheos. The quick actions of the ambulance crew saved my life," adding, for the sake of clarity, "I don’t have a commercial relationship with the manufacturer, by the way."
Undaunted by his experience, Cracknell says that he continues to ride his bike, although he now factors in longer journey times, wears brighter clothes and rides along quieter roads, insisting, . "I won’t let it change my life any more than it already
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.