BRAVERY comes in many forms, as does inspiration. Over the last eight months Lithgow's Emily Watts has more than proved she has both those qualities.
The Bathurst Cycling Club and Western Region Academy of Sport graduate has gone from lying in a hospital bed with six fractured vertebrae, a broken collar bone and lip laceration to now be working towards the 2020 Cycling Australia Road Nationals.
It has not been an easy path for Watts - the mental challenges she has faced have been just as testing as the physical ones - but that she is able to draw positives after suffering such a trauma is proof of her bravery and her determination.
It is also inspirational.
"I'm realising how much wiser I am and how much appreciation I have for actually being able to walk. I've been so lucky, which I appreciate so much," Watts said.
"I've turned what happened into a positive."
It was in April while on a training camp at Bright that Watts crashed in a corner while descending Tawonga Gap. While falling heavily, she remained conscious and was not initially aware of how serious her injuries were.
"My helmet did it's job. I remember the half an hour on the ground - I remember everything," Watts said.
"I remember lying there and talking to the coach that was there, some nurse passed in a car so she stopped and stayed with me. They were like 'What hurts?' and I said 'Well, I've broken my collarbone before and it hurts a bit so it's probably broken'.
"I wasn't in any extreme pain, I was like 'It's uncomfortable lying here on the ground for half an hour'."
At hospital Watts learned that it was more serious than a broken collarbone and that a season which had seen her enjoy milestone moments - she rode in the professional peloton for the first time at the Women's Tour Down Under and claimed under 23s criterium silver at the road nationals - had come to a premature end.
The incident left Watts in a neck and back brace for two-and-a-half months.
It would have been easy to hide away while she recovered, but she decided to post on her Race with Me Emily Watts social media platforms, even joking "not sure about a name change to Recover with me Emily Watts."
She put a positive spin on her posts and in turn, received plenty of encouragement to help her along the way.
"It was very difficult, just because it was very personal and you want to keep it to your inner circle. But people are going to ask questions about what was happening and what I was doing for a three-month period," Watts said.
"When I was sitting in hospital and making my first Instagram post to tell everyone, we were thinking 'What do we want to do? What do we want to say?'. We kept it very vague but the replies back - just the breadth of the cycling community is crazy and I realised you have everybody on your side, everyone cares about you and everyone wants to see you go well.
"It was really hard but it was my family that got me through it, and my friends. That was a God send. My coach was brilliant, she didn't not stand by my side any of the way."
In the early days after her accident, Watts had set the goal of being race fit by the time the 2020 Road Nationals began in early January. With support from sponsor Zwift she resumed training indoors - initially in a brace, then without it 11 weeks into her recovery.
"I got Zwift on board so that's why I think I enjoyed cycling so much more and have come back with such good form and mentality," she said.
"Like I was indoors, but I was still enjoying everything, I was able to make goals on Zwift to move me forward, small goals to keep me motivated as I was looking to the long term."
I'm realising how much wiser I am and how much appreciation I have for actually being able to walk.Emily Watts
From there Watts went back to training rides on the road then stepped up to tackle three club criteriums.
Then, late last month, Watts entered her first major race. It took her back to the scene of her incident as she contested the Tour of Bright. She also did it without the support of her father who has accompanied her for so many races across the country as a personal soigneur.
Watts admits some of her family questioned her decision, but she was undeterred.
"My Nan most of all actually, I went back to Bright and she was like 'Don't fall off your bike again. Are you sure you want to go back to it?' But it was not even a question in my mind to not get back on the bike," she said.
While admitting her performances were impacted by some mental hurdles, Watts still managed to place 14th outright in the tour, which was taken out by multiple Australian and Oceania champion Sarah Gigante.
A sixth placing in stage one's 16.8 kilometre individual time trial as she averaged 39.5km/hr was a highlight.
"I approached it the same as any other race and made goals. I had an amazing time trial which I was not expecting to have, it was an achievement in itself having not pain in my back while I was doing the time trial, but I got a good result as well which was a massive bonus," she said.
"I had high hopes, I didn't achieve those high hopes, but when you think about it, you're back in the place where you had massive trauma, you had to descend and you felt good. I got a lot of power medals and heart rate medals."
Completing her comeback tour at the same place where she had crashed was a huge moment.
Another huge moment followed last Friday when it was announced Watts had been signed by the Subaru-Giant Racing Team for 2020.
Watts explained her decision to move from Sydney Uni Staminade - who she has spent the last two years with - had nothing to do with her crash.
But she is excited to represent her new team at the road nationals.
"They are the oldest team now in the boys NRS, but they are now branching off into a women's team," Watts said.
"I will definitely put pressure on myself, but new team, first race back for the year - that's really exciting."
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