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Ella Conolly, The Comeback Kid

After a crash almost ended her season, Scottish enduro racer Ella Conolly made a triumphant return to the Enduro World Series. What does it take, physically and mentally, to return to riding?

15 October 2022

Progression often comes at a price. Mountain bikers know the routine all too well: progress, injury, recovery. We all ride the knife’s edge between control and chaos, where one wrong move can lead to disaster. Catastrophe occurs in varying degrees – occasionally we escape with little more than an adrenaline rush and the feeling that things could have gone much worse. Sometimes we’re not so lucky.

Scottish rider and Rapha athlete Ella Conolly is familiar with the injury-recovery cycle. A consistent presence on the podium since she first started racing the Enduro World Series, the bright-eyed racer from the Highlands was a dominant junior racer with two near-flawless winning seasons on some of the most formidable trails in the world.

She’s paid her dues as well – during her debut year in the elite ranks, Ella showed real grit as she steadily worked her way up the rankings after a rocky start. But then that season came to a traumatic end when she experienced a horrifying accident in a rock garden and had to be airlifted from the course. The massive hematoma on her hip and plenty of blood and bruising made it seem potentially life-threatening, but the x-rays showed only a fractured radial head – not the best result, but it could’ve been worse. This was her first broken elbow of her career, but it wasn’t to be her last.

“she experienced a horrifying accident in a rock garden and had to be airlifted from the course.”

After two off-kilter years marked by the nebulous uncertainty of racing during a global pandemic and a lackluster season in which she struggled to find her flow, Ella dedicated herself to training and launched into 2022 with all cylinders blazing. She triumphantly rode to victory at Innerleithen, winning her first EWS elite race in Scotland to the rapturous response of her countrymen and community. This was sure to be her year.

But less than a month after her big win at Innerleithen, Conolly broke her elbow again – this time the other one – during practice at Val di Fassa. As Ella puts it, “I was gutted. I finally felt like I had got the bike setup well, training dialed over the winter, finally riding like I knew I could. At the time, all that was going through my head was about the rest of the season: whether I would be able to race again or not?”

“We all have our scars, whether they’re pinkies that stand askew or jutting clavicles with disrupted arcs.”

Having experienced the same injury three years prior, Ella dutifully worked her way through the recovery process. With daily exercises and feedback from her physiotherapist, Ella’s arm was bearing weight after four weeks. After six weeks, she was able to ride again – a remarkable comeback, and one that even Ella didn’t expect. In addition to healing physically, she had to recover mentally after a traumatic shock to the system.

“I followed the physio’s advice and I spoke to a psychologist quite a lot, so there were physical and mental tools I could use to get back on the bike. Positive visualization was really useful. I’d watch a GoPro video of something that I'd ridden before, and I’d visualize that trail and my elbow working fine, like everything was normal. I’d imagine flowing down a trail with a smile on my face.”

“After six weeks, she was able to ride again – a remarkable comeback, and one that even Ella didn’t expect.”

Ella’s beaming presence graced the podium for every round since Whistler, making for an amazing comeback season for the young woman from the Scottish Highlands. Then during the pro stage at Loudenvielle, her final race of the 2022 EWS season, Ella had a hard crash and decided to make the difficult decision to withdraw, fearing a concussion. Even with a couple of missed rounds, Ella finished 5th in the overall – a result worthy of celebration.

It’s a reminder that victory is only enriched by adversity. We all have our scars, whether they’re pinkies that stand askew or jutting clavicles with disrupted arcs. These are the marks of learning our lessons the hard way, because ultimately we get out exactly what we put in – and we have a feeling that Ella Conolly will continue to shine in 2023. We’ll be cheering for you, Ella.

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