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Cycling: Joiner on the fast road to recovery

I f a person's strength of character is judged by their ability to recover from setbacks, then Charline Joiner must surely be considered unbeatable.

Charline Joiner was back on her bike just a month after breaking her back
Charline Joiner was back on her bike just a month after breaking her back

The 25-year-old cyclist and 2010 Commonwealth silver medallist was on track to qualify for Glasgow 2014 until the unthinkable happened. She was part of a Scottish performance squad that travelled to Spain in January for a training camp when an accident while riding left her with a broken back.

"When I crashed, I was lying on the road and I was really scared," she said. "You know your body and I knew straight away that I'd done something bad."

No longer was Joiner's primary concern qualifying for Team Scotland; she now had three fractures in her spine and had to contend with thoughts about whether she would walk again. Joiner spent eight days in a Spanish hospital before flying home to Scotland with all hopes of competing at Glasgow 2014 banished from her thoughts.

"At that point the Commonwealth Games didn't even cross my mind," she said. "I didn't think about whether I had any chance of getting to Glasgow. I was just thinking about the pain. I remember crying a lot during those few weeks."

Joiner's recovery since has been remarkable. Just over one month after the accident she was back on a bike and is now on the cusp of selection for Team Scotland. The Scottish cycling team will be announced on Thursday and Joiner is confident that she has given herself every chance of securing a place for the points and scratch races.

She has completed two races since regaining fitness but, despite the rapidity of her return, the journey has been far from plain sailing. Her progress has been tracked by BBC television cameras in a fly-on-the-wall documentary to be shown tonight, but it gives only the merest glimpse into the travails that Joiner has had to face in the past five months.

"There were times when the camera was there and I just wanted to be alone," she says. "I really didn't want to cry; there were points when I felt really emotional but I did so much crying in the first few weeks that I didn't want to go back to that.

"I've cried with relief a few times, like when I pedalled my bike for the first time, but they were tears of relief. I didn't want to cry because it can be such a negative thing and can bring on so many negative emotions so I told myself that I'm not going to cry until the Games are over."

Joiner maintains that it is the mental rather than the physical side of her recovery which has been the most difficult.

"It's been a mental journey and I have to constantly remind myself of how far I've come," she said. "Something like this really puts everything into perspective and makes you find yourself. I think I've done everything I possibly can to get into the team for Glasgow. I really believe in trying to make the most out of every situation, even if it's a bad one. In some ways it's helped me because I'm more relaxed now when I'm preparing for my races."

The signs look promising for Joiner. She finished seventh and sixth in her first road races, yet her lofty expectations still left her disappointed.

"I wasn't happy with my result this week and I have to keep fighting the demons in my head, but my team just kept reminding me how amazing it is that I'm even racing," she said. "I don't think it has all really sunk in. I've had such a quick recovery that I've not had time to stop and think. I know that there's all this emotion and passion and pride pushing me on and if I'm at Glasgow, I'll let it all out there."

Joiner received some welcome news last week when her boyfriend Lee Jones was selected for the Scotland's rugby 7s team for Glasgow 2014 and his support has, she says, been invaluable.

"Lee has had a lot of injuries as well so he understands exactly how it feels," said. Joiner, whose brother Craig won 25 caps playing for Scotland's rugby team. "I think this whole process has been harder for my family than for me because I've been so focused on getting back, but there's nothing that they can do. I haven't slept properly for the past six weeks, though, because I've been thinking so much about the Commonwealth Games."

Joiner will find out this week if her journey will lead her to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome for Glasgow 2014. But regardless of the selection decision, her powers of recovery are irrefutable. "It's my self-belief that's kept me going," Joiner says. "And what has kept me strong is proving that you can overcome anything if you really want to."

o Sport XIV featuring Charline Joiner is on BBC2 Scotland this evening at 5.30pm

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