Caroline Buchanan: The Comeback Queen
After 16 National Championships, eight World Titles and two Olympic Games, Caroline Buchanan is no dark horse in the UCI BMX racing world. After suffering a serious injury last year, Caroline took her love for anything on two wheels to a new stage in the FISE Chengdu Women’s BMX Freestyle, where she made the Finals but withdrew due to injury. This year. she was awarded the Comeback of the Year Award in the 2018 EDGEsport Awards.
We caught up with Caroline to get the low-down on her inspiring comeback and transition into the world of one handers and backies.
How did you prepare for your return at FISE Chengdu?
I have been racing for 22 years in a straight line – racing BMX, mountain bike and Crankworx series…That brought me to this point where I came off a major injury; I spent six months off my bike. I broke my sternum, had a plate and twelve screws, double punctured and collapsed both my lungs and had bleeding around my heart. I was in ICU for six days. I really counted my blessings, sat back and really analysed my career and what I love about riding bikes and what makes me really passionate and motivated.
Before my accident, I had been watching the FISE scene; I had been following the girls on Instagram and I sort of knew the level of sport and thought to myself, ‘Well, I’ve never done a one hander in my life, but let’s start somewhere.’ So, I sat patient and continued to watch all of the livestreams. I found myself going to bed thinking about what tricks I could potentially learn when I did get back on my bike.
Once I did get back on, I decided I had a couple months before this China event – which would be my first ever Freestyle BMX event. I learnt how to ride a course and learnt how to crash; I think I spent more time on the ground this year than I have in my entire career. Once I learned that, [I had] the help of the Australian team – Kyle Baldock, Logan [Martin] and Brandon [Loupos] – while I was out there.
My husband, Barry Nobles, has a race background of BMX and mountain biking and he helped bridge that gap for me as well. He’s been hands on with craftsmen tools in our backyard and we’ve actually built our own mini skate park in our backyard now! We’ve got a nine-foot quarter pipe, six-foot quarter pipe, resi matt, spine, Woodward’s foam pit and two big dirt jumps. We sleep together, train together, live there, ride there – this is like our little hub of two wheels. That’s really made it possible and [provided] a safe environment for me to learn, and I think that’s what made the difference in having progressed to this point, be with the best girls in the world and get out there.
How have you found the transition into Freestyle?
I’m surprised that I didn’t jump into the freestyle world earlier, but there really was not a pathway for women until it became an Olympic sport. I had already jumped the Nitro Circus Mega Ramp and done little personal challenges, but now with FISE and the X Games, there’s a pathway for women and I really thought ‘You know what? If I can manage the calendar, do both and have that extra challenge, then why not?’
Looking at the judging criteria, I knew I would have had the natural flow, the speed and a bit of the amplitude just because of my racing career. Choosing lines is similar to time trial in racing; you have to study the course, execute and deliver and make no mistakes. I was able to take a few of these processes that I’ve learned from being a racer my whole career and bring it into this sport, but the hardest thing for me is doing the tricks. That’s still my biggest challenge. I think I’ve definitely embraced the challenge and am just taking it every day as it comes. From qualifying in fourth, now through to the semi-finals and preparing for the finals, I’m just stepping it up every time.
When you were hurt, did you ever think about not getting back on a bike?
When we first rolled the off-road buggy – the first thing you do is check – obviously I couldn’t breathe but I could walk, so I knew that my legs were still good. Once I had recovered, had the six months off the bike and knew that my health was good, it gave me confidence. A motorized, big, heavy vehicle can obviously crush you, but a bike can’t. That gave me confidence to step into this sport knowing that I can’t really ever get that injured on a bike ever again.
It takes me back to that five-year-old girl when I started BMX racing and learning to manual; everyday was a win. Being 28 years old now and jumping into a new sport, I’m completely out of my depth. I’ve been in my comfort zone for the last ten years and I’ve been at the top. I have multiple World Cup wins, overall World Cup wins, World Championships, but I’ve got my old plates on again. I’m starting at the bottom and I’m earning my place. It’s a nice feeling to come in as an underdog – where I don’t know anyone and no one knows me – you just start fresh.
So, what’s next?
This is first and foremost the biggest goal. Obviously, this year has just been a life goal: a rehab goal and getting married. I’ve just ‘lifed’ this year, next year I want to athlete.
Next year is looking at the calendar – the UCI BMX race World Cup scene as well as the Freestyle World Cup scene – and managing both; then sliding in a few Crankworx mountain bike events as well, because I love those. It’s more just juggling all of the bikes and disciplines that I ride. I always tend to pick my favourite ones of the tour and set my calendar around them.
In the past, the greatest years of my career have been when I’m doing mountain biking and BMX at the highest level and have really been under the pump. If I can be in the gym three days a week, squatting 150 kilos, then I can be competitive in racing and that’s really my bread and butter. Freestyle is my fun, my switch off and my personal progression and challenge to myself.
Be sure to catch Caroline on her Instagram as she continues to take on the BMX race and freestyle scene.