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Sidelined From Worlds With A Concussion, Mountain Biker Haley Batten Resets For Future Races

by Paul D. Bowker

Haley Batten competes during the women's cross-country race at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 27, 2021 in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Haley Batten, a mountain bike racer who made her Olympic debut two years ago in Tokyo, was cruising.

She had scored her second world cup top-10 finish of the season in a cross-country short-track race June 16 in Austria.

The next day, biking in a training run for a world cup cross-country race, she hit a slippery spot and went flying over the handlebars.

“Crashed pretty hard on my face,” Batten said. “Just slid out, went over the bars. I got a good taste of the dirt, that’s for sure.”

Somehow, despite a bruised left hand and cuts on her upper lip, Batten raced the next day and finished 16th, one of three Americans to finish in the top 16.

Batten hasn’t raced since then. Due to her recovery from a concussion, the 24-year-old originally from Park City, Utah, withdrew from both the national championships and the UCI Cycling World Championships that kicked off Aug. 3 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The hand? It healed. Her lips and face? No problem.

But her head? Not so fast. 

“I was just so not focused on if my head was OK, which is crazy,” Batten said. “That’s the most important part.”

There weren’t symptoms. At least not right away for a mountain bike racer who was attempting to score more world cup points for Olympic qualification in 2024.

“I’ve learned now it seems like symptoms can also arise like 24 to 48 hours afterwards,” Batten said. “I did a race the next day, pretty much completely fine. After the race, I had like a form of heat stress, I guess, where I practically passed out and went to medical because of that.”

The lesson hit hard, and it’s clearly a lesson that Batten wants others to know about.

“Knowing now that if you have any facial injury at all, if you hit your face or you even have whiplash or anything like that, that should all be treated like a concussion,” she said. “I just didn’t do that at the time. I’ve learned a lot, for sure. The brain is so fascinating. The recovery is really unique for each person, as well.”

Haley Batten competes during the women's cross-country race at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 27, 2021 in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Once Batten went into concussion recovery, the Aug. 3-13 dates of the world championships closed in quickly. The first three finishers in the Aug. 12 women’s mountain bike race there will lock down spots in the Olympic Games Paris 2024. Batten was one of at least four on a deep American squad with realistic hopes of earning one of those spots.

However, a week before her teammates left for Scotland, Batten, the bronze medalist at the 2022 world championships, made the difficult decision to withdraw.

“Gosh, it was a tough decision,” Batten said. “I think I dragged my feet for so long. I was like, ‘Oh, no, I’ll feel better, I’ll feel better, I’ll feel better.’

“I think I was just experiencing those concussion symptoms,” she added. “I just thought, maybe tomorrow I’ll come around the corner. Maybe the next day. I kind of had this window where if I can get better within this time, I still have enough time where maybe I can get fit enough to race or still prepare well enough. And it got to a point where it’s like, OK, actually having the stress of it, of a timeline, of being able to be prepared on this day, is maybe not helping me recover and it’s adding more stress.”

The race in Glasgow is one that Batten and every other Olympic hopeful in the sport is focused on.

“My eyes were on that event all year,” Batten said. “I put all my eggs, my planning, my visualization, preparation. That was the day I wanted to be my best.”

Former world champion Kate Courtney, current U.S. champ Savilia Blunk and Gwendalyn Gibson will be representing Team USA in Glasgow. With Batten out of the race, the others were thinking less about the absence of a potential rival for the Olympic spots and more about the wellbeing of their friend.

“It’s such a bummer for Haley, and we’re really going to miss her there as a part of our elite women’s squad,” Gibson said.

“I think that she’s being super smart, especially with concussion recovery,” Blunk said. “Doing all the right things no matter how tough it would be to pull out of world champs.”

“We all have a very respectful relationship,” Batten said. “They all reached out.”

Her announcement on Instagram drew more than 3,500 likes within days. The texts on Batten’s phone went like this: “Hey, you’ll be back stronger than ever!”

That is exactly the plan.

Batten returned from Europe and went to her parents’ home in Santa Cruz, California, where she caught up with friends and was “sleeping really well.” She’s already back on her bike.

“For me, it has been really fun to be back on the bike,” she said, “just slowly easing into training. I take it day by day and take a little bit more rest days than usual. I feel like I’ve been able to increase intensity, but I’m balancing. If I increase intensity, I don’t increase ride time.”

Batten will watch the world championships race from afar, but then she hopes to be back in action by the second week of September for a world cup in Haute-Savoie, France, followed by the Olympic test event Sept. 23 and 24 in Paris.

“I feel like, yeah, I could be back in France where my apartment is,” Batten said. “I definitely want to finish it off back in France, at the world cup, at the Olympic test event.”