NewsHannah Roberts

After Fighting Through Injuries This Season, BMX Star Hannah Roberts Is Putting Body And Mind First

by Joanne C. Gerstner

Hannah Roberts poses for a photo at a Team USA shoot on Nov. 20, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.

 

BMX freestyle cycling star Hannah Roberts recounts the global adventures of the past few months with hearty laugh. But then she gets quieter, after admitting the truth: not all of this is truly funny.
She crashed, badly, after under-rotating a front flip during her first run at the world championships last month in Abu Dhabi. She still won the world title — her fourth — thanks to a big second run, but Roberts knew she was hurt as she accepted congratulatory hugs from her competitors. 
She went into the medical tent, laid down in a daze and felt her left leg grow numb. The other leg wasn’t far behind. It took a few hours between her event ending and the podium ceremony; by the time Roberts was honored, she needed second place finisher Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland to help her stand.
That best-of-times, worst-of-times dynamic reflects Roberts’ 2022, as she repeated as world champion and overall points champion, but suffered through several significant back and shoulder injuries. She is healing from two burst discs from a practice crash in September, then the additional damage from Abu Dhabi and, most recently, a hard crash in Australia at the start of December.

 

 



“I compete because it is all, for me, about the love of the sport,” said Roberts, who won a silver medal in BMX freestyle’s debut as an Olympic event at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. “We know the risk every time we get on the bike, it’s the reality of the sport. You can get hurt really bad. Every time I train, I fall; it’s just part of what happens. I crash; I get up, say, ‘Oh dang, that sucked,’ and I keep going. I don’t even think about what can happen to me next. I keep going because I love this.”


Roberts admits she probably shouldn’t have competed in the Gold Coast, Australia, event on Dec. 9-11, but she made a deal with her coaches: no big tricks, no risks. Just do the best she can, come to support her friends and teammates, and keep things chill. They said OK.


She wanted to finish first in points for the year and felt doing her best with nothing crazy would give her a shot. Roberts crashed hard on her first run, and everything hurt again. She made it through the event and won the points title, but her left shoulder is now added to the recovery list.

 

 

Hannah Roberts competes during a training session ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Roberts is taking time off to heal, mentally and physically, from all this damage. She attends physical therapy, is going for scans on her shoulder to determine what’s wrong and, overall, is thinking a lot about her health.
This fall’s sequence of injuries, which left her unable to walk without crutches for nine days after Abu Dhabi, is a wake-up call. She has broken bones and her back before. 
But this time, this all feels different.
“I think I handle injuries well. For the most part I’m like, ‘I broke my arm, let’s cut the cast and keep riding,’” Roberts, 21, said. “This time, I was not able to do anything on my own. I was on crutches, and it scared me. It took me to a different place, of being scared and depressed. It was an eye-opening thing. I realized this was no joke, I needed to really take care of myself, mentally and physically to get through this. 
“So that is what I am doing. I am taking the time I need. I don’t need to compete until like Valentine’s Day, so I am going to do what I need to do.”
Roberts is going home to see her family in Buchanan, Michigan, for the holidays. She has been quiet on social media this year, popping on infrequently to Instagram to let people know she is OK.
She still loves to ride. She still wants to compete at the highest level. But Roberts knows her aspirations cannot be met if she is not healthy in all ways.
“You need to really focus on yourself and taking care of your body and mind,” she said. “I knew that before, but I think this time around, because of the pain and how scary this has been at times, I understand that message in a deeper way. I used to make jokes about when I was hurt, ‘Yeah, ha ha, I crashed and got hurt.’ But when you can’t walk, or do stuff for yourself like you used to, it’s not something you just can blow off. 
“I am not blowing this off at all. It’s being taken seriously by me, and that will help me keep riding the way I want. I am going to be OK with time, I’m working on it.”


Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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