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Dean Downing's recovery journey

Former professional cyclist and National Criterium Champion Dean Downing was hit by a car in October 2015 which left him with severe ligament damage. Two years on he is back to good fitness and pushing ahead, coaching within Trainsharp and working with many cycling brands as an Ambassador.

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Dean Downing, or rather ‘Deano’ as he is most commonly known is a lively and well-liked figure in the UK cycling scene but his injuries and the consequences of them; loss of work, mobility and the ability to ride his bike, really knocked him back. Two years on and he is back to his busy, and chatty, self. 

Downing’s injury happened nearly one year to the day after announcing his retirement from professional cycling, “I am so glad it happened that way round so it wasn’t an accident that ended my career. One minute I was out in the sun riding my bike with my mates and the next minute everything just literally came to a stop”, Downing explains.  
Downing was riding with friends when a car swerved to miss a bollard causing Downing to swerve to avoid the car, “I hit the kerb and then went cross the road and hit my knee on a lamp post.” No bones were broken but Downing sustained ligament damage to his knee from the impact, total rupture of his cruciate ligament and partial rupture of his medial ligament. Here he tells his story to cycling journalist, Hannah Reynolds.

Injury and treatment 

When I hit the deck everything stopped. I went to Doncaster Royal Infirmary, it was Friday when it happened and when I went back in on the Monday the Doctor who saw me said it would be up to 18 weeks for an MRI scan. I didn’t feel I could wait that long so we tried to get a closer date but the soonest was still four weeks. I spoke to a contact through racing, Ashley Brown, who is involved with HMT Hospitals. I used to be supported by Claremont Hospital with Rapha Condor and Tony Barrett was the director. Tony wanted to help me as an ex-rider of his and HMT Hospitals do a lot within cycling, they support the HMT Cycling Team with JLT Condor and Dame Sarah Storey’s team, Podium Ambition. I got a consultation almost immediately.  I was told what I could do and what I couldn’t do. They gave me standard time frames for ‘normal’ people, and told me I would be in a brace for three months. The crash happened in mid-July and I was in a brace for 8 weeks. 10 weeks after the accident I started a 20-week physiotherapy course that was arranged through Leigh Day and it was the last day in October when I rode my bike again for the first time.

During that time I had to cancel work, I couldn’t’ drive, I couldn’t ride my bike. The pain of injury was pretty harsh but I was also worrying about lost work. It hit me hard mentally, how was I going to look after my family? I felt like a terrible Dad, I couldn’t pick my kids up and I couldn’t ride my bike. There were a lot of “what ifs” that kept creeping up on me. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone about it.

What if …..? 

I was going through thoughts a lot in the night. Because of the brace on my leg and having to sleep with it straight we moved things around a bit at home so I slept in my daughter’s single bed for the three months I was in the brace. It was the most comfortable, if a bit strange, but when I was laid there on my own at midnight unable to sleep it started hitting home a lot harder.  In the first few weeks I had a few nightmares that woke me up in the middle of the night. What if a car had hit me coming the other way? I also thought about what would have happened if this had happened a year earlier which would have been exactly a week before I finished racing. I was happy that it hadn’t happened during my racing career but I was also wondering what would have happened if it had done. People like Tony Barrett pulling the cords to help me as an ex rider really made a difference, If I didn’t have friends in cycling I would have been in a much a worse way. It helped me but it was another ‘what if’ that I rolled around my head - what if I had to wait 18 weeks for a MRI? I was just going round in circles worrying about stuff.   

Support 

From the beginning I had support, I quickly got a phone call from BC and they did a full report then I was called by Leigh Day and one of the partners was assigned to my case and he was my contact throughout. In the beginning there were loads of forms to complete and we had to get in contact with the police. I learnt a lot about the ins and outs of these things and there are certain time frames within which things have to be done and if you over step that time frame you will be unable to make a claim. Leigh Day were pushing things forward on their front, which was pushing me to do things. Leigh Day needed to put together their case to MIB (Motor insurance Bureau) including the amount of work I had lost out on. Each week I was writing letters to the people I would have been working with; Wattbike, Polypipe, Hot Chillee to confirm the contracts that I had signed but been unable to fulfill.
Then it was just a waiting game for them to analyse and decide yes or no. We had a month to put our case together and then they had a couple of months to come back to us. It was a long process. 

Doubts and debts 

During this process my injury was getting better and better but the financial situation was getting worse. I was recovering physically but feeling worse mentally. Leigh Day were very good at their job and each call and email I was reminded that we were doing things the right way, that it was imperative we went through all the correct processes, but that didn’t guarantee we would get compensation. 
That really made me feel stressed, I could do all that work and MIB could still come back and say ‘we won’t compensate you’ that was the bottom line and it really did worry me. If I didn’t get compensated I would have been thousands and thousands of pounds in debt. It could have ruined my life; I know that sounds like an exaggeration but that was the way my thought process was working. Overall by the end I was nearly £20,000 in debt so it really could have been that serious.  
In the end I went to the Doctors for a few things and the Doctor suggested that the experience had led to me being depressed and offered medication. I didn’t realise it when it was happening but looking back I can see how badly it had affected me. 

I got a lot of help and support from good friends and people in the cycling industry, but It was still a struggle waiting for the ‘yes’ with the claim, it took a long time. I rang my old manager and good friend John Herety and said ‘are there any jobs?’ so I got the job of looking after the JLT Condor team for a few days in the Tour series (town centre criterium series) under his tutelage.  That was really good. John was worried about me, from simple things like social media posts he could see I wasn’t having a good time, he rescued the situation quite a lot, helping me and helping my wife Katie. 

Waiting game

I had all of 2016 still up and down but I was able to do more things. Towards the end of the summer I had to put together a package to show how much income I had lost and I had a meeting with the Doctors to asses my injury to see what the overall injury was going forward and that was all put into a report. Just before Christmas I heard from the MIB that they sanctioned it, that they agreed with the figures but that didn’t mean, yet, that they were going to pay it. It was not until after Christmas, in early 2017 that I knew, yes, for definite how much I was going to get for the two years of hurt and hassle.

When I first held the cheque I looked down at it and felt really numb, I didn’t know what to say, my wife said ‘are you speechless?’ which is very rare for me, I’m normally a chatterbox! The figures were there, it was in my name, I just stared at it. We both said ‘it’s finished’, then after a while I pulled myself together and said ‘right I’m going to the bank’ I got in the car and was in the bank within half an hour of receiving the cheque! I was still worrying it wouldn’t clear or there was a mistake so we were checking the account all the time until we saw it in there! 

I had been in contact with everyone I owed money to at least once a month. By far the biggest debt was with HMRC. They knew exactly what had happened and they had delved into it, they had access into everything that was going on in the case. We made an agreement that my business would not pay VAT so I could keep things running so my first call was to HMRC to clear my business debts. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. It was a really good feeling to clear all of the debts that I had racked up. 

Moving on

It wasn’t over until the compensation cheque was in my hands, even though I had recovered physically and was taking part in events, such as kicking my own head in on the Haute Route Pyrenees, in the back of my mind I still didn’t know what was going to happen. 
When the claim came through I felt totally numb. Its changed everything massively. It sounds dramatic but I’m finally back to where I wanted to be immediately after I finished racing. I feel I’m ready to move forward. My coaching is going very well and I’m working with some good companies this year such as Yorkshire Sportive and UK Cycling Events riding with VIPS and competition winners, which I can do now I am back on my bike. 
I feel I have reached a bit of a conclusion now. My emotions were all over the place in 2015 and 2016 but now I feel back on track. I’m now able to talk comfortably about my injury and what I have been through. I’ve talked about it a lot and I’m sure a few people are thinking “Its nearly two years ago now Downing, shut up about it!”  and now I can, it’s a lot easier now it has all been finalised. 

Worth its weight in gold

Without the BC Gold Insurance, I wouldn’t have been able to have the physiotherapy I needed. I wouldn’t have been able to claim for injury support, physio or loss of earnings. I wasn’t able to claim for the equipment damage but I was extremely lucky to be supported by EDCO wheels at the time and although the bike was my own, that I had bought from Condor Cycles, Grant Young the owner phoned me up and said he would give me a new frame. At that point I felt really lucky to be friends with all these people who are helping me out. 

I am still a BC gold member, I renew straightaway every time, I’ve only ever had gold. When I was racing I had it because it covered me for everything but even though I’m not racing anymore I still want to have the maximum cover available and I am a Level 2 Coach and a team car driver. I wouldn’t have anything other than gold. We had three different life assurance policies but in the end none of them would have covered me, although they cover you for far worse things, the insurances we had didn’t cover me for loss of earnings or personal injury. 

Think of the pricing, its £74 a year. Some of the guys who were with me when I crashed weren’t British Cycling members, one used to race but hadn’t bothered being a member since he stopped needing a license. I said to him, “what would happen if you crashed and you couldn’t go to work? Or if you caused a crash and someone tried to claim against you?” If you are a member then British Cycling and Leigh Day would be able to look at helping you. It’s nothing, £74 -people spend that on a night out in Sheffield! It’s a meal with your partner. Why not spend that on a Gold Insurance which could really help you out if something happened. 


Interview conducted exclusively for Leigh Day by Hannah Reynolds @HannahMReynolds



Catch Dean at our stand at Spin Cycling Festival  on Friday, May 12th. Think you can beat him in a time challange? We’ve partnered with Zwift and Wahoo to bring you our Rehab Lab at Spin, compete against Dean's team to win some very cool prizes! ​

It's not too late to get tickets with our exculsive 2 for 1 offer. You can purchase tickets here using code: EXH241
 

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