Getting back on bike changed life

By Greg Taipari

Former Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Donna Guy knows all about hardship, after overcoming a crippling mountain bike accident. She talks to The Daily Post senior sports reporter Greg Taipari about her battle and what inspires her.


Donna Guy has never been afraid to push the boundaries. It's what helped her reach the Olympic Games in 1988 and gain Commonwealth Games silver medals in Edinburgh in 1986 and Auckland in 1990.

However, her life turned upside down after a mountain biking accident in 1997 when she broke her back.

Since then, the 51-year-old has had to battle more than 10 years of constant pain, the side effects of pain medication and adjusting to life with a disability.

But now she has found new boundaries to push in the form of a 21-speed Scott CR Comp road bike.

Recently, she completed the 160km Taupo Cycle challenge where her efforts won her the Dan Dunne Award, which recognises a cyclist who overcomes hardship and adversity to complete the challenge.

As you walk up the driveway of her Aquarius Drive home there are road bikes, wind trainers and all sorts of cycling paraphernalia in her shed.

Inside the home you might expect to see some indications of her glory days, maybe a picture of when she competed for New Zealand in the 1990 Commonwealth Games, where she won silver in the women's judo.

Instead, the walls are lined with pictures of her and her second husband Andrew Molijn's children enjoying life together.

It hasn't always been so, but Donna is comfortable talking about her life-changing experience.

"I didn't actually talk about it for about 10 years, maybe because it meant my whole identity, my whole life had to be shelved and I was national coach at the time, I'd retired [from competition]."

"I was meant to be in Germany the weekend I got injured. I just couldn't cope [after the accident] with being involved with judo any more," Donna said.

"I just had to make a break, because I was alone [and] I was a single mother and I had three children, my youngest was only four - they were four, five and seven.

"So I had to focus on that, plus I couldn't even look after them. I had a lot more important priorities."

The day when her life was turned upside down had started like any other day for an athlete - she was training.

" I was actually at the gym ... and I felt this electric shock and I thought 'what was that?' I came home and the next day I was decked and I couldn't get up."

Donna's doctor Mike Newman asked if she had suffered any major trauma to her head.

"What had happened was I'd had a really bad mountain bike crash about six months previously.

"I was on the Redwood tracks and I'd been a bit of an adrenalin junkie. I flew off this high [jump] and landed directly on my head.

"It really hurt but I was actually okay. So as far as Mike was concerned it was the mountain bike accident that did it," Donna said. "Spines are funny like that, it's not a direct bang and fracture because that sometimes is a bit easier to treat. So I had prolapsed the disc and I didn't know about it."

Donna had ruptured the C3 disc in her spine, causing her left arm to go numb. She was referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.

"He said 'you need to have an operation' ... because it was quite a bad rupture, he referred me to a spinal surgeon.

"I had the surgery. It was horrible but I came through it really, really well because I was fit and then I was very unlucky because the two discs below collapsed and that meant that was the end of any sport."

Eventually, Donna had a second operation on her spine and a complication to this surgery was that she developed pneumonia and lost almost two-thirds of her lung capacity.

It was a dark time in Donna's life. "I was devastated, I got pretty depressed because my whole being for 20 years was exercise ... then trying to be a great mum because I like to do everything very well ...

"I just felt like I'd totally lost myself, didn't quite know where I fitted and with people that I knew a lot of people knew me as Guy, this athlete. It's not intentional but your world spreads and you go on different pathways."

Donna has to live constantly with the pain from her injury. It never goes away, but six years ago she met her husband who tried to get her back into exercise.

In fact their first date was a bike ride.

"He'd asked me out and I said I was pretty busy and the only spare time I had was early in the morning. He turned up in his green top and lycra - he's Dutch and didn't really worry about how he looked."

The pair eventually married and Donna's family grew with Andrew's four children.

Donna said the pair continued to ride.

"We did a little bit of biking but I couldn't keep going so I stopped and tried a couple of rides but couldn't be consistent. I probably pushed too hard which set me back."

A health promoter at Toi Te Ora, Donna decided she wanted to get back on the bike and in April trained for the Taupo Challenge.

"I talked to Mike and said 'I want to get back on the bike and do some riding and I'm carrying a bit of extra weight. I'm 51 and our family has a history of heart disease, with all those things I really needed to take care of myself."

Her doctor said there was no problem with riding providing she used a regimented pain relief programme to help control the pain while riding and didn't ride in a pack because a fall could be fatal.

"So I set a goal about April and I said to Andrew 'I want to ride around Taupo, that's the goal'."

Donna entered a few races leading up to the challenge and enjoyed the experience.

"One of the keys to get a good time in cycling is to ride in a bunch. But I can't ride in a bunch, you will fall off eventually ... It hasn't been a problem [riding in a bunch] because I'm not fast enough.

"But that's okay, I entered a few races and that was very humbling. I loved it, you have no idea, the joy and the gratitude I get from riding."

When it came to the challenge Donna completed the ride in 7 hours 4 minutes and not once during her ride did she feel like giving up.

"I thought it would take me eight [hours]. But I was just totally buzzed."

Donna says she will definitely do the challenge again.

The ride has inspired her to give back to the sport she shunned more than 10 years ago.

"I'd been invited [to tournaments] because judo is back in for the Commonwealth Games but I was not fit. I'd gained a bit of weight and I hadn't been active for 15 years ... I just didn't feel [comfortable].

"You've got this kind of persona, this identity and I just felt uncomfortable with it but I'm probably going to the nationals in Auckland next year to hand out some awards and stuff."

The former Olympian, who keeps her judo memorabilia in a box in a wardrobe and even has friends in Rotorua who weren't aware of her deeds on a judo mat, says her real crowning glory is her family.

"They are everything to me. They are what inspires me to do what I do. That is my greatest achievement."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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