When Aaron 'Wattie' Watkin crossed the finish line of the T42 48km mountain bike race on May 7, he had more reason than most to feel jubilant. One year earlier, Watkin's race at the same event ended in a helicopter evacuation to Waikato Hospital and nine months of debilitating concussion.
The 43-year-old Aucklander has no memory of the fall from his bike.
"The last thing I remember was reaching the top of a hill and seeing my mate down at the bottom. I thought 'I'll chase you down'.
"The next thing I know, I'm lying on the ground and another rider is holding my head saying, 'Stay still, just stay still'. I spent the next few hours on the ground looking up a lot of people's nostrils."
Watkin was airlifted to Waikato Hospital where he was treated for a head injury after medical staff ruled out spinal damage. Recovery was slow, Watkin recalls.
"I had three months off work, then a slow return, working for a couple of hours two or three days a week. I'd come home absolutely knackered."
He returned to full-time work in October but had to make significant lifestyle changes to cope with the residual effects of the concussion.
"I had to cut right back on alcohol and coffee, improve my diet and cut back my social life because I needed lots of rest."
A year after the accident, Watkin is pragmatic about his recovery.
"I'm probably 95 per cent back to normal. I have to look after myself. If I don't, I get very tired. One good thing is I've had to become really organised because I forget things very easily."
Watkin was back on his bike in January for some gentle road riding with friends before venturing off-road again.
"Because I don't have any memory of the accident, getting back on the bike wasn't a problem, although I am a lot slower these days. Coming back to T42 this year was a little bit about 'beating the bastard', but I probably would have done it anyway - I've signed up for the event every year it has been running. I just love coming down and doing this ride with mates."
As Watkin buried his demon out on the mountain bike course, his daughter completed her first trail run.
"A few people close to me said I shouldn't go back. It was fabulous to finish in one piece and to have my daughter there. It was a great party - we were all very, very happy."
Watkin swaps mountain biking for road cycling over the winter months as he focuses on the Okoroire Midwinter Fun Ride and the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.
What: Mountain bike and off-road run
When: May 2017
Where: Owhango, Central Plateau
For more information: www.t42.co.nz