There’s a tendency for the word ‘courageous’ to be abused in the sporting context. It seems like any big performance is described as such, regardless of how much courage was actually involved. That’s why The Anna Meares Story makes for a good read.
Meares had won gold in the 500m time trial at the Athens Olympic Games and was preparing for 2008's Beijing Olympics when disaster struck. Riding the keirin at the Los Angeles World Cup she crashed heavily, fracturing her C2 vertebra. It was an injury that almost cost Meares her life.
This autobiography is an account of her recovery and subsequent silver medal at last year’s Olympics in the Chinese capital. It takes readers from her success in Athens through to that fateful day in Los Angeles in January 2008 and beyond, a faithful recollection of the aftermath and mental and physical struggle to get back to the top of her sport.
Anyone familiar with Meares knows she is a gregarious, likeable athlete, popular with fans and adept at media commitments. She uses those skills to provide an insight into the world she inhabited after her crash and the determination required to make a comeback after just seven months of recovery and training.
Her direct and forthright voice is apparent throughout the book, which gives it an honesty that is sometimes missing in sporting tomes, where athletes are telling the same familiar story of sacrifice on their way to the top. In this case the sacrifice is much larger and the comeback more satisfying, something that is obvious given the circumstances of Meares’ accident.
She documents the struggle to regain the physical capabilities required to ride at the pinnacle of her sport, plus the mental anguish she endured due to the possibility that she wouldn’t make it to Beijing. Despite her upbeat nature, Meares did have moments of doubt, although she managed to pull through, and as they say, the rest is history.
That history included making it to her second Olympic Games via a battle for qualification waged from her couch at home in Adelaide, Australia, with sprint coach Martin Barras (affectionately known as ‘Marv’) doing the calculations and celebrating with his charge when Lulu Zheng of China and Germany’s Dana Gloss failed to qualify during the final rounds of the World Cup, meaning that Meares would be heading to Beijing.
The book then documents the intensive period of work required to prepare for the Games. From rehabilitative physiotherapy to track sessions and gym work with Craig Colduck, Meares demonstrates her courage to maintain focus when many others would have written off their chances.
The book’s climax comes with her ride in the women’s sprint at last year’s Olympics, which made for thrilling viewing at the time and makes for good reading a year on. Meares has never been afraid to express her emotions, and this serves readers well throughout the book.
Another aspect of Meares’ character that shines throughout her storytelling is her willingness to give credit to those who helped her in the days and months after her fall. Australian team masseuse Berthy May, sister Kerrie, her husband Mark Chadwick and, of course, Barras were central to the success of her return and this quartet receives the thanks it deserves.
Meares is a gritty character in all her pursuits on the track – you don’t win Olympic and world titles without that determination. As such the story of her topsy-turvy 2008 is one that should be enjoyed by cycling fans and those looking for a little more ‘real’ courage in their sporting tales.
Anna Meares signs copies of her book in her home town of Rockhampton
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