Triathlete Matt Trautman is a force to be reckoned with. It’ll take more than a spinal injury to keep him down.
Anyone who knows anything about the competitive world of triathlons knows Matt Trautman. He’s a heavyweight in his field, and when you first read of his impressive list of achievements, you can’t help but be a little star struck. This elite athlete boasts podium places right across the world – 2016, unlike for most of us, was not a bad year for Matt. He took 1st Overall at Ironman 70.3 South Africa, 70.3 Staffordshire and 70.3 Durban, 1st Overall at both Miway Midlands Ultras for the year and a phenomenal 4th Overall at Ironman African Champs.
And then he’s also just a genuinely nice guy. I’ve probably never met an athlete I admire more. Matt, despite collecting podium places like most people collect parking tickets, is humble and down to earth, and has the ability to make you feel instantly comfortable in his presence. He’s something like ‘the guy next door’, only much more buff and (sorry ladies!) … married. He and his beautiful wife Nicole tied the knot two years ago in Franschhoek before heading down to Ironman Brazil, and it’s evident they couldn’t be happier. They seem to beam when they look at each other, and I’m reminded of a quote I once read somewhere on a bumper sticker: Behind every great man is not a woman – she is beside him, she is with him, not behind him.
Then, earlier this year, the unthinkable happened. Matt was knocked down by a car while doing his early morning training ride just outside Franschhoek. The blow was devastating, and he had to be rushed to hospital. Now, following serious spinal injuries and an operation to stabilize him, he’s walking again. I chatted to this amazing athlete to find out what happens next.
Click here to see the discussion on Bike Hub.
Q: We were completely shocked to hear about your accident, everyone here is really holding thumbs for you and hoping for a speedy recovery Matt. I’m so sorry to hear about the accident. Can you tell us more about what happened?
A: On Saturday, the 21st of January, I was out on one of my last longer 4-hour solo training rides before Ironman 70.3 South Africa. I was headed for the Franschhoek pass to do some hill reps, a route and a session I have done numerous times before. A few kilometers before Franschhoek, and just over an hour into the ride at about 11am, I was down in the TT [time trial] position and far inside the yellow emergency lane. Without any warning, I was hit from behind and found myself flying through the air. It was only a few moments after I hit the ground that I realized what had happened.
The driver of the car was a 78-year-old lady driving a Hyundai Getz. In her statement she said she didn’t know what had happened. A witness of the accident suggested that she may have moved into the emergency lane to let another car pass. That section of road is flat and straight with clear visibility well ahead.
Q: A lot of cyclists and non-cyclists alike are angry about the incident, with many of them posting online about the poor state of affairs when it comes to public awareness regarding cycling safety. What are your views?
A: While my incident is probably not that common in terms of the type of driver involved, there is no doubt that the number of incidents between motor vehicles and cyclists in the country is completely out of control. Drunk driving, speeding and jumping red lights are dangers faced by all types of road users. On top of that, I feel that there is a general disregard toward cyclists on our roads in this country, and probably to human life in general.
Q: I understand you’re in quite a bit of pain. How are you coping, and what’s the next step?
A: Yeah. My injuries included a compression fracture of the L1 vertebra and completely severed ligaments in that area. To stabilize the spine they fused the L2-T12 vertebra with screws and rods, and added donor bone. To give the spine and ligaments the best chance of healing well, I’m limited in the amount of movement I can do for the first six weeks post-op. So at the moment, I am stuck with walking only. Once the bone has fused properly, I can start the rehab process and work on strengthening my lower back and glutes to support the fused spine above them.
Matt walks post spinal-op. View his Instagram vid here.
Q: We all know someone who’s taken a nasty spill off their bike and ended up hurt. Your situation is obviously far worse, but do you have any advice for people in a similar situation?
A: It may be a bit too early to be dishing out advice, but what I’m telling myself at the moment is to stay positive and be patient. Also, don’t eat solids too soon after a back op – you need to give your digestive system some time to come to terms with what’s happened. Haha.
Q: That’s good news, there are a lot of people waiting to cheer you on again! If it’s not too soon to ask… is your bike ok, or will you be looking at getting a new one?
A: The rear wheel took the brunt of the collision, but I will definitely be keeping this bike as a turbo only machine from now.
The HIGH5 South Africa and ASG team will be rooting for Matt and tracking his recovery. You can use Matt’s hashtag #roadtorecovery if you’d like to wish him well. Follow us on social media or subscribe to our weekly newsletter for more news about our athletes and their achievements.