Interview: George Brannigan on Breaking His Collarbone 4 Times in 12 Months

Oct 2, 2019
by Sarah Moore  
Boris Beyer Photo

George Brannigan spent half of the 2017 and most of the 2018 season either with a broken collarbone or recovering from a broken collarbone. We caught up with the Kiwi rider after an injury-free 2019 season to see what toll the recurring breaks have taken on his body, how mentally taxing it was to have to start from scratch time and time again, and what his goals are for next year.

You had some bad luck last year with injuries. Take me through those.

Yeah, so basically I broke my collarbone 4 times in 1 year, the first time in July 2017 and then the fourth time in July 2018. The first time I broke it with a clean and stable break and also separated my AC joint quite bad. I gave it time to heal, then 4 1/2 months later, I hit a fallen tree going around a fast corner and broke it again. The next two times were just tiny mistakes that resulted in a big crash. Every time it had healed well and I was just getting back on the bike and then it would just be like bam straight on the shoulder again and broken, it was crazy!

Would have you done anything differently in hindsight?

It's like they say, hindsight is a b***h. So yeah I might have done some things a little different, like giving it a lot of time, even though I already gave it months each time but you don't expect at the time when just getting back riding and taking it easy that a big slam would always happen seemingly out of nowhere.

What was the worst part of breaking your collarbone four times?

There was a lot of bad things about it (also a lot of good lessons to take from it though) but mentally dealing with the whole situation after the fourth break was horrible, I then questioned if it was all worth it. The first three were not so bad but the fourth was real tough. I had surgery after the 3rd break and it was all feeling really good and things were really looking up, then same thing - small error and a huge slam. I was basically at rock bottom after that.

I had a radiologist telling me it might never heal again, and another doctor say the same then one say I would need more invasive surgery, etc. That stuff fully took its toll and I was basically thinking I'm screwed. I had quite a bit of anxiety with sleepless nights and stressed about it all for months which I never dealt with before, it sucked! Luckily, I had a good surgeon and physio to re-assure me it should heal though.

George Brannigan

What is your process like for coming back from injury?

Basically, just rest for a few weeks and let the break settle and start knitting, then start rehab but it's a long and extensive process followed closely by my physio Pete from Remarkable Physios in Queenstown. There are way too many details to fit in the answer, we did a lot!

Pete saved my arse basically, he really knows his stuff and went above and beyond to help me especially after the fourth break. He saw me pretty much every second day back home and was so keen to make sure everything we could do was done. Then every time I was also taking everything possible like bone broth, collagen, common comfrey as healing supplements and using a bone growth stimulator etc, then check up X-rays along the way. I took half a year off mountain biking after the fourth break to make sure I gave things enough time. By the end of all the breaks it felt like I had just been rehabbing for 18 months.

How does fear play a part when you've been off the bike so many times?

Fear was a big part of why the mental side of this was so hard after the fourth break. Normally I don't really get scared when I ride or race, but I was dealing with a bit of fear in the back of my mind for at least the first half of this season. Even though I did some races in New Zealand I still knew after that many injuries how easily things can go wrong. So it took a long time to start shaking that fear barrier. I normally keep that stuff to myself and don't talk in much detail to people about it, but yeah it definitely affected me.

Before these collarbones, what other injuries had you had?

I have had a few but the biggest two would be two broken ribs with a collapsed lung. Then two torn ligaments in my knee and a torn meniscus. I had knee reconstruction surgery after that which was major but because it was a one of injury I would say it was a breeze coming back from compared to 4 collar bone breaks.

Did you feel pressure to come back too quickly from injury?

It's hard to really say looking back, maybe I did from myself, to be honest, but then again I listened to all medical advice and I have a really good physio and surgeon so I had the best guidance. I have to say GT were really good in being supportive through everything, after that much time away from racing they could have even cut the contract actually but they let me come back and race the second year of the contract. I wanted to return the favour as much as I could this year.

People for sure will have their opinion and think I should have done this or that, but reality is I just had 4 big slams which also injured my AC joint, my SC joint pretty badly and affected my neck, most likely a healthy collarbone would break in most of those case. I think it was just a string of real bad luck.

Boris Beyer Photo
Boris Beyer Photo

All-in-all, how would you sum up your 2019 season?

I would say it was pretty good actually all considered, to come back from all that was not easy. I know a lot of people would have doubted I would ever come back from it. At the first World Cup of 2019 I think it had been almost 2 years since I last raced a World Cup, and I qualified 10th and almost finished top 20 in the race.

In some ways, I'm not stoked though because I'm a really competitive racer at heart and knowing where I've been in the past and not quite getting those results is frustrating. But I think I got a little burnt out during the year because I started full-on with rehab and then training loads actually months before I normally would and racing starting in January. So by the time I got to the World Cup season, I had been going for quite a while. Then maintaining the progression for that long was difficult, especially with all I dealt with mentally then pressure to perform but stay healthy.

How are you working towards staying injury-free?

Having a healthy and full 2019 season to now build on is already a huge help. I worked a lot on my focus and mental approach to improve my riding and in doing so help avoid crashing. So I want to do more of that. I'm just stoked to have a short but healthy break for once then soon I'll get stuck into training for 2020.

It s good to see George Brannigan back swinging off a downhill bike. After a while on the sidelines with injury he returns and qualifies 10th.

What are your goals for the coming year?

I just want to get back to the level of riding I was at before all this. I'm pretty fired up now for a good of season and to bring that through into 2020!

Will we see some more videos from you this winter?

That's the plan, I have missed filming a lot since I didn't get much chance to do it. I only like filming when I'm able to actually ride fast because otherwise it looks lame!

Views: 235,110    Faves: 3,221    Comments: 101

Any interest in racing EWS?

I actually really want to give a few a go this year, I've never done an EWS before.

If you weren’t a professional mountain biker, what would you be doing?

Maybe a doctor after all this!

Looks who s back. George Brannigan s back. 10th first WC qualies back after a long injury hiatus.


  • 51 0
 George is the man.
  • 7 0
 George is Barbie's Ken
  • 36 0
 That edit is still one of my all-time favorits.
  • 3 0
 Fuck yeah, mach 10 to Ace of Spades.
  • 2 0
 @chacou: how he doesn't bust straight through the top of that berm at 1:57 i'll never know
  • 19 1
 Went through ta similar situation – right collarbone broken 3 times, had 6 surgeries in 2 years and I was so mentally drained after the third haunted me for years. So BIG props to Brannigan for managing to come back from this to racing worldclass again!! All the best for your future.
  • 1 0
 @FilipStarcevic: I feel you dude broke mine last may, had 3 surgeries in 10 months, last one being in March,was good till today when I broke it again ????
  • 12 0
 I am not a doctor by any means, but read that the collarbone is the weak link in one's shoulder by 'design' so as to avoid serious injury to the shoulder which is one of the most sophisticated structure in one's body. Basically any time you land hard enough on your shoulder or with extended arms the collarbone will just yield to forces to save your shoulder. The situation described totally matches any OTB crash and this is why we are seeing so many collarbone fractures in our sport. I am currently off my bike with a broken collarbone Smile
  • 23 0
 So what you’re saying is, the collarbone is the derailleur hanger of our body????????
  • 2 6
flag reindeln (Oct 2, 2019 at 13:42) (Below Threshold)
 So what you're saying is that your collarbone is the derailleur hanger of your body?
  • 3 0
 I want to have a chat with said head designer. My collarbone didn't break and I ended up with rotator cuff damage and following surgery. Easily the worst injury I've had including a fractured spine and wouldn't wish it on anyone. To have 4 shoulder surgeries in that space of time would have me picking another interest. Probably watching the television. Full respect to him for coming back that many times!
  • 8 0
 Nice one. I can state with absolute confidence that if I broke the same bone twice, I would hang up my helmet. To do it four times is astonishing. Balls of steel. Keep on trucking, George!
  • 5 0
 that edit is so epic...4 years old and still one of the best raw edits ever...
  • 1 0
 Its got the gap jump that Stevie Smith blew his ankle up on... rip...
  • 5 0
 Remove that damn bone and replace it with a drive shaft.
  • 2 1
 His situation reminds me Dani Pedrosa in MotoGP. He broke it several times when he crashed but the last time was just due to a sudden move while he was testing for KTM. Plate surgeries left him with sclerotic lesions on the bone and then osteoporosis. Please take your time to heal Georges.
  • 1 0
 Damn, I had hard enough time with my collarbone. Didn't have surgery because two fractures looked like his (good enough to heal inline), but at 3 week follow up it was hella displaced. So 4 weeks post-break I had surgery (plate and 13 screws). And muscles were slow to recover then even after I was cleared to ride some.
Which makes it even nuttier that someone was at Joyride 4 weeks post break/surgery.
But that mental toughness is to be respected.
  • 1 0
 Broke my collarbone in June or last year, had surgery. Started riding again in October, few weeks into January or this year I then broke my leg, surgery for that, just started riding again a few weeks ago. Been a tough road with back to back injuries, definitely mentally taxing.
  • 2 0
 Great to have you back George! Can’t wait to see you back up to a speed that you are proud of. You just ooz style when you float about.
  • 1 0
 It's simple, really. The more we push our cognitive/physical envelopes, the more trauma we can expect. Kudos to this George kid, though, still competing after breaking the same home 4 times.
  • 4 1
 seriously such mental toughness to get back from that
  • 5 4
 It seems to be the most broken bone nowadays. Could it be because of poor or lack of body armour in that area? Anyway these days people wear less and less protection.
  • 7 0
 I think it always has been one of the most common injuries in mountain biking? As far as I know, body armour doesn't really help (help with the collarbone specifically I mean), it's not usually caused by the collarbone being directly impacted but rather by the force being transmitted through the shoulder when you land on your shoulder or arm.

Maybe modern bike geometry forces people to lean over further in corners which increases the likelihood of the shoulder hitting the ground hard but idk, as far as I can remember it was always one of the more common injuries.
  • 2 3
 It is with reason that cats don't have collarbones. The collarbones are no really bones BTW (look wikipedia).

I broke my left 3 times and the right 2 times over the last 15yrs. Although people believe it takes 6 weeks for a bones to heal, it will reach proper strength only after 12 months and will never be as good as before. Plus the muscles needs times to rebuild and the ligaments needs to be sprechen again.
Thats what I see looking in the mirror.
  • 1 2
 Collarbone break usually saves your shoulder from serious injury, which is worse given the tendons, ligaments, and cartlilage involved. Quite honestly, in Georges case, he should have hung it up and healed for the year after the second break. I realize as an athlete, especially in this sport, that's rough, but how can he have had sufficient recovery time between 4 breaks in 1 year? I find it hard to believe that any ethical Dr. cleared him to ride so quickly.
  • 1 0
 @cxfahrer: ich spreche nicht ligament. Ich bin ein holtzkopz
  • 1 0
 I've had a few shoulder injuries and armor generally doesn't help, in fact it can make things worse because it sticks out further and can result in a larger displacement depending on exactly how you crash.
  • 1 0
 @SlodownU: Agreed. I broke my right collarbone twice, and luckily nothing happened to the shoulder area. I cringed when I heard Gwin tore both shoulder AC's...its going to be tough to be the same 'Gwin'
  • 2 0
 @donpinpon29: autocorrect is fun
  • 3 0
 Poor guy, once was enough for me!
  • 2 0
 What is the worst part of breaking your collar bone 4 times? Idiot question of the year nomination.
  • 2 0
 Inspiring story George! You’re really fun to watch ride, and I hope you get back to you slaying it harder than Ever
  • 1 0
 Met him at Mt. Creek New Jersey, cool guy. Has to be a record though, someone call Guinness.
  • 3 1
 Broken collarbone: sponsored by clipless pedals Big Grin
  • 2 0
 Ha, Doctor
  • 3 2
 Pads don't save shoulders.
  • 1 0
 Maybe not collarbones,but definitly can save some shoulders from impact injuries.
  • 5 0
 @nozes: Pads only save your shoulders from scratches. It’s the force of the impact, twisting forces it bears during a crash, and the torque from your arms, that does it in.
  • 1 0
 @SlodownU: exactly..
  • 2 0
 @SlodownU: in my case, grade 3 separation caused by landing on head, helmet slid past neck brace and crushed shoulder
  • 1 0
 That's been my experience as well, it can save you some abrasions but I think in one of my crashes it made things worse.
  • 1 0
 Never saw that edit before. Some of those gaps are insane!
  • 1 0
 crazy shredding. i can see how he's ended up injured a lot, he rides like an absolute animal!
  • 1 0
 Would trade my carbon frame for adamantium skeleton any day Big Grin
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