Video & Photo Epic: One Year Later - Brook Macdonald's Incredible Road to Recovery

Sep 29, 2020
by Nathan Hughes  



The time is 12:10 EDT, August 31st, 2019. Brook Macdonald lies twisted on his side, caked in Quebec dirt. It is 4 minutes since a damp root jutting out from the top of a drop in the forest threw him forward over the bars, landing flat on his back, beyond the transition. With Brook 'the Bulldog' being no ordinary racer, those at the scene know something is seriously wrong. Amidst cries through surging pain he repeats he cannot feel his legs. He wants off the mountain, but the medics are not yet sure how to fulfil that request and are not equipped with adequate pain control.

By 12:23 Brook is on a stretcher. Long time friends and fellow countrymen, Sam Blenkinsop and Wyn Masters, help the emergency crew carry him out into the open. The medical team plan to evacuate him using a small metal trailer towed by a mountain patrol quad, but the road is long and boulder-filled and the idea proves hopeless in the first 5 meters. Fast forward to 15:10; the crowd swells at the bottom of the hill in anticipation of the XC finals for elite men, but the heli still circles high over the woods where Brook fell. Surely he's not still up there?




Unfortunately he was. Brook remained at the side of the track where the accident happened for almost 4 hours. Enduring this extended ordeal of intense, mostly unmanaged pain was of course only the very beginning of a journey more demanding than the average person could ever be expected to face.

Later that day Brook would find himself walking across craters on the surface of the moon; the side-effects of having being administered a strong dose of Ketamine for the pain. Thankfully after surgery the following morning and many weeks without a shower, sensation would gradually start to return to Brook's limbs, but the damage from shattered vertebrae intruding on his spinal cord meant starting from absolute scratch in the recovery process; relearning the most basic motor skills to literally put one foot in front of the other after forgetting how.

One year later and Brook is back. Back on the bike, riding the high-mountain trails of Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Training with his team-mates on the Straitline course the week the World Cup was originally scheduled, he says he feels stronger than ever as he recalls the depths of the struggle and the long road back.




bigquotesIt was 5 hours until I got off the hill and it was the worst day of my life; the arguing between the French and some other people what to do. When the doctors got there they gave me pain relief, but it was so minimal it didn't do anything. I was in pain right until the hospital. When the heli finally turned up, I think they circled for probably half an hour because they went on about how windy it was and there was nowhere to landBrook Macdonald





bigquotes8 o'clock in the morning I went into surgery. I was in there for 6 hours. I had 2 rods and 8 screws put in my back. I fractured my T12 and burst my L1. I think they had to reattach everything on my L1 and then they defused my spine. At the same time the L1 was sitting on my spinal cord, hence the 'no feeling' in the legsBM





bigquotesAs soon as I knew I could stand up and I had feeling back in my legs, I knew that this was something I was gonna recover from. I was gonna make sure that I did everything that I could to be back riding my bikeBM





bigquotesEvery day just felt like it got longer and longer... until we had flights home confirmed. I was so excited I was bawling my eyes out just because I knew that I was going home and could start a proper rehabBM







bigquotesI flew straight to Christchurch where the spinal unit was, which I spent 4 weeks at and that was probably the biggest 4 weeks of my rehab. I learned so much about myself, about my body and it paid a massive price on my whole recoveryBM






bigquotesThe amount of support I got from when I had my accident to now, I honestly can't thank anyone and everyone enough that has messaged meBM







bigquotesI was prepared to be there at least 2 or 3 months. All the tests they did on me they were really happy with and they said you're probably going to be here for no longer than 5 weeks... I'd do an exercise one day, I would struggle at it, then the next day be able to do it. Not good, but it was just crazy how the body and mind would work and I had to retrain everythingBM






bigquotesWhen Wyn came and visited me in the hospital and told me I was going to be best man at his wedding, I teared up so much because obviously the biggest thing I wanted to do was be there and be able to walk for his weddingBM






bigquotesI rode my bike 5 weeks after surgery... it was amazing I could ride better than I could walk. It was very difficult to turn the pedals over because I still obviously had numb feeling in my legs and feet so I really couldn't feel the pedals, but it honestly felt so natural to be riding my bike again. From there it gave me so much more confidence that I was going to be able to race again...BM




bigquotesI'm back in Europe now, 3 weeks out from World Champs. I couldn't be feeling any better, I honestly have a new love for riding my bike. From what I've been through and experienced it's really made me appreciate life a lot more and realising how quickly it can be taken from youBM





bigquotesA year later I'm back ready as ever to race again. I can say that I'm definitely fitter and stronger than I was before, maybe not as strong in some areas, but fitness is better than previous years... This was a whole other extreme of working to get back where I was if not better... If nothing goes ahead I'm still so stoked to be here in Europe riding my bike, it's so surreal the feeling I get each time I ride my bike it's something I could never explainBM





bigquotesI'm honestly so thankful for everyone that's helped me, everyone that's stuck with me. I'm pretty sure everyone knew that I wasn't going to do this half-assed and that I was going to make it work.... but I couldn't have got through what I went through without all the support and messages from everyoneBM



116 Comments

  • 201 0
 What an absolute Hero! 2021 WC Season will hopefully treat you to some mega results because damn you deserve it!
  • 26 59
flag nurseben (Sep 29, 2020 at 20:41) (Below Threshold)
 Would you think the same if he wasn’t able to walk? Would he still be your “hero”?

The thing is, most folks with that kind of injury don’t recover, for them “surviving” is a far greater challenge because it’s life long.

He’s lucky, no doubt about that.
  • 69 1
 @nurseben: Martyn Ashton is still a hero in my eyes. While he didn't recover from his injury he has made the best of a bad situation and probably gotten 1000s of people into this sport through GMBN.
  • 19 2
 @nurseben: Yes.

If he hadn't recovered from this, you know he would've applied the same mentality to living the best adapted life he could, because Bulldog's mental fortitude is second to none.

But that's irrelevant - he HAS recovered from this horrific injury, he's worked hard every single day through uncertainty and pain, to overcome the adversity.

He's a hero for getting back on a bike and continuing to chase his dreams after going through an ordeal that would see most people walk away from the sport, for inspiring thousands of people, and for showing us all how to face adversity like a man.
  • 10 3
 @dunford: Good to hear this feedback. As much as I hope and pray that people recover from their injuries, everyone who has to recover from serious injury is a hero in their own respect and should be admired as such.

Recovery is not as much about hard work as it about good luck. Paralysis doesn't respond better to hard work, recovery is recovery, not being paralyzed permanently is the lucky part.

There are few people who don't work hard to recover what they lose to an accident.

Keep in mind that women and men get injured, recovery is not about who you are or what hangs between your legs.

Remember this ^ when your time comes.
  • 1 0
 @nurseben: Fitness plays a major role in the recovery process, as well as whole the injury happens. Of course, muscles cannot heal broken nerves, but they support and protect the surrounding bones. And when there is a chance for recovery, the drive to come back is a major factor in fighting through the pain and frustration.

About 20 years ago, one of the best downhill skiers in the world, Hermann Maier, had his leg smashed when a car hit him on his motorbike. He went from a potential amputation to "he's never going to walk properly again" to winning world cup races two years later. And a few years before that, he had an absolutely mind-bending crash at the Nagano Olympics, flying through the air for well over 100 feet, bouncing off the ice several times before cartwheeling over the safety nets. He walked away from that, and won another gold medal a few days later.
youtu.be/s_IA1TYpVKU
That is what a very fit body and an insanely focused mind can do for you in a potentially life-threatening situation.
  • 81 0
 True athlete. Warrior. Respect.
  • 10 0
 Elite level. A real masterclass.
  • 63 0
 I followed his recovery on his instagram posts, can’t imagine how hard it must have been at first, and relearning stuff like walking etc. Biggest of respects to him.
  • 36 0
 YES! so inspiring. I am, especially Quebec being my hometown, embarrassed for MSA and the UCI on how poorly this was handled. Broken back on stretcher towed behind a quad!? WTF?
  • 33 1
 The rescue team may not have been fast enough but at least the surgery team did a great job and they are also from Quebec. Not only bad things came out of this.
  • 8 0
 Lmao I had to be stretched out once skiing at MSA and once biking at Bromont. Definitely the most painful and stupid shit ever being towed out by a quad or snowmobile.
  • 5 1
 Even if they couldn't get him off the mountain for whatever reason. There's literally a hospital 5km away from MSA. How the fuck is it even possible they couldn't get pain management in 4 hours.
  • 7 0
 @Uberbob102000: policies and procedures ?

Common sense ain’t common
  • 2 0
 @Waldon83: Being a paramedic in Québec I can assure you that common sense does not rule in here. It sucks cause we would like to have better treatment/support/evacuation but here numbers are worth more than lifes.
Please Brook destroy MSA times next year. So glad you are well and back on your bike !
  • 27 1
 MSA shouldn't be allowed to host another event until they have a plan for quickly transferring injured riders to hospital. It's unacceptable what happened.
  • 6 0
 I wonder if that's part of the reason they aren't on the next years schedule? Or maybe it's the broken gondola? Or the fact Quebec just went in to another big lockdown with no actual recovery in sight?
  • 2 0
 They are not on schedule for 2021
  • 1 0
 @j-t-g: are you sure? My reservation for this year was transferred to next year when they said they'd have next years event there.
  • 1 0
 @VT2wheeledlife: yeah he's sure, the schedule has been released here on PB.
  • 19 0
 "in the K-hole moon walking with a someones finger up your arse" that's savage man..... Anyhow in all seriousness though Brook fair shout to you, and well done on your recovery and to all the Good people who have helped you along your journey to recovery. Speaking as someone who has broken my neck twice Spinal injuries are supper hard to come back from and certainly make you realize how easily it can all be taken away, good luck to you mate and keep on riding.
  • 2 0
 Yeah my neck looks like his x-ray, only six screws though. Racing is confined to xc and cx now.
  • 4 0
 Twice? that's gnarly. Mtb accidents?
I did c4, c5 and t1 last year riding in Canada. Haven't done any DH since but stoked to get back when I get the chance. I think I'll be thinking twice before sending it from now on though.
  • 2 3
 @markcorrigan: Get a Leatt or Atlas for when you don't want to think and just ride!
  • 2 0
 @twozerosix: Yep, broke my back a bit like his (3 vertebrae and one burst) plus my neck in the process. Got all the metal out now and first thing I bought was a neck brace. Protective gear has come a long way. The problem with racing will always be that you push yourself to the limit though and at speed, no level of protection can fully prevent serious injuries from happening. Still, no reason not to have it.
  • 1 0
 @markcorrigan: yes all mtb m8. 2003 on an XC ride, 6 weeks into getting back into the sport after 8 years hiatus, smashed two vertebrae which are now fused and plated together, survived that, though still suffered with a lot of ongoing issues for a few years after, so started Downhilling and trail building instead "Triscombe DH trails, UK". Then broke it again in then 2009 on DH bike, but not as badly the second time thank f*ck. Anyhow i charge faster and harder now than i have ever done on a bike, wont let it stop me doing what i enjoy the most.
  • 2 0
 @wildthingdh1: Blimey, mad stuff mate. Glad to hear you're still sending it.
I've made a great recovery but will be feeling the side effects for the rest of my life. My neck cracks like f*ck now, every morning I go through my own chiropractor session just to loosen it up. But I've got a decent range of movement back so I can't complain too much.
  • 1 0
 @vp27: best wishes for your continued riding stoke
  • 9 0
 I was sitting in the shuttle queue in Rotorua a few weeks ago when I saw a Prototype Mondraker DH bike parked next to mine. Turning to my right I realised I was sitting right next to Brook. He looked at me and without thinking I blurted out "Oh, hi Brook!" like he was an old friend. Class act that he is he said "hi" right back and we had a bit of a chat about his recovery. He didn't know me from Adam but was totally cool and happy to talk, even after my overly familiar greeting. Good guy for sure, and it's one of the things that I love about this sport that the top guys in the world are so humble and approachable. And we all love a great come-back story.
  • 11 0
 YEAH BROOK! Everyone here is so stoked to see you back on your bike and preparing to race.
  • 7 0
 It is quite difficult to imagine the pain and suffering this guy went through...
I am surprised that it is not the first time I see an accident at World Cup level where medical assistance is definitely not at WC level... (I remember Cedric for instance...)
The access is difficult, we know, but they are supposed to be prepared for those kind of accidents.

Hopefully some lessons can be taken from this case...

You deserve big results man!
  • 7 1
 So nice to hear that the recovery year have so many positive effects to!
Does anyone know if he had back protection when the accident happened?
  • 1 1
 Yeah, you can see it in the 3rd pic where he is almost sitting up (no visor on the helmet). I don't think you are allowed to race without one.
  • 1 0
 @thustlewhumber: I believe it is only France that has mandatory back protectors
  • 5 2
 Ok, so let me get this straight. A top world class Red Bull athlete had to struggle to get a quality flight home after having a serious surgery?? A mean come on, how expensive could that have been? That's nothing for RB. What a f... shame. Greedy bastards.
  • 10 0
 The flights were probably more of a logistics and readiness issue than a money issue. You can’t get much further from Christchurch (NZs spinal unit) than Quebec. Flight time alone is about 26 hours and he’d likely need to fly on a private plane big enough for multiple flight and medical crew. It’s taken us over 40 hours to get from Halifax to Wellington flying commercial.

Money all depends on his relationship with his sponsor. If he’s a contractor he’d take all the risk and his insurance would be on the hook, if he was an employee they’d take care of all the bills through their own insurance. Considering he did his rehabilitation in NZ I’m guessing he was self employed and his insurance was through ACC (professional sports people can get coverage).
  • 7 1
 So glad to see you back on the bike! God bless! Ride on!
  • 6 0
 5 hours to get him down wtf
  • 3 0
 I was at the mountain that day. Riding the easy trails and spectating the real riders. the wind was gusting and the helicopter made multiple attempts to land before finally being able to land (hours). The helicopter pilot did not have an easy task. So glad the outcome was good.
  • 4 2
 Its better to wait for 4 hours into the woods even in pain then to be in a wheel chair for the rest of your life... I earded that is was not a easy situation and they didn't wanted to take any chances to move him and make things even wost...
  • 4 0
 It didn't need to be either. The 'Golden Hour' is well entrenched in protocols for the assessment and treatment of traumatic injuries. MSA is not isolated there was no reason for this. Brook obviously had good smart care on the hillside and his spine was immobilized, but there was still risk of further injury before he made it to the hospital. Anyone could have grown impatient, including Brook himself and made a foolish decision.
  • 5 0
 His journey to recovery is so inspiring. Respect for the Bulldog!
  • 3 0
 Well this is just an awesome read. Put me in a great mood and want to ride my damn bike! Thanks brook. You are a proper badass
  • 1 0
 I don't know Brook. Follow him during the race season, always cheer him on during races, hear so many good things about him. But damn, this video shows he's a solid guy. Nothing but respect for you, your recovery, and the way you handle all this stuff Brook. Best wishes to you! Stay healthy!
  • 1 0
 I'm SO glad to see Brook back on the bike after that horrific crash. Been a big fan of him as far as I can remember and was absolutely gutted to hear about the crash last year, but that recovery story is something else! Completely amazed at how fucking though, both mentally and physically, Bulldog truly is! A truly inspiring recovery story. And seriously... WTF at how bad that evac was handled. Still can't believe it, and sadly makes me rethink MSA as a serious World Cup destination, even though I live 30 minutes away.
  • 1 0
 I´m waiting to have surgery in my knee, I broke my ACL in my left one...It was really hard the first two months after the crash.No bike in 1 year to be 100% confidence in no new disasters or bad surprises. I hope I can do my best and get a shorter rehab period and be on the bike on summer next season...
Very inspiring,you have to work hard day by day even in a minor or less severe injury.Hope the best for Brook!
  • 1 0
 While watching this I was thinking what a fairytale ending it would be if he won the World Champs. I think any nationality would root for him. If you know anything about incident management, his story to the point he got to hospital reads like a litany of planning, experience and execution errors many of which are inexcusable. I very much hope that the venue have to prove they can improve on this before they get another go at hosting a world cup. Bulldog - Total legend and an inspiration!
  • 1 0
 It will soon be two years since my crash when I broke my t5 and t6, luckily I only had a tingling sensation in my hands, but I did not lose feeling or movement anywhere. The fight was real, from standing up for just 5 mins, to not being able to put my socks on, but little by little I got better, now I train regularly and I can ride with the same passion. A few days ago I took my bike and helmet and went, for the first time in 2 years, on a proper off-road ride ... I couldn't stop smiling, you guys know the feeling, the roots, the rocks, the turns, being in nature its is a state of nirvana And there is this beast that got in racing form just one year after his crash. Nothing can stop a man when his mind is in the right place. Stay in a safe guys and keep riding.
  • 4 0
 Absolute Legend Bulldog!!!!
  • 2 0
 Brook is awesome, one of my absolute favorites to watch. Always rooting for him on and off the bike. Rock on Brook, get it!!!
  • 2 0
 What a gangster. This is unbelievable that he was not only able to rehab his body, but get his mind ready to race again. Well done Brook.
  • 3 0
 Controversy around his crash was the time it took to get him to the hospital.
  • 1 0
 Brook is an example to anyone who suffers an injury, tough and determined to get back to where he belongs, racing at the world champs. Full respect to the Bulldog and good luck with Crankworx and the worlds
  • 2 0
 I was a fan before but he's now one of my favorite riders. Looking forward to your future races!
  • 1 0
 you are a mental hero for us; getting through that and coming out of it stronger shows how strong personality you have and how important it is to have a purpose. Keep it up!
  • 3 0
 trying not to cry at work rn
  • 1 0
 Indycar drivers will not practice, qualify, or race until the evac helecopter has landed and is standing by ready to assist if needed. But I guess that costs a lot of money.
  • 3 0
 Nice one Brook!
  • 7 6
 Was he not wearing back protection? I feel that should be mandatory at WC races.
  • 14 0
 Based on the pictures the damage came from his body folding in half, not from hitting a rock or something on the ground
  • 13 0
 It is and he was.
  • 2 0
 @DHhack: Know what brand/model?
  • 1 0
 he was wearing back protection.
  • 2 0
 @twozerosix: not really. My guess would be Alpinestars.
  • 2 0
 The pictures are really nice. What a comeback after such an injury...
  • 1 0
 That is some intense shit. Glad the dude has his legs back, not a trivial injury in my estimation.
  • 1 0
 What a legend, the video is awesome, totally inspiring. Surprised no WE'RE NOT FRENCH GODDAMMIT comments from Montreal lol.
  • 1 0
 Well done mate great to see you back on the track my friend keep up the good work
  • 1 0
 Mad respect for that example of pure commitment, passion and strength !!!! huge props Brook. Life is a chance
  • 1 0
 your collar bone recovery was incredible THIS is next level amazing! Go for Gold bro you certainly deserve it!
  • 1 0
 Tumeke bro! Big ups also to all the good people at the Burwood spinal Unit.
  • 2 0
 Brook Back MountainBiking!! Incredible story there!
  • 1 0
 Holy shit, i got a lump in my throat reading all that again - You the man Brook
  • 1 0
 Very tough accident to endure ... and frightening to think it could have been paralysis. Good to hear about the recovery.
  • 1 0
 Over the moon that you’re back!!
  • 1 0
 awesome video! bit dusty in here
  • 1 0
 Now i understand why they call him The bulldog !
  • 1 0
 Legend So glad he's back riding in top level
  • 1 0
 Just insane.. Absolute legend
  • 1 0
 You're a legend, Brook. Respect!
  • 1 0
 Shot Bulldog!!! All the best at world champs. LEGEND!!!
  • 1 0
 he's a monster!!! kicking ass!
  • 1 0
 Welcome back dude! Such hard work and courage.
  • 1 0
 Real life superhero, much love Brook, keep killing it bulldog!
  • 1 0
 Yes, we have free healthcare.... but its a little slower. I'm ashamed.
  • 1 0
 A proper Red Bull Rider! Good to see him back on the circuit!
  • 1 0
 The Man, the legend, and hell of a fighter!
  • 1 0
 Gwan Brook man! The races will be far better with you there
  • 1 0
 I wanna scream I'm so damn amped for Brook !!! :-)
  • 1 0
 Total respect Brook , Legend
  • 1 0
 What a strong dude. Great to see him back on the bike and trail. God bless
  • 1 0
 That heli ride sounded like a Sh*t Show. Your the man Bulldog!!!
  • 1 0
 GLAD YOUR RIDING AND LOVING LIFE!
  • 1 0
 Beast!
  • 1 0
 YEEEEW!
  • 1 0
 Amazing.
  • 1 0
 BULLDOG!!!
  • 1 0
 One tough Mofo! Respect.
  • 1 0
 Badass dude for real
  • 1 0
 Insperational
  • 1 0
 Fuking legend mate
  • 1 0
 This is insane.
  • 1 0
 you are the man Brook...
  • 1 0
 Te Mana!
  • 1 0
 Bulldog!
  • 1 2
 That photo Advertisement for AlpineScars
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