Kat Matthews prepares to race a mile from where she should have died.
The 31-year-old athlete, one of the best long-distance triathletes in the world, went on a training trip. Texas Ahead of the Ironman World Championship, where he would be among the favourites, when he was hit by a car last October.
He broke his skull, two vertebrae in his neck, and his sternum. It’s hard to watch the emergency call shown in a documentary by Professional Triathlete Organizations detailing Matthews’ recovery.
Remarkably, however, a little over five months later, Matthews is in good enough shape to plan his return to the races from his home near Loughborough.
And his chosen race is the USA Ironman Championship in Texas in April, which will almost take him back to the scene of the accident.
“It’s not on purpose, I didn’t do it out of spite,” he tells the PA news agency with a smile.
“This is where this big race is. I think it will be difficult, but I don’t want to think about it. I don’t intentionally spend time there. I leave the day before the race, race and then leave.
“It was a freak accident that could happen anywhere in the world. It would be really cool to solve all the accident-related demons in one race and then move on. It sounds very clean in theory, but I hope it feels that way.”
Matthews didn’t hide from the psychological impact of what happened and admits the first two months were tough because it was limited to the spinal cord and waited to find out if there would be any long-term effects.
“I wrote something on social media that I don’t quite remember writing, about this loss of identity and mourning what I lost for this opportunity that I’ve been working on for two and a half years.” says.
A late triathlon runner-up, Matthews rushed to finish second in the postponed 2021 Ironman World Championship, then became the fastest woman ever in the Sub8 project, inspired by Eliud Kipchoge’s two-hour sub-marathon.
Matthews started sports as a physiotherapist in his previous job in the USA. English Army.
His first role was working with seriously wounded soldiers in war zones at the Headley Court rehabilitation center, which he believed helped him cope with his own trauma.
“I’d be the kind of person to get a little bored when I saw this in other people – eyes wide open, but you assume this would never happen to you,” she says.
“Then I have this experience, one where I feel really lucky to be alive and secondly to have normal brain function, then physical function, and then high performance.
“The injury should have killed me or really messed with my brain. So from that perspective it’s gratitude because I’ve seen how bad it can be.
“But also understanding that as an individual, you really control how you deal with this injury and that the injury doesn’t have to have you. I’ve seen soldiers who let their injuries become themselves and their identity. I knew I wouldn’t let a car driver change my identity.”
With some surprise, Matthews realized that the healing process brought pleasure and appreciation for each milestone.
She says: “Last week I was joking with a few friends that I was feeling bad, that I shouldn’t be this happy in life right now. It must be harder. But I found so much happiness in this gratitude.
“Sounds a bit silly, that’s not me, but I did a long run today, 17km, which isn’t much for most triathletes, but it’s the longest run I’ve done since this accident. I almost burst into tears in the middle of the run because I was so happy to run.”
He managed to qualify for the World Championship in Konya, HawaiiWhile the sport’s most prestigious race remains the big target, Matthews plans to race in the PTO series as well.
Triathlon is arguably the most gender-equal elite sport in the world, and the PTO, an athlete-owned organization, is committed to supporting female athletes, including an industry-leading maternity policy of 15 months paid leave.
One of the biggest puzzles for Matthews as he prepares to return to elite races is whether winning will be that important when he’s lost almost everything.
“This is a really tough question,” he admits. “The pro athlete’s answer is: Honestly. But I don’t know. I actually feel a lot more motivated to race now than Eylül, which is weird.
“I was pretty stressed about the event as I did so well earlier in the year. I was one of the favourites, and it was affecting my mental health.
“I think I’ve been revived with this new platform where I now enjoy challenging myself rather than being overloaded with other people’s expectations. I think I can be better than before.”