There have been many remarkable recoveries from serious injury, but few can match the scale – or speed – of Kat Matthews‘ return to the top step of the IRONMAN podium.
The British Army captain and physiotherapist saw her IRONMAN World Championship hopes wrecked late last year following an horrific collision with a car while out on a bike training ride.
She still made it to Kona – in a neck brace – as she began her determined and painstaking recovery.
Here’s the story of how she battled her way back…
‘The moment everything changed’
Late September 2022 – Matthews was one of the strong favourites for long-distance triathlon’s biggest prize after a superb season and was putting the finishing touches to her last big training block in Texas when the devastating collision took place.
The PTO – the athlete-owned organisation that represents non-drafting professional triathletes – has documented what happened then and since in ‘Crushed’, embedded below.
Early October 2022 – Despite her injuries, which included fractures to her skull, sternum and two vertebrae as well as others which would emerge during her recovery, Matthews still made it to Kona to watch the race.
Having then flown home to the UK, the hard work continued as she started to take small but significant steps and work her way back to fitness.
December 2022 – ‘It’s official, I can swim 3.8km again’. Matthews gave the world an insight into the process of almost having to start again from scratch. Running was clearly still off the agenda at this point but there was some static bike turbo work and a return to swimming.
She explained: “I’ve moved up from the slow lane using the pool ladder and my snorkel to now confident fast lane use but it’s a whole new level of awful at the moment.
“Thoracic and neck mobility and strength has been the focus of the last few weeks, not just for swimming but also for life. It’s so rewarding to see the little gains and then to put them back into the sport. The strength and mobility to swim 4km is something I couldn’t imagine a few weeks ago. But now I can even lift myself out the pool.”
Return to racing
Early March 2023 – Matthews announces her return to long-distance racing and it will take place back in Texas, saying: “On Monday I sneezed without pain, I went on to complete a second training camp, I ran 100km in Feb and started March even better AND I’ve entered an Ironman.
“IM Texas 22 Apr. Who knows how it will go, but I’m excited to try and to find out. I’ll be at my best possible, seven months after every cyclist’s worst nightmare…[accident was] just a mile down the road from the race.”
Early April 2023 – The comeback actually began slightly earlier than initially expected at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside.
Matthews had tempered expectations but she produced an incredibly encouraging display as she claimed third place behind Tamara Jewett and Chelsea Sodaro, the woman who had been crowned IRONMAN World Champion in Kona back in October.
22nd April 2023 – Less than seven months after that fateful crash, Matthews was back in Texas and competing in an IRONMAN.
Make that ‘winning’ an IRONMAN. Despite having a deficit of over seven minutes to make up after the swim – and nine following the bike phase – Matthews clocked a stunning 2:49:32 marathon to run through the field and snatch an incredible victory.