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Why a brain injury won't stop Miriam Ellis from getting back on her bike

Why a brain injury won't stop Miriam Ellis from getting back on her bike

By Dr Ruth Jillings
Miriam Ellis is hoping it's third time lucky on her bike. After suffering two traumatic brain injuries while cycling, the Waikato mother had no idea what life would hold for her, but she has rediscovered her purpose and is back biking.
This time, it's at a much slower pace and involves guiding a three-wheeled 300kg set-up complete with a full-sized fancy coffee machine as she cycles around, bringing caffeine and happiness to Cambridge locals.
The resilient 45-year-old reflects, "The best thing about my business is the people. I have always been a bit introverted and uncomfortable around people, but this business has opened up the world to me. I love giving people something joyful in their day when I make the perfect cup of coffee and I can see they appreciate it."
The former lecturer with son Sidney. "He worries about me if I'm far away."
Sharing her story with the Weekly, Miriam explains that cycling has always been a large part of her adult life – from competing in Ironman races and the Xterra World Champs, to four years living in Australia with no car and biking 20km with her son to get groceries.
However, her love of cycling has also been the cause of not one but two traumatic brain injuries.
"The first occurred in 2007 when I was training on my triathlon bike. I had just been selected as part of the elite New Zealand long-distance triathlon team."
That career was over in a moment when a driver pulled out of his driveway without looking, crashing into Miriam. Unable to continue working, she resigned herself to spending several years in rehab.
"In 2009, I was finally able to start getting into normal life, and began lecturing part-time in sports nutrition and sports psychology," says Miriam. "My son was born, and things were looking good for me."
Then tragedy struck again in November 2020.
"I was excited to have finally found some women to ride with," she tells. "We were coming down a track I'd ridden hundreds of times on my own and it just all went wrong. I went over a jump and got too much air, and landed on my head instead of my wheels.
"I have no memory of the week after the accident. I was a [number] one on the Glasgow Coma Scale and zero is dead."
Six weeks later, Miriam finally had an MRI scan and learned the full extent of damage to her brain. As is the case with many brain injury sufferers, years later she still manages the after-effects of the injury.
"I suffer from a lot of fatigue, headaches, slow brain and my speech isn't as fluent. I can't always find the right words or write the right words. These things were never a problem before and I used to have so much energy, but I find ways to work around them.
Miriam was riding a track she knew well when everything went wrong.
"The business came about because I was bored at home and I knew I needed to do something, but I couldn't go back to my old life of lecturing. I couldn't even drive for a year. It gave me the ability to work within what my brain could manage.
"I started slowly but now I work six days a week, which is probably too much, but I need to pay the bills," says Miriam, who is a single parent to son Sidney, 13.
"The accident rocked my son maybe even more than it rocked me because he was only 10 at the time. It's only in the past few months that he's had the courage to get on a bike. He worries about me if I'm far away."
Now, despite the many challenges, Miriam and Sidney are doing the best they can, a value she's proud to instil in her son.
She confides, "Time heals lots of things and as time goes, we are getting much better, and I know he is super-proud of what I do, even though it requires me to work hard. It's a good lesson to show him out of the worst situations positive things can come and you have to work at it to help yourself get better."
Miriam is also dedicated to fundraising for mental health and brain injury awareness.
"These causes are close to my heart. I have suffered depression since my late teens. All the money from my fundraising stays local. The community support me, and this is my way to give back and help others going through similar things.
"The key thing about my business and attitude is positivity in the face of adversity. I am grateful for the accident as it presented the opportunity for me to launch my Cy-Co business – the silver lining
of a bad situation."
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  • undefined: Dr Ruth Jillings

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