At the lowest point of her cycling career, Rachel Neylan saw the inspiration that has helped propel her to stardom.
The 30-year-old is now one of the top road riders in this country, following her breakthrough silver medal last year at the world championships.
Neylan is one of the top favourites for Saturday’s 106.6km Australian championships road race on the tough course at Buninyong, near Ballarat.
But it was a completely different story for her three years ago, following a horrific high-speed training crash.
Neylan face-planted and was left with serious injuries.
Hospitalised in Innsbruck, Austria – site of 1964 winter Olympics – she started her rehabilitation by walking up flights of stairs in her hospital.
“There were a lot of internal and external scars that I had to deal with,” she said.
“In the hospital, every level I walked up the stairs, I could see the Olympic rings on the ski jump in Innsbruck.
“I was just pinching myself, I was thinking ‘this is the first day, the first steps of my rehab’.”
It took Neylan several months to return to competitive cycling – and there have been several more setbacks since – but her motivation has never wavered.
She is determined to represent Australia at the Rio Olympics.
Neylan benefited from strong Australian team dynamics at last year’s worlds, finding herself in the key break and finishing second behind Dutch star Marianne Vos.
Far from being worried about the pressure that comes with winning a world championships medal, Neylan is relishing the challenge.
Likewise, she is not concerned about the obvious strength that the GreenEDGE team will boast.
“It’s going to be an incredibly hard race, it’s going to be one of the best races we will see,” Neylan said.
“There’s a lot of motivated talent that’s ready to go.
“It’s just like anyone racing the Dutch in Europe – you’re always racing against another force.
“You have to be ready to stand up against anything that happens in a race situation.”
She has signed with the Hitec professional squad and one of her new teammates is Olympian Chloe Hosking, who also will race on Saturday.
Neylan has a strong record at Buninyong, finishing fourth at the nationals in 2010 and third last year.
“Bring it on – it’s a good course for me and I always seem to have raced well there,” she said.