Anneke Beerten on Life and Recovery after Traumatic Injury
The decorated racer is working her way back to the bike after suffering a TBI in a car crash last year
The path to recovery following a car accident last summer has been a rocky one for decorated mountain bike racer Anneke Beerten. After a day of riding, Beerten was within a half-mile of her home in Orange County, California, when another motorist ran a red light and slammed into the driver’s side of her truck.
The crash left Beerten with a traumatic brain injury that has been slow to heal and difficult to treat. Beerten was not critically injured and never lost consciousness, but she sustained severe whiplash, and, when the adrenaline wore off, she experienced the telltale symptoms of a concussion, including a headache and forgetfulness. Her speech was slurred, and the native Netherlander also had trouble with her English.
Beerten failed a baseline concussion test, and eventually ended up at a concussion rehab center, where she worked alongside other athletes recovering from similar injuries. But after several months, many hours of exercises, and a litany of tests, Beerten continued to struggle with her vision.
“There are still so many unknowns when it comes to brain injuries. It’s not straightforward like breaking your leg or tearing your ACL. It took forever to figure out what was really wrong,” Beerten said. “It is hard for me to explain because I can see, but my eyes are slow scanning, especially in the beginning, and I get motion sickness. It’s like my eyes are not totally aligned, and my vision gets mixed up.”
After hitting multiple dead ends, Beerten was referred to a vision therapy specialist. During intense daily sessions, Beerten performs exercises doctors hope will create new neural pathways between her eyes and her brain, while strengthening her vision and improving how her brain processes what her eyes see.
Ten months after the crash, Beerten continues to experience dizziness, nausea, and disrupted sleep. While she took various prescription medications in the beginning, Beerten generally favors a natural approach so she decided to try CBD as a sleep aid. She drinks Miraflora +Relax Sparkling Beverage and uses the company’s Calm CBD-infused Bath Bombs every night before bed. Research also shows that CBD can help promote growth and development of brain cells, which Beerten hopes will aid in branching new neural pathways.
“CBD is totally new to me, and it’s been great for my recovery. It’s helping me feel less restless and calmer for a better night’s sleep, and it helps me fall asleep easier,” she said. “I like the +Relax beverage before bed, and their bath bombs are great. I love taking baths, and the CBD bombs take them to a new level.”
Beerten started racing BMX in The Netherlands, when she was 4 years old, and by the time she was 15, she had won two world championships. Looking for a new challenge in her late teens, Beerten began racing mountain bikes, excelling in four-cross, dual slalom, and downhill. She went on to win three four-cross world championships and was crowned Queen of Crankworx in 2015. More recently, Beerten took home the bronze at the Ebike World Championships in 2019.
Although the global pandemic put the kibosh on most events in 2020, restrictions began to ease last summer and some races were back on the calendar. At the time of her accident in mid-August, Beerten had competed in one race in Big Bear and was gearing up for Crankworx Innsbruck, the Ebike World Championships, and other events that fall.
But Beerten’s life took a 180-degree turn after the crash. Accustomed to a rigorous training schedule and crisscrossing the globe for races and other events, Beerten continues to grapple with her new normal — which for a time, didn’t include riding a bike at all.
Feeling the pressure of the 2021 race seasons, she attempted short rides around her neighborhood in the months following the accident. But it was a frustrating process fraught with unfamiliar emotions, including a brief dislike for riding, so she put the brakes on getting back on the bike and instead focused her energy on therapy and rehab. It’s been slow going, but Beerten has improved enough to start riding on the road and on an eMTB to help keep her heart rate from spiking and building pressure in her head, which affects her vision.
“It’s hard not to compare the rides I do now to the old me, when I had a routine working out, training, and was constantly on the go,” she said. “It’s all I’ve done my whole life, so it’s a big change that’s very difficult to accept.”
“But I feel positive because I have more good days now than bad ones — and when you can’t ride for a while, and you get to ride again, it brings even more joy. The mental side of being able to go on rides, even if they aren’t what they used to be, is so good for me. Even if it’s just for an hour, it’s the best hour of my day,” Beerten added.
For now, Beerten takes it week by week. Learning to accept that she doesn’t always have control over the process has been difficult for her, because so much of performing at a high level involves being in tune with her body and having command over every movement.
Beerten remains unsure when she’ll race again, but she plans to do some coaching this summer and fall. Her sponsors have been supportive and understanding, but she is anxious to get back to the community she’s grown up in, and the sport she loves.
Apart from being back on the bike and getting closer to returning to normal life, Beerten is also ready to talk more openly about her injury, and the arduous path to recovery. Until recently, she wasn’t comfortable sharing the details. She worried about what her sponsors and fans would think, seeing her wearing an eye patch while doing rehab exercises, or working hard to build stamina to ride for an hour, then sometimes needing to spend the rest of the day on the couch.
“It’s been hard to show it on social media because it’s difficult for me to accept the person I’ve become after the accident. But I want to share because I hope to bring more awareness to brain injuries,” Beerten said. “It’s an important part of my recovery that will help other people going through difficult brain injuries, because they happen a lot in mountain biking, and we don’t talk about it enough.”