The Matti Lehikoinen Interview: Part 2

The second installment of our hard-hitting interview where Matti talks candidly about his crash.

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How long were you on the road with racing for? Is it nice to have a break from it?

I did the full World Cup season for ten years. I’ve been doing it since I was 18, travelling the world, going to all the races so it’s been good to have a break. I do miss the World Cup a lot, I watch it, I follow it like a geek! I follow who’s on what team, I look at all the results as much as if I were at the races myself. I'm going to the Norwegian round later this year but I haven’t decided if I’m going to race it or not. We’ll see.

What happened with your accident? Can you talk us through it?

I’m not 100% sure exactly what went wrong but I know that there’s some pretty big marks and impacts at the bottom bracket. I hit something at the bottom, like a rock or something, which bucked me over and I did a big nose manual out of the turn. I didn’t even get to tap the brake and went head-first into a tree. It must’ve hit me dead centre on the cheek because my helmet snapped, the mouth guard broke at both sides so it completely shattered.

I snapped my lower jaw, my whole upper jaw came apart from my skull, I broke my eye socket, I bit my tongue in two, broke my elbow... It was pretty bad.

I’ve got 56 screws in my face and 13 plates. It was an eight hour surgery and I had two weeks in the intensive care. It happened in Sweden. I’ve got to be thankful because it happened there and all the medical care is pretty high end. The ambulance was able to reach me in minutes and it didn’t take long. Even somewhere like the Alps, I could’ve suffocated on my own blood - I got a tracheostomy there and then.

I didn’t lose consciousness at the time of the accident so I was fully aware of what was happening. When the first person got to me I was trying to talk and my jaws were going in different directions. I grabbed the guy and grabbed his jaw, and was just like, “My jaw, my jaw!”. I was messed up. People say I was pretty close to dying.

I remember I could feel my air passage getting clogged up and realising that I couldn’t breath and thinking “This is it, I’m dying.”, and then everything went black.

The next thing I woke up and they were telling me to stay with them. I’ve lived through that moment so many times, over and over again with night terrors and all that. It was pretty bad, it probably would have been better to have been knocked out and not knowing anything about the entire day but... That was the worst part.

Have you been back to the scene of the accident? Do you want to go?

I do, I really want to go. I want to visit because it’d be a really big part of the recovery. It might sound weird, but it’s something so big and so traumatising having a two week blank period in your life, not knowing where you’ve been, it’s pretty big.

What’s been the hardest thing to deal with both mentally and physically?

I’d say that to throw my leg back over the bike was probably the hardest achievement that I’ve ever had to overcome in my entire career. All the odds were against me, I was never going to ride again... The first time I threw my leg over the bike I was crying I was that afraid, I forced myself to ride last year. It wasn’t about the results, it was about myself getting better and trying to carry on with my life. If I hadn’t have raced last year, I probably wouldn’t have ridden my bike ever again, I was that mentally torn down.

I didn’t even want to touch a bike I was that disgusted by it.

I realised that if I did that, that would be the end of it so I literally forced myself back on the bike.

 

We'd like to say a huge thank you to Matti for taking the time to talk to us. He is an inspiration to us all.