That is what kept world-class BMX racer Arielle Martin out of the Beijing Olympics, after nearly a life time of preparation.
The disappointment, however, turned to drive for the then 23-year-old from Cedar Hills, Utah, and four years of nothing but training ensued. In 2012, Arielle had a secure spot on the team going to London.
“I put the final touches on my Olympic race bike today,” she wrote on her blog that summer. “I’ve been riding its twin that will also come to London for the last week or so, but wanted to keep the race ride as fresh as possible. We leave for London in 10 days!! It’s so incredibly exciting to be this close and I’m jumping at the bit now that some of my buddies are already over there and posting pictures of the village and venues.”
But the frustration of Beijing, it turns out, was just the beginning.
Two days before departure to London, riding in Team USA regalia, Arielle’s bike chain inexplicably broke and jammed in her back tire at the precipice of a jump, sending her flying at 30 mph 10 feet above the ground. The impact was devastating: a near fatal laceration of the liver, and a hole in the lung.
She remembers lying on the ground, and remembers an ambulance rushing her to the hospital.
“I’m going to London,” she kept saying. “I need to go back, I’m going to London.”
At the hospital, someone had scissors and was about to cut off her uniform. She shouted no, and that she was going to London. An operation quickly began.
When she woke up from surgery, the full weight of what happened sunk in.
“It came like a slap in the face,” she recalls. “The team had left without me. Someone showed me the official press release from USA Cycling announcing my crash and Brooke as my replacement. I felt crushed as the reality set in. It was really over.”
She remembers whispering to herself the piercing words, “I am no longer an Olympian.”
The other riders’ hearts went out to Arielle. Brooke, her replacement, wrote Arielle’s initials on her palm, and held the tribute up to the camera as it panned by.
But the American ladies won no medals that year, and Arielle was stuck with months of recovery, on top of her mental anguish. She had sacrificed everything, only to be robbed by fate. Bitterness was unavoidable.
Then something happened that marked a turning point in her perspective. While she was recovering, news came that her brother in law, competing in a Utah cycling race, had suffered a fatal crash.
“At that point I realized that there was more to me than being an athlete,” she says, “and that there’s more to life than the Olympics.”
Spiritual moments aided her recovery and helped lift the weight of her experiences, including a visit from Latter-day Saint apostle and icon M. Russell Ballard.
She considered retiring, and starting a family. Training to be an Olympian full time meant living in California near the Olympic Training Center. For four years her schedule had gone something like this: ride before breakfast, eat. Train for three hours on different parts of the track, eat. Train until dinner. Six days a week.
She saw her husband occasionally when he was on leave, after he returned from his military service in Afghanistan. She had no children, as a child would have been a near impossibility competing at such a high level. Only 16 women from around the world make the Olympics in BMX.
The sting of being snubbed by two Olympics outweighed the sacrifice of time and physical exertion. She mounted the bike yet again, and began the long, third journey back to the top.
“I couldn’t end my 22-year career on that crash,” she says. “I needed to prove something to myself.”
Her competitions went poorly at first, but she ended up reclaiming her spot on the US National team for the first World Cup of 2013 in England, where she placed sixth, even after two early crashes.
After competing in Argentina and Holland, she found herself the top ranked American rider in the World Cup Series, a position she currently holds.
An incredible comeback, yes, and the true spectacle was her determination to fight on despite being knocked down so horrendously and repeatedly. Arielle insists that the crash before London happened for a reason, though she doesn’t understand it completely yet.
For one, her experiences have certainly given her perspective that other people lack. She coaches younger athletes, in addition to her riding, and sometimes sees their lack of vision.
She recalls the attitude of one girl she coached who broke her wrist.
“It was like the end of the world for her,” she says. “But you have to have that foresight, that difficulty now will make you stronger in the end.”
Doubt is another problem plaguing young people, she says. While it’s about a one-in-a-million chance that you become an Olympian, she says, there is great value in having a mark to move towards. If you aren’t moving toward a goal, than what are you doing?
She remembers the best advice she received while going through her most trying moments, being robbed of two Olympics and her health.
“The sun is still going to come up tomorrow. Where are you going to be?”