COLUMBIA FALLS — In the solitary confines of a dimly lit, unfinished basement, at age 34 and at the crossroads of a professional cycling career, Rose Grant learned to ride again.
Nearly eight months have passed since Grant wrecked on a technical section of trail at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec during a training run on her mountain bike. Crashes come and go. That’s part of the deal when you’re an elite rider who rips up and down world-class single track at 25 miles per hour. A separated shoulder, countless cuts, scrapes and bruises — Grant had flown over the handlebars and suffered the consequences before. But this was different. As she lost control, she managed to land upright and her right leg buckled, then hyperextended.
“I actually thought I was probably OK,” she says. “Sitting down, I could bend it, and then I was able to stand up slowly and regain my composure.”
She managed a few steps before her leg went limp and hyperextended again, dropping her to the ground. For the first time in her career, she was carried off the course and into a world of uncertainty, her dream of riding professionally suddenly in limbo.
In a remarkably short amount of time, Grant has become one of the best mountain bikers in the U.S. Since turning pro in 2012, she has rapidly ascended the ranks, winning the marathon national championship each year from 2014 to 2016 and claiming last year’s Epic Rides Off-Road Series Championship. In 2015, she was one of eight American women selected to the short list of Olympic hopefuls. She is one of two women riding for the Stan’s Pivot Pro Team alongside Chloe Woodruff, who competed in the cross-country cycling event in the Rio Olympics.
A quality that has made her stand out even more among the field of top cyclists is the fact that Grant has navigated the demanding world of professional sports while being a mother. Among the top female competitors in the sport of professional cycling, she’s the only mom in the group. Grant was seven weeks pregnant when she competed in her first professional race in 2012. Her daughter, Layla, was born in the spring of 2013, and within weeks, Grant was back on the bike, training with a baby carriage hitched to her bike and eventually regaining her winning ways at regional races.
Near the end of last season, she was riding as well as ever and garnering plenty of attention and accolades. And then the crash occurred. She snapped her ACL and tore her MCL, effectively tearing up her entire knee. Within a few weeks, she had undergone surgery and was hobbled in bed, unable to walk for days.
“It’s been a very humbling experience. Normally I’m pretty resilient and strong enough to muscle through a lot of things,” she says. “This one knocked me on my butt for awhile.”
Her leg quickly dwindled in size and strength as she limped back to her feet in the weeks after surgery. Doctors told her it would require six to nine months to fully recover and nearly two years for total tissue remodeling. If she wanted to ride at an elite level again, she would need to strengthen her leg nearly from scratch, retraining the ligaments and muscles to fire like they once did.
Adding yet another hurdle in the recovery process, she experienced blood clotting that painfully stymied any semblance of progress and optimism.
Simply getting back on the bike had never seemed so insurmountable before.
“It was hard. I cried a lot,” she says.
But with the support of her husband, Nelson, and other family and friends, she rose to the challenge.
“It required a level of determination that I’ve never experienced before. I’ve never been a slacker when it comes to training or committing to a program, but it just took a different level of trusting the process and just believing that everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I was going through this to better myself.”
In the basement of her home on the outskirts of Columbia Falls, she set up her road bike on a personalized training machine, similar to a spin machine, and began pedaling, slowly but surely. Instead of watching TV, she plugged in music and nailed pieces of paper to the two-by-four in front of her, detailing the day’s workout routine. No distractions.
“It’s a drive that God gave me,” she says.
Pretty soon she was able pedal painlessly and with confidence. Instead of coasting, she stepped up her recovery and enlisted the help of Tye LeDuc, a doctor who specializes in strength and conditioning at Stillwater Spine and Sports Center.
Grant and little Layla became regulars at the Kalispell center.
“What stands out about Rose is the pure joy she began to exude once she began mastering a new, more advanced rehabilitation activity,” LeDuc says. “Where most athletes see rehabilitation as a chore, Rose saw it as another opportunity to succeed.”
LeDuc closely watched as Grant regained her abilities and rattled through the list of high-intensity exercises with impressive power. Suddenly she was doing Olympic weightlifting drills, plyometrics and high-speed conditioning workouts.
“After Rose began feeling confident, I had to hold her back a bit. I believe we were 10 weeks post-surgery and she began asking if it was OK for her to race again,” LeDuc says.
The new competitive season arrived in early March with the Cactus Cup, a three-day stage race in Arizona that included a 40-mile cross country race and two short but speedy events.
Grant zeroed in on the opportunity. After getting approval from her doctors, she made the trip. The field of competitors featured several pro riders and former Olympians, including her teammate, Woodruff.
Grant dominated and won the entire event.
News of Grant’s victory spread throughout the cycling community as fellow competitors remarked at her impressive comeback. For those who know Grant and her story — a mother from Montana who became a professional later than most and won national championships — it was further evidence of her uncommon abilities.
“She’s incredibly inspiring,” says Woodruff. “That takes a grittiness and a certain type of personality to be able to do what she’s done.”
Woodruff continues, “She helps me bring a new perspective to (cycling). You get to see what people go through to race. You really have to sacrifice a lot to show up at the start line, and a lot of people take that for granted. Rose doesn’t.”
Last weekend Grant competed at a U.S. Cup event in California. She narrowly finished second to Kate Courtney, one of the top riders in the world.
The long, hard winter is over, and Grant is better because of it.
“I felt a spark inside and I’ve been containing it,” Grant says. “It’s about to ignite.”