VAIL — Local X Games athlete Nicole Bradford just wants to get back on her bike again.
The 42-year-old endurocross athlete is 11 weeks out of surgery with Dr. William Sterett, and that means for her, the rest of this season is shot.
Last summer, the Vail Valley native competed in the X Games despite having her performance compromised by the injury from which she is now recovering.
If she gets another opportunity to compete at the X Games, she’s expecting better results. And for good reason — her resume in the sport, which combines elements of supercross and endurance racing, is impressive.
In 2007, Bradford made a name for herself at the International Six Days of Enduro, the longest-running event on the Federation of International Motorcycling, by becoming the first woman ever to ride all six days without dropping a single trail point.
“We have to ride 150 miles per day and maintain our own bikes ... I always think of it like the four-minute mile,” she said. “Because nobody could do it, and as soon as one person broke it then it became easy for people to do.”
In 2010, she won overall in the men’s 250 A division of the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit.
“There’s A-class, B-class and C-class, so obviously winning the men’s A class was a big accomplishment for me,” she said.
‘Experience means a lot’
But these days, Bradford’s only able to think about winning. Her timetable for recovery says she has about a year before she can return to competition.
At 42, you may be thinking the pressure’s on, but she doesn’t seem nervous. She says her level of experience will make up for any aches and pains caused by age.
“Experience means a lot in this sport,” she said.
Besides, she points to moto athlete Mike Brown as an example of another twilight-years competitor who’s still winning races.
“He’s the same age as me,” said Bradford. “When you go out and beat 20-year olds, there’s something in you that says ‘I can do this.’”
In May, Brown won the endurocross competition at X Games Barcelona against the toughest racers in the sport, many 15-20 years his junior. Last summer, he won the same comp at X Games Los Angeles.
“It makes it better when I beat them,” Brown told his hometown paper, the Bristol Herald Courier. “Every race I go to, everybody talks about how old I am. It used to bother me at first, but know I’m used to it.”
Sterett: It’s just like with Lindsey
While Bradford feels like a female version of the veteran Brown, her doctor, Dr. William Sterett of Vail Summit Orthopeadics, sees a lot of similarities between her and another, younger patient of his: Lindsey Vonn.
“Just like with Lindsey, it’s hard slowing (Bradford) down,” said Sterett. “It’s, ‘When can I get on a motorcycle, when can I get on a motorcycle?’ ... With some of these high-level athletes, you have to map out the next six months of their lives before you ever do surgery ... Lindsey had not been through an ACL before but timing issues relating to the Olympics were part of her decision making, and with Nicole ... it was knowing how hard she wanted to get back after it.”
Sterett says Bradford’s been right on schedule with her timetable to return to competition.
“She’s absolutely been on target,” she said.
And that target, he said, is the beginning of next summer.
“For her, it will be close to the 12-month mark when I can just release her and feel confident that she’s going to be back just like she was before the injury,” he said.
Until then, Bradford be working closely with Neil Masters, a trainer at Axis Sports Medicine in Avon.
“She’s still in her healing phase, but we’re taking her into initial strengthening,” said Masters. “From there, we’ll get into balance and agility.”
When she’s ready, Bradford’s goals include racing another ISDE and obtaining another X Games invite. But her primary goal is just to get back on her bike and get some use out of the 35 acres of land she recently purchased in McCoy.
“We built an endurocross track out there, because it helps to train specifically for that sport,” she said. “It’s a crazy course that has tires and logs and chopped up firewood, things of that nature ... you don’t really get good going over huge logs and rocks when you don’t have them to practice on.”