The art of the comeback: Cataford turns heartbreak into accomplishment
When Alex Cataford was 20 years old, he was t-boned by a car while training in Tucson. His injuries, a shattered jaw, missing teeth and fractured vertebra would take three surgeries and a year out of his racing career to fully recover.
But he didn’t quit.
Practically starting from scratch in the winter of 2014, Cataford doggedly returned to the form he was familiar with before the collision. From slow and steady 30 minute walks to five-hour interval training rides, the Ottawa resident rediscovered his 13-year-old self, riding a bike for the joy of discovery and escape. The rehabilitation wasn’t without struggle, however.
“What I learned most from that experience is how important your attitude is and how much the people around you help,” he said. “It has really helped me as a cyclist in being tough mentally and how to deal with setbacks while you are racing.”
It was his perseverance throughout his recovery that perhaps shaped the young Cataford into the GC rider he is now. From keeping a cool head when dealing with racing obstacles, to how to keep going and keep your head up, Cataford learned to trust that his circle of family and friends wanted the best for him, so he accepted their support.
“Learn how to deal with failure well. Don’t let it discourage you and get in your head, but instead how to use those emotions to push yourself even more.
“I believe this is important for two reasons. The first is that is you are able to push yourself to failure often in training without it affecting you mentally, you can get so much more out of yourself and will see more gains in the work you put in.
“There will be moments where the effort really hurts and you will have that feeling of failure. Being able to work through these moments is important to pull off any result.”
The mindset gained from that long period of recovery served the young athlete in more ways than bike racing. Four years after the crash, Cataford graduated from Queens University in Ottawa, Canada with a degree in Physics. In his early years at school, he excelled in math and science and knew from his first year in high school he would continue studying in those fields. Starting out at university pursuing engineering physics, Cataford switched to a physics honors program to allow for more training time.
“The balance of studying and racing was hard and it taught me a lot of important life lessons early,” he said. “Mostly it was about how to manage my time effectively and how to prioritize my schedule. It is hard to do, but with proper time management and understanding professors, it is possible to do both sport and education at the same time.”
Despite a degree in his pocket, Cataford isn’t sure where he wants to go with it after his cycling career is finished. He wants to stay in the sport, but this time on the development side.
“It would be really interesting to stay in the cycling industry, perhaps in terms of product development,” He said. Or maybe working with teams in the new fields of aerodynamics and pacing software for time trials and such.”
Still, at just 24-years-old, Cataford has plenty of time to decide which way his future goes.
“University gives you a good perspective on a bigger picture of the world outside the cycling ‘bubble,’” he said. “Not only do you see the interesting things going on in your field of study, but you are also exposed to lots of different types of people who are interested in a wide range of topics.”
Degree accomplished, all focus can return to cycling. In the short-term, Cataford plans only on improving his performance. High altitude races are coming up later this summer like Tour of Utah and Colorado Classic, where the 2016 Tour of the Gila runner-up is hoping to shine.
Long term? His cycling dreams know no bounds.
“Eventually, I would love to have a long career in cycling where I can compete at the highest level of races,” he said. “But of course, this sport is a progression, so right now I am just looking to get a little bit better every day.”