31 Jan 2016

Survival of the Fittest

From Spectrum, 12:15 pm on 31 January 2016

By Nik Jarvie-Waldrom @nikinajar

Teetering on the edge of danger is nothing new to most New Zealanders who enjoy mountain biking.

Courting adrenalin is part of the sport. But there’s a difference between the adrenalin that mixes with skill to get you down the mountain and the adrenalin that surges through you when you suspect you’re facing death.

Jamie Nicoll is very familiar with both.

Jamie is a strong competitor - in sport and in life. He’s one of New Zealand’s most successful mountain bike racers in recent years and he’s excelling in his chosen discipline of enduro.

In 2010, just three years before his podium finish at the Crankworx mountain bike festival in Whistler, Canada, Jamie was stuck in a harness on the side of a ravine in remote Patagonia, trying to free himself from an unimaginable accident.

When he was building a mountain bike trail as part of a Kiwi crew based in Chile, a mechanical rock-breaker Jamie was using malfunctioned - spilling petrol on his clothing and sending an atomised cloud of fuel into the air around him. Seconds later, it ignited.

“As I swung across, I had a thought go through my mind that this could be pretty interesting, and that this could be one of those times you maybe die” he says calmly.

More than survival and recovery against the odds -- after being given a 10 per cent chance of survival when he was admitted to hospital -- Jamie found success in a fiercely competitive sport.

Perhaps he wouldn’t have halved the time he was expected to be in hospital if physical fitness had been less of a priority. Athletes demand a great deal from their bodies and, while he had never considered racing professionally before the accident, Jamie says keeping fit for riding has always been part of his life.

He compares healing from third-degree burns to the “ultimate endurance event”.

There’s no doubt Jamie Nicoll’s success as a sportsperson comes from his skill and determination, but it’s difficult to know how much of his tenacity is ingrained and how much results from defeating something that threatened to keep him from his bike forever.

“I pushed myself so hard, and some of that drive, I’m sure, was left over from this extreme survival stimulation from the accident” Jamie says.

Keep up with Jamie's adventures here.

Music in this story is by Ed Zucollo, and supporting photography is supplied by Camilla Rutherford