Inspirational journey to the podium

Eltje Malzbender (right) pictured with Christina Jacklin, athlete life advisor at High Performance Sport NZ, who helped organise the fundraising event at Sloth Cafe.

A truly inspiring local is proving the power of mind over body as she prepares to compete in the 2018 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Italy next month, just two years after an accident left her clinging to life.

Competitive cyclist Eltje Malzbender was likely involved in a hit-and-run accident near Waitomo whilst on a training ride in March 2016, having been found unconscious on the side of the road. Airlifted to hospital, she arrived in the lowest level on the coma scale from which people can recover, with a severe traumatic brain injury and fractures to vertebrae in her neck, and not expected to walk or talk again.

But last week Eltje was doing just that, telling her story and hopes for the future at a fundraising event in Cambridge aimed at raising funds toward Italy.

After two and a half months in a coma, followed by weeks of intensive care and months of rehabilitation, the former Te Kuiti resident moved to Cambridge to continue her rehabilitation and begin rebuilding her life, and she soon discovered tricycling at the Avantidrome.

Since then she’s improved well beyond what doctors originally expected, using cycling to help rebuild her strength with the support of her coach, Michael Bland.

“I think it’s absolutely amazing that a body that was just about to shut down, at the lowest on the coma scale that you can actually survive, that that body two years later is planning to go to the world champs,” she said, “and I’m so grateful for being able to do that.

“I still have many mishaps every day,” she said, “dropping things or knocking them over, but I pick it up and do it again, and hopefully a little bit better, and every time I think ‘it’s a learning opportunity for the brain’, you just keep doing it. I don’t look at failure as a thing that went wrong, but I see it as a learning opportunity.”

Despite nearly losing her life on the road Eltje never lost her passion for cycling, instead trading in two wheels for three. Here she is pictured on the Port Hills of Christchurch competing in a Paralympics NZ event.

Having competed at the national road cycling championships last year, finishing first in both the road race and time trial, and finishing second in both divisions at this year’s championships, the German-born New Zealand resident of 14 years caught the eye of paracycling selectors, and after receiving her citizenship in early June she made it onto the NZ team competing at the Para-cycling Road World Champs August 2 – 8.

“Now I’m in the Pathway to Podium programme that’s aiming for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and going to the worlds in Italy is obviously a big step towards Tokyo,” Eltje explained.

Competing in Italy will give Eltje the international classification she needs to eventually make it to Tokyo. But for that to happen, she needs to fundraise to help cover the cost of the European trip, which is less than a fortnight away.

Last week’s event at Sloth Café, where a number of locals turned out to show their support, certainly played a part toward the cause, but the fundraising effort is not over – it’s less than a quarter of the way towards the $10,000 target, but thankfully Cycling New Zealand is allowing Eltje to fundraise the second half of the costs when she returns. But she still needs the help of the public to help make her dream a reality. Money donated will help with the costs of the trip, as well as modifications required for the tricycle to accommodate her needs.

“There’s obviously a lot of question asked regarding Italy, nobody knows how my brain or head will like the cabin pressure, the time difference, being on the other side of the world, all the travelling and sleep deprivation and all that, so nobody is having big expectations for me, and there’s a lot of question marks, but I can say one thing for sure, and that is that I will give it my best.”

Visit givealittle.co.nz and search Eltje to donate towards the cause. Eltje wished to give her heartfelt thanks to all those who have supported her on her journey thus far. We wish Eltje all the best in her journey.

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