Kristina Vogel was training for the Olympics when she collided with a Dutch cyclist this past June.
The impact, which came while she was traveling at close to 40 miles an hour, severed Vogel’s spinal cord and left the 27-year-old German cyclist paralyzed from the waist down.
Appearing in public on Wednesday for the first time since the horrific crash, the gold medalist told reporters at the Berlin hospital, where she has been recovering, that she does not remember the crash.
“I was training with my teammate Pauline Grabosch,” Vogel told reporters during the press conference, as reported by the BBC. “She was in front, and then she passed… and then there’s nothing. Just black.”
“I woke up on the track, lying,” added Vogel, mentioning how she did not feel her teammate take off her shoes or touch her feet after the crash. “I said to myself, ‘Breathe, just breathe…'”
The eleven-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist said she immediately knew she was seriously injured.
“I knew in the first seconds that I was paralyzed, that I would never walk in my life again,” Vogel said. “It sounds bad, but I liked knowing because there was no struggling in my head. You can accept it and you can straight away go forward.”
While she accepted her injuries, the Olympian said she has shed a lot of tears — a new phenomenon for her.
“The big deal was learning that crying is OK,” she told reporters. “I never was a person who cried a lot. Especially not winning the Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016. I never cried. Never cried.”
Vogel continued: “A lot of my friends and family had not seen me cry. But it’s OK to cry, and to feel how bad it is. It is bad. I can’t walk anymore. Sometimes I call my friend and we cry for a few minutes. And then it’s fine, and I dry my tears and I go on.”
Through her tears, she has also found a silver lining as Vogel said she is now able to see life differently and focus on more than just the Olympics.
“I’m feeling free,” she said in the press conference. “Because I don’t have to do anything. It is the first time that my decisions in my life are just for me. There is no pressure from outside or from me because I want to show how good I am. I will find my way back, maybe to sport, maybe not.”
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Her competitive spirit has not been dampened, with doctors trying, and failing, to get her to slow down as she learns to use her wheelchair — even though she is currently using just one arm as she broke her left collarbone in the accident and not being able to use it for eight weeks.
“The doctors said I was faster with one arm than most people using two arms. I’m a freak!” explains Vogel. “Maybe it’s because I’m still a fighter in my heart. That I still want to go fast. That when the doctors are standing by my bed saying, Kristina, you need time, I’m saying, ‘No! No! I will show you how fast I am!'”
Adds Vogel: “The tiger is still in my heart. Once a fighter, always a fighter, huh?”
This is not the first time Vogel has survived a serious accident, according to her website,. In May 2009 while training, the cyclist’s “right of way was taken in public traffic,” and she collided with a vehicle, placing her into a medically-induced coma for two days.