BORDER international cyclist Chloe McConville didn’t dodge a bullet, she dodged two.
The AIS rider has been forced back to Australia from the European summer racing, after riding a five-day tour with two blood clots on her lungs.
McConville said it was like breathing through a straw, with pain racking her body from her legs to her chest.
Doctors were more succinct — they can’t understand why she isn’t dead.
She was hospitalised with the pulmonary embolism on the same day she was meant to sign a professional riding contract for a European team.
“The doctor said they had never seen a person with those sized clots still standing,” she said.
“Normally you are gasping for breath without exertion but my symptoms weren’t pronounced unless I was exercising.
“The doctors believe that having been an endurance athlete for so long, my lungs had developed to the stage where I was able to get away with it.
“All my friends in the medical field have been lecturing me about dodging a bullet and telling me not to buy a lottery ticket for some time.”
The Myrtleford cyclist’s troubles started after a 10-hour road trip from Italy to Belgium for a one-day race.
Pain was radiating through her ribs and she was forced out of the race after just 10 kilometres with breathing difficulties.
X-rays and blood tests were initially inconclusive and the episode put down to an allergy asthma as a result of the European spring.
So, pumped up on Ventolin, it was off to the five-day Energiewacht Tour.
“Because we thought it was an asthmatic thing I didn’t want to pull out of the first stage despite the pain,” she said.
“So I battled through the first day and even felt a bit better on the second — perhaps I was just getting used to the symptoms.
“Then on the third day I was in a 60-kilometre breakaway and got second in the stage to finish on the podium.
“Tours are a little different to one-day racing, sometimes the intensity is a little lower for longer periods, but after that I just couldn’t get through the one-day races.”
Ultimately a series of tests diagnosed pulmonary embolisms on both lungs, the by-product of deep vein thrombosis thought to be caused by a series of factors including the long road trip.
Last November McConville was selected in the Australian Institute of Sport scholarship program for the second year in succession.
It meant racing as part of the Australian team, the feeder to the fully professional Orica-GreenEdge women’s road racing team that is now No. 1 in the world.
But McConville, while yet to see a specialist in Australia, is now out of action for at least six months — anti-coagulant medication designed to break down the clots has made road cycling, let alone racing, too dangerous.
“The fear is that if I fell off or had an internal bleed that it won’t stop, so I’m left to walk the dog, do a bit of jogging and work out on the Ergo,” she said.
“They say it will take months for the blood clots to completely disappear.”
But the setback won’t stop the former cross-country skier pursuing her dream of a professional contract on the European cycling tour.
“It is incredibly frustrating on a number of fronts,” she said.
“The podium finish in the tour put me on the long list for the Commonwealth Games and I was on the verge of signing a professional contract on the day I ended up in hospital.
“But what I know now from that brief time in Europe is that I can compete with those girls and do really well.
“I’m more determined than ever to get back there next year.”