Cycling hero Charline Joiner’s mother and father have spoken for the first time about the agony they endured when their brave daughter broke her back just months before the Commonwealth Games.
Virginie and Mike Joiner still can’t quite believe their daughter is competing after the horror smash that could so easily have paralysed her. They said they are full of pride at the fact she has even made it to Glasgow 2014 after the accident in January and said any success she has will be an added bonus.
Working as a team, mum and dad helped with every aspect of Charline’s life in the agonising weeks after the smash. They had to get her out of bed, help her to get changed and support her moving around. They gave her morphine injections to numb the excruciating pain and then helped wean her off the powerful painkillers as she fought back to fitness.
When she was able, they were there to encourage and support her as she used a makeshift gym in the family’s home in Dunfermline, Fife. Built by dad Mike, it helped build up the strength she needed to get back on her bike.
Dad Mike, 66, a retired international triathlete and sports coach, said: “We are so proud of her, especially after the accident. I was devastated when she was hurt. It’s been tough on her. She really hasn’t had much luck this year.
“She’s put in so much hard graft over the years and she’s done it all on her own. We have no expectations. We just want her to do the best she can.”
Charline, 25, who has already taken part in the scratch and points races, will compete in this Sunday’s road race in Glasgow. A silver medallist in the team sprint at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, she battled to earn her place in the team. It will be a huge achievement if she wins a coveted Commonwealth medal following the agonising spill she suffered just six months ago.
Charline was training with Cycling Scotland in Girona, Spain, in January when she crashed into a group of cyclists who’d fallen on the road. As she careered into them she was thrown over her bike’s handlebars. Her lower back came down hard onto the pedal of another bike, breaking three bones in her spine.
It quickly became clear something was seriously wrong when she told those who rushed to her aid she couldn’t move. She was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital to undergo scans.
She played down the accident when she texted her mum from her hospital bed in Spain, saying she’d been in “a wee crash”. However, as the extent of her injuries emerged, her fear grew.
In later texts she said: “I’m so scared” and “All I want to do is cry”.
Mum Virginie, 58, said she was “devastated” by her daughter’s injury and is grateful she was able to recover. She said: “It was at the back of her mind she might never walk again. It could have been so much worse.”
Charline managed to walk through the arrival area at Manchester Airport when she flew back to Britain as she didn’t want her parents to see her in a wheelchair. But she couldn’t hide her pain for long.
It took the family an HOUR to get her in their car as every movement left her in agony. It was at this point the couple burst into tears.
Mike said: “She was screaming in pain. Virginie and I broke down because we were so frightened.”
From that point the family decided to hide their concern from Charline so as not to worry her and instead switched their focus on her recovery and, eventually, training in their home gym. In the spartan garage sanctuary, Mike points out an exercise bike Charline used for her gruelling workouts.
He reveals she “hates it” and he had to push her to get her on it at times, but the exhaustion and pain was crucial in her preparation. Above it, there’s a painting of Charline on her bike, created by a local artist testament to her status as a local and national hero. Four months after the crash, she was back training to make the qualification time for Glasgow 2014.
Mike said this determination was clear from an early age. He said: “I remember when she was about 10 watching her going up and down the steep hill outside our house on her bike. She always had a friend on the back and would pedal hard to get them both up the hill. That’s just Charline.”
As families go, they don’t come much sportier than the Joiners. Mike, 65, is a retired PE teacher who still works as a sports coach, while French-born Virginie, 57, used to be a ballet dancer. And their children have definitely caught the sporting bug.
Charline’s brother Craig, 40, played rugby 25 times for Scotland, while sister Kerry, 38, is a PE teacher and played U18 hockey for Scotland. Younger brother Jason, 24, is a deep-sea diver working on the new Forth Road Bridge and, according to Mike, has bigger biceps than any of them.
However, Mike is relaxed about how he introduced them to sport. He said: “I just made sure they were active from an early age. When they were about three or four I took them out cycling, running, swimming.”
But despite their competitive nature, Mike said there’s never been any sibling rivalry.
And cycling isn’t the only sport Charline has excelled at. She made the switch to her current sport from her former love hockey – in 2007. Since then she’s been a track sprinter, winning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010, to her current speciality as an endurance rider.
Charline, who has a degree in sports science from Napier University, also loves flying and was a member of the University Air Squadron which allowed her to fly a fighter jet from RAF Leuchars. She has also taken lessons in an attempt to get her pilot’s licence and is getting ready to move to Glasgow with boyfriend Lee Jones, who is part of Scotland’s team for the Rugby sevens at the games.
Charline carries the hopes of Scotland on her shoulders this Sunday but the Joiner’s are just glad she’s well again.
Virginie said: “I want her to do the best she can. We’ll just have to wait and see how she gets on.”