"With hindsight, the scariest moment ever was when I had compartment syndrome in my left quad, in 2009. But at the time, I didn’t realise the severity of the condition and was a little blasé about it.


"I’d crashed in a remote motocross race back home in South Africa and knew my collarbone was broken. I was about 20km from the finish line and struggled to ride on until I found a marshal, then got rushed to hospital. I was in a lot of pain.

"That was when the doctors noticed that my left thigh was very swollen. They rushed me into surgery and removed three massive blood clots from the leg. As I was going through it, I didn’t really understand what the problem was. It was only afterwards that I started to learn how dangerous compartment syndrome is.

"It’s when a blood clot – or three in this case, one being particularly big – forms in the muscle, from a haematoma [severe bruise], and the doctors have to do a fasciotomy to release it [before it causes irreversible damage to the muscles, blood vessels and nerves]. This involves cutting the surrounding tissues to relieve the pressure and then trying to remove the clot.

Now, I know that I was probably only half an hour away from losing my leg

"Now, I know that I was probably only half an hour away from losing my leg. As it was, it was still a long and hard recovery, because there was so much nerve damage.

"I couldn’t get my left leg to work for close on three months. It just wouldn’t straighten. If my knee was bent when sitting in a chair, I couldn’t kick my leg forward. That was scary.

"I was nervous that I wouldn’t walk again, and had to have a lot of faith in the rehab facility I was using. They kept saying it would heal and the nerve damage would repair, but it was just professional guessing at that point."

Illustration: Kevin February



Thankfully, Greg's leg did eventually heal and he's gone on to win more World Cup races than any other male rider in the history of the sport – an incredible 23! – along with four World Championships titles, earning him the nickname 'the GOAT' (greatest of all time). The Pietermaritzburg-based pinner shows no signs of slowing down despite being at the top of the results lists since 2001, and continues to race for the Santa Cruz Syndicate.


James Costley-White
James Costley-WhiteEditor, Mountain Biking UK magazine

James Costley-White is the editor of Mountain Biking UK (MBUK), the UK's best-selling mountain biking magazine, founded in 1988. James, aka JCW, has been an avid mountain biker since 1992, during which time he's amassed a huge amount of knowledge about the sport and tons of riding experience. He can regularly be found riding the trails around Bristol and South Wales.