Haley Batten’s Five Lessons in Concussion Recovery

Haley Batten’s Five Lessons in Concussion Recovery

During her final preparations for the third XCO World Cup of the 2023 UCI Mountain Bike World Series, one crash quickly changed elite MTB racer Haley Batten’s approach to the rest of her season. The concussion she experienced would adapt her perspective on recovery, training and mindset in ways that only true challenges can.

These are five lessons Haley has learned about concussion recovery.

words by Haley Batten  // photos by Michele Mondini

The terrain in Leogang, Austria, is just as demanding as you can imagine when you look up at the immense, rocky peaks that surround the valley of the World Cup venue. Steep—both uphill and down—with roots, slippery chutes, and relentless climbs. The course is seriously hard in a way that I believe all world-class competitors crave, testing the leg- and lung-burning training plan we’ve been working through since the winter, determined to prove ourselves as best in the world.


At this point in my race season, I was clicked in. I knew that my focus was the World Championships in August, and I was using each World Cup to perfect my fitness and build up to that event. I was hungry, but patient. I focused on every aspect of my preparation to make sure that my execution on race day would be perfect.

ON THE MORNING AFTER FRIDAY'S WORLD CUP SHORT TRACK (XCC), I pre-rode the cross-country course to check the trail conditions and confirm my line choices. During my final course check, I crashed on the first steep A-line descent. Dirt packed into my teeth and blood dripped from my upper lip, the sport humbling me as it often does. (My Edge sunglasses fully protected my eyes and face—only a couple small scratches to show from the harsh impact!)

After the crash, the possibility of a concussion never crossed my mind. My upper lip and hand were swollen, forcing me to focus on recovering those minor injuries. My head felt totally fine. Plus, my helmet didn’t have the slightest of marks on it. So, why would I have a concussion…right??

My mind quickly adapted to the situation, and I shifted to a new preparation plan to ensure that I could show up to race day at my best. How would I manage my injuries, recover, and get back on my bike as soon as possible? I was determined to take on this new challenge; I wanted to see if I could overcome the discomfort and still race at the highest level. In the moment, the crash added an exciting new element to my World Cup race weekend.

Lesson #1

Concussion symptoms can take 24-48 hours to arise, and any facial injury should be treated like a concussion—not just a hit to the top of the head or broken helmet.

THE NEXT DAY I RACED. I left all the remaining energy I had on that course on the Austrian mountainside. After spending the previous evening focused on recovering from the impact, by the time I crossed the finish line I was empty, breathless, and ready to lie in the grass, take a nap, and call it a day. The afternoon heat didn’t help my rapidly building fatigue, as my legs weakened and vision tunneled.

I found myself on the ground, surrounded by my team and unfamiliar faces. I was cooled down and then taken away with medical to check my heart rate and blood pressure. Once I was back on my feet, I felt lost in a blur of fatigue. Honestly, I felt…awful. 

Lesson #2

The period within 7-10 days of the impact is crucial for the brain’s recovery.

IT WASN'T UNTIL I WENT OUT for a ride a couple days later that I knew I had a concussion. My brain was still in an intense blur, and my view of the world felt like looking through a foggy lens. This feeling was familiar to me. Just more than a year earlier I had crashed, hit my head, put a crack in my helmet, and immediately felt dizzy. During that previous concussion, I took time off the bike over the following days and was able to reach full recovery after just a week. The familiarity of the symptoms I was experiencing made my heart sink. I finally allowed myself to realize the reality of my situation.

Once I reached out to my support system, it became too clear that my crash directly to my face, reaction to the heat, and heavy fatigue were all signs of a concussion. I was hopeful to get back to riding and training as soon as I could, and each day I would try to convince myself I was recovering more rapidly than I really was. 

Lesson #3

For recovery, connect with local practitioners with specific training as this will be different depending on each situation. No two concussions are alike and trying to compare to a previous concussion or someone else’s experience can distract from your unique recovery needs. 

BECAUSE OF MY EAGERNESS to race after my crash and trying to get back to riding as quickly as possible, I played with the crucial concussion recovery period more than I should have. Although part of me regrets the choices I made following my crash, I wouldn’t change it. I have learned more about concussion recovery and myself than I would have without this test of patience that I have embarked on.

The brain is so incredibly valuable because it gives us our experience of life. I hope that my situation can help advise others on how to avoid some of the mistakes that I made and improve their recovery. Taking time to slow down, look at the big picture, and give your body the time it needs to rest in the moment can be drastically beneficial in the long run.

I was so focused on the race the next day and I didn’t realize how pushing through would cause me to not just miss one important race but four, including the race I was most excited for, World Championships. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly what my recovery period would have looked like otherwise, but research and experts in the field advise greatly to focus on recovery immediately following an impact to the head or face, as well as whiplash, and to ease back into physical activity.

Lesson #4

There are many strategies that can help with concussion recovery. Sleep and rest are on top of that list. Nutrition, including antioxidant rich foods, Omega 3, and high protein levels are also important. Focus on you; everyone responds differently during a concussion.

[Photo] Michal Cerveny

MY SUPPORT SYSTEM GAVE ME a step-by-step protocol to follow. This required me to tune-in and listen to my body at a much deeper level. I gained awareness of new dials to listen to my brain and body’s signals. Then, I earned the control to adjust them on my own.

I became much more aware of what recovery feels and looks like, how to listen, and how to adjust. This is a skill and a relationship with my body that I have always had as an athlete, but this concussion taught me how to develop it even further.

MY PATIENCE WAS TESTED as days turned to weeks. I would take steps forward, thrilled by the progress, then take two steps backward and have to adjust. I learned when to let go. I learned to slow down. I learned how to grow stronger outside of my physical training. I learned to nurture relationships with those closest to me. I learned to be immensely grateful for each day on my bike doing what I love.

I went back to the drawing board; I re-wrote my goals; and I created a vision for what I would accomplish next. Time heals. Day by day, minutes on the bike turned to hours of training in the mountains. 

Now, my full focus is to return to World Cup racing at my best. It’s time for a comeback.

Lesson #5

Make each challenge your opportunity to become greater than before.

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