The Cadel Of Carlyle Gardens

JCNN sat down with cycling veteran Maurie Zanker to find out how he recovered from a horrible accident to get back in the saddle.

By Hailey Renault


He’s described on his block as the fittest man in the neighbourhood – and he lives in a Condon retirement village.

Maurie Zanker’s home looks like all the others on the street, but for one exception – the bike tyre peeking out from under his garage door.

By looking at this wide-eyed, energetic man,  you would never suspect he’d been in a serious cycling accident just two months after his 71st birthday in 2008.

There are no memories of the accident plastered on his walls, instead vivid paintings of vibrant red desert peas dot his modest retirement home.

He and his wife Sue are obviously missing the southern shores of Australia they used to call home.

Before moving to Townsville, the Zankers called South Australia home, where Maurie was a gifted winemaker.

He fondly recalls the year he first swung his leg over a ‘real’ bike.

“I probably started around 1989,” he reminisced.  “My son was in the navy, and he came home on leave and brought his triathlon bike back with him and said ‘dad, take this for a ride’.”

“I was so impressed. I had only been riding a steel frame, which is a really heavy bike, so this was quite an eye-opener. It’s what started me off.”

As a fit, healthy and proud 75-year-old, Maurie Zanker’s got a fighting spirit.

He recounts how in 2003 (at the tender age of 66) he rode from Townsville to Cairns in the Cancer Council’s annual charity ride.

“It was good for raising money but I wanted to punish myself more than the others. I just wanted to suffer like the kids were suffering,” Maurie lamented.

It was with this noble streak and passion for health and fitness that Maurie recovered from a nasty cycling accident after a ride one balmy December morning.

It was 6 o’clock, the witching hour for cyclists and fitness junkies. Maurie was riding back from the Kelso Dam with his usual group on a social training ride.

The group of lycra-clad men pedaled in perfect synchronicity, gliding over the dewy roads in two files. Maurie was tucked inside the pack, about four back from the front. No one could predict or avoid what happened next.

A dog ran out in front of the group and the chaos to avoid injury quickly descended into a mess of bikes and bodies. The leaders slammed on their brakes out of instinct, and those behind them only had a split second to react.

“Two bikes came down in front of me and I thought ‘Shit this doesn’t look good’,” Maurie said.

He was trapped. If he went right he would collide with another rider. If he went left he would crash into a ditch.

He had no choice but to stay on course, riding over fallen bikes strewn across the road in front of him.

“I heard the clatter as I hit the ground,” he said, “Then the bloke behind me crashed into me and cracked into my back.”

“I heard the sound of cleats clicking out of pedals and I thought I would just lie there for a few seconds and regain my composure,” he said with a grimace.

“But when it was time to get up, I couldn’t get up.”

Maurie knew something was wrong as his hip throbbed with extreme pain.

“The ambulance came and the guys gave me one of those green whistles,” Maurie recalled, “They’re absolutely magic, those things.”

The crash left him suffering from four hip fractures, a cracked rib and cracked pelvic and pubic bones. His recovery was long and slow, but it failed to dampen Maurie’s spirits. He was most annoyed about trading his fitness for bed rest.

RECOVERY: Maurie, in recovery, and his wife Sue on Christmas Day

“What was so frustrating was that the older you are, the faster you lose your fitness level and the longer it takes to regain that again,” he said.

Maurie knows he was lucky to recover though. At 71 years of age, a broken hip would usually be a death sentence, or at least get you an early entry into a home.

Maurie described how he was disappointed in the way the hospital dealt with his injuries.

“The doctors that saw to me didn’t give me any indication of how my recovery would go,” he chuffed. “They didn’t suggest I go see a physiotherapist or anything.

“I got the feeling that they told me what the problem was, they told me to rest and then it was just ‘see you later’.”

The reality is that in many cases, elderly patients like Maurie wouldn’t be able to do much to recover.

“I came back after the six weeks in bed and the guy said my hip was looking ok,” Maurie said.

“I asked him if I should be going to see a physiotherapist. He just said, “Just keep doing whatever you are doing”.

“Oh, so I can go ride up Castle Hill?” Maurie replied.

Since his accident, he’s been back on the bike and continues to ride, though his confidence to ride with a group has been irreparably damaged.

He said his friends and family were surprised at how fast he bounced back and could only attribute that to his fitness from cycling. Now at 75 years of age, Maurie is more keen to ride than ever.

“My fitness levels went down since after the accident, and also my blood pressure has gone up,” he said.

“I’m keen to get back into riding more soon to get these things back down.”

Maurie is a true testimony to the health benefits of staying active in your later years.  It may not get any easier to throw your leg over the saddle, but it will certainly pay off.

His slick black-and-yellow road bike still takes pride of place in his garage, and you can bet he still has a drawer full of matching jerseys and lycra Knicks, too.

For Maurie, cycling is more than a sport, it’s a way of life.

“I want to continue cycling for the fitness as well as the social aspect,” he said.

“I think it helps keep me young.”