The Bird Was a Butterfly: Ana Orenz on Recovering from Injury

About one year ago, Ana Orenz had a crash going downhill during the first night of the Trans Pyrénées. Her accident ended in nerve damage, spinal injury, and facial reconstruction. But Ana never backs down.

Continue reading below for Ryan le Garrec’s multimedia profile of endurance cyclist Ana Orenz…

Caterpillars are like cyclists; all they think about is food. Ana is a butterfly. She has endured a massive metamorphosis, one that was painful and that forced her to be immobile for a long time.
Not in a cocoon but in a hospital bed.

Writing is like riding, it likes to rise early. The early worm, the early word. I guess. Seems that it doesn’t need sunlight; turns out it likes the silence before. I decide to start early. Hoping this would help. But quickly, I realise I have nothing to say about Ana.

Then, later that day, I receive a phone call:
“Hey sorry but texting is harder for me.
My hands are walking off away from me quite often, should we go into video?”
“Sorry Ana but I’m actually on the toilets right now.”
“You bastard, I’m jealous, I so wish I could do that; sounds like a dream right now to me!”

There, that’s it, her response sums up her personae: Resilience, bravery, humour. A very special mix.



Now, I have something to say about Ana.

Ana is a climber. Literally. She climbs like very few people can but the mountain ahead of her has eaten the sun out. Night is right ahead in a thick fog.

I heard about the accident a few days ago. Like everyone else, I was shocked, deeply shocked.

Ana was going downhill at night. “I don’t go fast downhill usually, You know I am a very slow descender but there was no hairpin and it was such a nice road, smooth tarmac, not steep so yeah I was going quite fast.”

Ana is petite, tiny actually. The first time I saw her was on film. She looked like a little bird. She reminded me of my late grandmother. Turned out they had a lot more in common than appearances. Both strikingly strong women.

I watched her on the screen, I thought: “She looks like a tiny bird taking a chance at a monster race!” She looked like she had no idea, she was making fun of herself, Talking about getting proper cyclist tan lines while walking up a mountain. Later in the film I understood she was way ahead of most of the bunch. That she was way ahead of strong men. That she was far away from any other female riders. That she was in the top ten among some of the strongest ultra racers.

That tiny lady, looking lost and making fun of herself, was a beast in disguise.

“Well I have always been the tiny one in the family. For a long time I had terrible hip issues, I couldn’t really move much, but I always loved movement. Between 3 years old and 7 years old, movement didn’t love me back. It would really hurt me. My mom had this way with me; she wouldn’t mention my hips but she would tell me things like: ‘Look at those legs, those strong legs!’ She was amazing with me.”

Ignore the negative, find the positive, that’s where you need to put your focus. Nothing happens if you look at things not happening.

Ana is suffering from hip dysplasia. “Basically my femur bone was not fitting into my hip, so it rubbed all the time. You know, there is this saying: Depression hates a moving object, if you keep moving in life, depression stays at bay, in a way. But moving was hurting me, so I had to find the right movement.”

“For my hip, nothing was really working but a doctor suggested I try horse riding. Somehow the movement of the hip that is needed for horse riding slowly released my hip. The body heals itself and it heals itself better with movement! I just had to find the right movement. I loved horse riding so much, I only discovered cycling quite recently actually. If I didn’t ride horses I would have had to get operated on, but you get more than just one operation; they needed to operate again and again as you grow…”

“I’ve been horse riding for twenty years. Horse racing too. So I know how to fall. I remember exactly how it happened and how I prepared for the fall. I remember thinking just before the crash Oh no… They were on one side of the road all together. I knew I couldn’t brake fast enough. I thought I could try to pass them on the other side but then at the last moment…”

A sounder of boars were on the road. The biggest one turned back and went the other way. Ana flew and landed far from her bike. She remained unconscious a very long time; until other riders found her and called for help.

The next day Ana is transferred from Navarra to a hospital near home.

Ana was born in Germany, but she had quite a nomadic life: Ireland, England, Portugal, Spain… “We moved to Spain with my daughter just before Covid and Brexit. It was a tough move and it took some nerves to make it work, but we made it. I just had to do it. I’ve never regretted it, I live in a beautiful area, we couldn’t be happier about it.”

She needs to go to the toilet but no one will help her. She fights and she asks again but, instead, they bring her food. Ana stops eating; begins a hunger strike. If she can’t take a dump because she explains, “It might sound rough but it makes total sense. It’s no paradigm. It’s more an example of German practicality…Why eat if you can’t shit?”

Ana doesn’t get as hungry as she gets angry. It takes hours before they decide to help her to…a toilet with no back rest and nowhere to put her feet. She loses it. After spinal nerve damage, Ana, exhausted but with the rough energy born of her despair, she decides that she needs to stand if she wants to poo.

A beast in disguise in the body of a tiny bird.

Three days before, the doctor had warned her: “It might take you a whole year before you can stand on your feet.” The whole year was shortened by the urgent need of a poo and the lack of care and comfort offered by the hospital staff. Perhaps, in a very clumsy way, they had made her a gift. “I still needed help with the wiping!”

Maybe, this is the end of the story because it is the start of the miracle. If what follows was in a film, we would think it exaggerated.

The doctor had told her: “It has to be slow; it will take time. The body heals but the body doesn’t heal instantly.”
Yeah, well Ana doesn’t listen. The doctors come and go.
All she thinks about is her broken bike.
“You know, it was such a good bike, designed to climb,
I love it so much, it really makes me sad.”

A few weeks later, Ana decides it is time to walk. A few months later, a very few, she is back on the bike. Six months have passed and Ana is not only training, but she is also racing in the Granguanche Road Audax.

The damage is done and it is not gone, but the bird is back on track. A few feathers lost, a few bruises that won’t heal or disappear. I say bruises, but they’re more like giant scars. Teeth gone, nose destroyed. But Ana is intact: she is back on the bike, that bike that Argon18 sent her for free. She found a lot of strength but she also inherited some from the brands that supported her and from the community chipping in to help.

It turns out that I had a lot to say and a lot to learn from Ana: Don’t worry about monsters and giants; look out for the little birds. Don’t trust their appearance: they may hide a power so fierce they teach us humility.