Triathlete Choo Ling Er fractures spine in traffic accident on Christmas Day
It was not the Christmas Day that Singaporean triathlete Choo Ling Er had imagined.
While cycling to meet her friends for a ride on Dec 25, Choo was involved in a traffic accident at about 5.10am along Simei Avenue. She said in an Instagram story that she got hit by a car from the back, leaving her with a fractured spine.
The toughest part of fracturing her L3 lumbar vertebra is not physical pain though, it is the torment of not being able to carry her 1½-year-old daughter Kira for the next month or two, as she has to avoid lifting heavy loads.
The 36-year-old has also been told by doctors not to swim, cycle or run for at least the next month to try and let the lower back injury heal on its own.
Choo’s husband Alan Soh, 35, said: “It’s very sad because she’s a mother and she can’t carry our daughter now. It’s a mum’s guilt. As a mother, not being able to carry your 1-year-old daughter is very messed up for her head.”
Soh, a former national cyclist, added that it’s a lot for his wife to handle psychologically as “she’s a very competitive, world-class athlete” and it is tough to not be able to carry out her usual training.
He was surprised by the accident, saying that Choo had bright front and rear lights mounted on her bike.
He had rushed to the accident scene after receiving a call from Choo, adding that the driver was cooperative and rendered assistance.
Choo, who had been due to travel to Orlando on Dec 28 to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon, was taken to Changi General Hospital, where she was discharged the following day.
In the Instagram story on Dec 25, she wrote: “This Xmas, I just want to be holding Kira again...
“Setbacks are set up, for greater things to fall in place.”
Initially, Choo was told that she has to undergo surgery, but after getting a second opinion from another doctor, she opted for a conservative approach first.
She is still mobile and has been walking around her home since she got back on Dec 26.
Soh said: “The spinal cord is very delicate. If you operate on the spinal cord, there is always a higher risk and longer downtime.”
Soh added that Choo had been in good form before the accident, with her running improving in the second half of 2023, following an initial struggle upon returning to sport after giving birth to Kira in May 2022.
In October 2022, Choo won the overall female title at the Ironman 70.3 Langkawi – a half-Ironman race comprising a 1.9km swim, 90.1km cycle and 21.1km run – after completing the race in 4hr 47min 29sec, beating 67 other competitors.
Choo, who is one of Singapore’s top Ironman athletes, has also qualified for the prestigious Kona Hawaii Ironman World Championships seven times.
She had previously made a comeback from a car accident in 2009 when she was involved in a collision with a car during a training session on her bicycle.
That accident left Choo, who was just three weeks away from competing in her first Ironman 70.3 (commonly known as a half-Ironman) World Championship, with a broken left femur (thigh bone) and dislocated right ankle.
She was out of action for a year. For eight months, she was confined to a wheelchair, walker and crutches.
Despite her doctor saying that she would probably never run again, she completed a full Ironman race – a 3.86km swim, 180.25km bicycle ride and 42.2km run – in 2011.
Soh said: “Having gone through the previous one which was more life-threatening – not that I’m saying this accident wasn’t severe – but she pulled herself out of that and it made her stronger.
“This time round, at the back of her mind she knows she has what it takes to come back stronger but right now, the demons she’s facing are different because she has a daughter too.”