Moments earlier, practicing for the weekend’s SuperSport race meeting, she had approached a corner at speed and lost control of her Kawasaki. The bike spat the petite Spaniard into the gravel, sending her sprawling.
“It was my first time in a strange track, so I went much faster than what was possible in one corner and I went out into the gravel,” Carrasco tells CNN from her home in Barcelona. “It was not a big crash, for sure, it was maybe a stupid crash, but I had bad luck and I was injured a lot in this stupid crash.”
The ‘stupid crash’ was about to present Carrasco with perhaps the biggest challenge of her life.
“I cannot remember the first moment after the crash, because I hit my head, and I cannot remember some things,” she explains. “But my first memories are in the hospital at the circuit, I remember the pain in my back.”
Carrasco had fractured two vertebrae. It was the kind of injury that ends careers, or worse. At the very least, a long road to recovery stretched out ahead of her but Carrasco is no ordinary athlete. As the first woman ever to win a solo motorcycle championship, the 24-year-old is used to confounding doubters.
“I tried to react to this injury in a way like a normal one,” she continues. “I could move my legs, my arms, every movement, so I didn’t have the fear [that I] cannot race again.”
She was transferred to a hospital in Barcelona, where surgeons undertook the painstaking, delicate procedure of screwing titanium plates to her spine. The time in the hospital was difficult, she admits, especially with strict social distancing in place due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “That period was the hardest for sure,” she tells CNN.
Her mother was able to stay at her bedside in the hospital, while the rest of her family moved to Barcelona from her hometown, Murcia, so they could at least be nearby. “For sure it’s more difficult than a normal situation, because the family always wants to help,” she continues. “It was difficult for them to be outside the hospital and not do anything.”
One constant throughout the process, however, was Carrasco’s social media following. She documented every key moment of her recovery, reassuring fans at each turn. Occasionally this meant sharing some striking images. She smiles broadly as she recalls revealing the giant scar that now runs almost half the length of her spine, stapled together, for the first time.
“I went home, and I was with my father here, and he took the picture because I asked him to do it, to see how the scar was,” she explains. “I showed it because I think that social media is good to be close to the fans. We always show the good moments […] but then behind all of these things the riders have to pass some difficult moments during their careers, and it’s important that they know also this […] I wanted to make them part of my recovery.”
Many staples holding her back together
Carrasco admits she was a little shocked at the size of the scar the first time she saw it.
“For sure I thought it was a little bit smaller, because the first time you see it, it’s very, very big,” she laughs. “It’s not the first one, and for sure will not be the last one of my career, so I have to live with that, and after some time I start to see it like normal, the positive thing is that I have it on my back, so normally I’m not seeing it and it’s not a problem for sure.”
She also shared an extraordinary X-Ray of her surgery, showing the two titanium plates, along with 13 screws and many staples holding her back together, as a tribute to her surgical team. “Thanks to their great work I can now do some exercise and in a few months I will be fit again!”, she wrote on Instagram.
Even from her hospital bed, she still insisted on following the next race weekend. Kawasaki rider Jonathan Rea won his World Superbike race in Barcelona and wore one of Carrasco’s distinctive ‘Pink Warrior’ t-shirts on the podium, a gesture that meant a lot to the Spaniard. “To see him with my t-shirt, and doing this, was really nice, for me and my family.”
The day after surgery, Carrasco was able to take her first ginger steps.
“It was strange to be walking again,” she explains. “After that I could move a little bit, with help from my mother or somebody, but only from my bed to the toilet or something like that.”
About a week and a half later, she says she was able to return home. Her rehabilitation began in earnest a month after surgery — swimming and other exercises with her personal trainer to gradually build up her mobility.
“I was like that,” Carrasco laughs and stiffens her back rigid and upright. Eventually, she was able to return to something resembling her normal training regime.
Just an hour after doctors gave her the all-clear to ride, Carrasco was in the saddle. “My team was waiting for me at the circuit with a small bike,” she smiles. “It was really nice .. a nice step on my recovery.”
She insists that she never doubted that she would return to racing, but two outside factors played a key role. Firstly, her team, Provec Kawasaki, renewed her contract, just six weeks after her accident, when her return was by no means certain.
“This was really important for me,” she explains. “If you don’t have a team it’s really difficult, and after an injury like that, if the team doesn’t believe that you will come back racing, it’s difficult to find a bike […] I’m really grateful to them because nobody stopped believing.”
Secondly, Covid-19 restrictions delayed the start of the season. “I had one month more to the first race; I was not 100% ready to start, but I felt quite good.”
Fairy tale win
Then the fairy tale, in only her second race meeting, at the Marco Simoncelli circuit in Misano, Italy, Carrasco clinched an improbably victory, just eight months after her accident:
“The Misano race was really crazy,” she grins. “In the last lap I had good luck, I was in the right place in the straight, I could overtake I think seven, eight riders in the last four corners […] to finish second would have been good in that race, but winning was even better for me, for the team. They had to wait for me for many months, so to be back winning was really nice for them and for me.”
Eight-time Grand Prix world champion Marc Marquez was among those to offer his congratulations to Carrasco on her comeback. “I was really pleased for her”, he told reporters ahead of his own comeback win in Germany last month. “I was really happy, and it was great to see after such a long recovery from injury, it’s like having some extra fuel in you.”
Away from the track, Carrasco has set herself another challenge: she is studying Law at UCAM: “I started this, because in racing you never know when your last race is, so this is my plan B […] I’d like to have my team or manage another rider when I stop racing, so it’s important to know what you’re doing. I want to finish this and then try to combine with my experience racing and try to help others.”
Few would bet against this extraordinary rider achieving her goal.