Pedal power is proving to be the driving force behind St Mirren defender Darren McGregor’s race back to fitness.
The Saints centre-half is cycling between his Glasgow home and the club’s training headquarters in Ralston as he fights back from his second season-ending cruciate injury in as many years.
However, the 27-year-old has admitted that it is not just his daily 10-mile rides which are helping him work his way back to full-fitness.
Today, Darren opens up to Express Sports about overcoming the mental and physical battles that come with enduring a second career-threatening injury and the debt he owes to those around him at St Mirren – especially club physio Gerry Docherty – as he sets his sights on a comeback.
“The bike for me has been a dream,” said Darren. “I’ve actually come to prefer cycling than driving!
“It gets me going in the morning. I was on the bike in the gym just about two or three weeks after the operation, but I hate that bike so got cycling on the roads as soon as I could.
“Gerry wasn’t too keen in case I fell, but I was out on the roads soon after.
“I live up near the Botanic Gardens in the West End of Glasgow and cycle to and from Ralston everyday.
“Each way is about five miles. I go through the Clyde Tunnel and it takes about half-an-hour there and half-an-hour back.
“Gerry has broken my programme up so that I do the likes of strength or balance for two hours each day in the gym, then I cycle pretty much every day too.”
It is just over five months since Darren damaged cruciate ligaments in his right knee in only Saints’ third game of the season at home to Hibs on August 18.
Even the most hardened of Buddies would have forgiven him for feeling sorry for himself as the powerful defender faced another lengthy lay-off, having just returned from an identical injury to his other knee.
Having been through the struggle before, Darren knew exactly what the next six to nine months held for him.
But with the encouragement of those around him, both in and out of the club, the robust defender knew he had to just get back in the saddle.
He said: “I was starting to feel that everything had fallen back into place and that was me ready to push on.
“I was finding my feet again and hoping to get back in, put in good performances, get a run of games and build on what I’d done in my first year.
“I never had any grand plans. I just wanted to get back, make sure my knee was fine and take it from there.
“But I’m not going to lie – when it happened this season, I initially thought there was no way I could go through it all and do it all again.
“The physical side is bad enough, but for me it was the thought of going through the mental side again that was worse, because in parts it was mental torture.
“In the gym every single day, you’re secluded from your team-mates, away from the team dynamics – I just really felt I didn’t want to put myself through that all again.
“But you gather your thoughts and you speak to people close to you and your peers in football – players like Jim Goodwin, Gary Teale, Big Thommo – who all motivate you.
“I knew that if I said to myself ‘I have seven months of hell ahead of me’, I would have been dead before I even started.”
A month after being stretchered off in agony, Darren went under the knife.
It was then – for the second year in a row – that he was back in the hands of Saints physio Gerry Docherty as, together, they began the long road back to recovery.
“What really carried me through the first weeks was the motivation just to play football,” said Darren.
“I played football before I came to St Mirren as a hobby and now I get paid for it. I just didn’t want that to end.
“I remember the massive buzz I got from the first day I came into the club and people weren’t expecting much. I surprised a lot of people and I just want that feeling again.
“When I turn up for a game on the Saturday, knowing that I’m not going to be involved, it kills me – knowing that I could be playing there with all the boys, helping the team out, winning games and helping St Mirren progress up the league.
“That’s my motivation, to be back there, running out on a Saturday, pleasing the fans and the gaffer. I’ve been given such a great, late opportunity and I’d just hate to lose it because of an injury.”
● See Thursday’s Express for the second part of our Darren McGregor interview where he looks ahead to his return to action.