21 August 2022

Matt Shieldhas joined the coveted list of Triple Crown Legends of the Epic Series after crossing the finish line of the Reef to Reef on Four Mile Beach on Sunday 

The feat, achieved by riding the Port to Port, Reef to Reef, and Cape to Cape, is an even greater achievement for Matt, who suffered a ‘widow maker’ heart attack at the age of 40. 

Fit and healthy his whole life, Matt is not someone you’d usually associate with a heart attack.  

From an early age he discovered a love for anything on two wheels, and throughout his twenties Matt raced in road cycling events across Europe. Through cycling he found mountain biking, competing in numerous cross country and mountain bike events all over Australia until his heart attack in 2016. 

Matt suffered his heart attack while at the start of his usual 15km run to work. He had just completed six months of training for the Rogaining World Championship in Alice Springs, feeling well but not at peak condition and unsure why – until the heart attack. 

I wasn’t really sure why I wasn’t feeling at my peak, and we were just days out from flying to Alice Springs for the World Champs,” he said. “Then while running to work I had a heart attack. I didn't know, but there was plaque in my main left anterior descending artery (LAD) which broke off and caused a one hundred percent blockage in my heart, so that's what they call the 'widow-maker' heart attack, said Matt. 

Fortunately, Matt recognised that he might be having a heart attack and called an ambulance immediately. Paramedics worked fast to treat Matt while he was rushed to hospitalwhere was taken straight to the operating theatre from the ambulance. 

That main artery, the LAD, once it blocks one hundred percent the heart goes into cardiac arrest, and if you don't open the blockage, have a defibrillator, or someone doing CPR, your chances of surviving while outside are something like six percent. I was very lucky that I was able to make some phone calls and get the ambulance to me very quickly,” said Matt. 

A permanent stent was inserted to reopen the blockage in Matt’s artery, and he was eventually discharged from hospital.  

The damage from the heart attack left Matt’s heart with limited pumping ability. Despite the trauma, he vowed he would recover and one day get back to doing the things he loves – mountain biking especially.  

“What I found by getting into recovery and rehabilitation was that my heart was responding well to a bit more exercise. I also had to stabilise my plaque by medication and make changes to my diet and a few other things in my lifestyle for better,” said Matt. 

“But slowly I was able to regain confidence in my heart, the plaque situation was manageable so then I started pushing things a little bit more by getting into overnight hiking and longer hikes. We used to fly across to New Zealand and do pieces of the Tarawera track, walking for a week or two at a time to slowly build stamina and endurance through walking. That was the first step back,” he said. 

Walking was just the start, with Matt setting himself the goal of completing New Zealand’s mountain bike stage race, The Pioneer, in 2018 

I started by taking it easy but over probably about a year of proper training and monitoring, I was able to race and finish The PioneerThat was something that really mattered to me and showed that I was back doing something that I love doing,” said Matt. 

Back into the swing of racing with renewed confidence in his heart, Matt went on to complete the Cape to Cape and Port to Port races over the next couple of years. He had set his sights on completing the Triple Crown with the Reef to Reef, but unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted that dream. 

After a nearly three-year hiatus, the Reef to Reef returned to Tropical North Queensland in August 2022 with four days of racing across a network of trails through tablelands, hinterland, farmlands, mountain bike parks, and tropical rainforest, before finishing back at the coast 170 km’s later. 

Matt raced in a pair alongside his teammate Michael Hassall, finishing the four-day stage race in a time of 7:54:18. 

I’m feeling great, stoked, it was the best week. It’s been part of a three-year plan for me to get here and I was so elated when I came across the line with my teammate. We had a great event, everything ran smoothly and hats off to all the organisers, we had a blast so we’re definitely coming back,” said Matt. 

I had a heart attack at 40 and shouldn’t be here, so this is the realisation of a dream. Working with my cardiologist to get back to health, finding confidence to get back on the bike and now completing the Triple Crown,” he said. 

With the Reef to Reef and Triple Crown ticked off, Matt is eyeing up his next challenge. His ultimate goal is to compete in the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa – something he will be able to do next year after being one of four Reef to Reef riders who won slots to the 2023 event.