VAIL - Lindsey Vonn knew the moment she landed that she was in trouble - she had come into the jump fast and flew farther than her competitors had in the Feb. 5 super G race at the 2013 World Alpine Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria.
Vonn talked with reporters on a conference call Friday afternoon, breaking a more than two-week silence with the media since suffering a torn ACL, MCL and tibial plateau fracture.
Vonn didn't sound like her usual energetic self - she sounded obviously, understandably disappointed and guarded - but she was very clear about her will to come back. She said she has no doubt she'll be able to race in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"In some ways, I'm the underdog now - that'll help ease the pressure a little bit," Vonn said.
While being injured isn't a new challenge for Vonn, this time the injuries are more severe, she said.
"I've definitely had a lot of injuries in my career - it's kind of part of the job description," she said, adding that this is the first time she's needed major surgery, though. "That's not to say it's going to set me back beyond missing the season."
Vonn already has her sights set on walking without crutches in six weeks. She was careful not to give reporters a date when she thought she'd be back. She said the tentative plan is to "try to ski by November - could be a month or two earlier, could be a month later." She added that she doesn't necessarily need a lot of on-snow training to be ready to race again.
Vonn didn't hesitate when a reporter asked whether the jury in Schladming made the right call about holding the Feb. 5 super G. Her answer was no.
The ladies waiting on the edges of their seats for hours, and every 15 minutes they'd learn of a new delay. Vonn said she inspected the course at 8 a.m., but it was 3:15 p.m. or so before her race. The change in conditions was huge, she said.
Vonn could see when she landed her jump that the snow was different. It was softer, and had not been slipped.
"When I landed my right ski completely stopped and that's when my knee buckled and I flipped right over my tips," Vonn said. "My line was perfect - I just flew farther and landed where no one had skied before and it wasn't slipped. I feel that loose snow is 100 percent why I crashed."
As medics attended to the injured Vonn on the snow, she said she immediately reported they should stop the race - she didn't think it was safe to run, but the jury obviously disagreed, she said.
The World Cup season begins in October, and the women are scheduled for a test race on the new downhill course in Beaver Creek in late November. The Winter Olympics in Sochi begin Feb. 7, 2014. When Vonn talked about her comeback, she focused on Sochi.
"No doubt I'll be ready for Sochi," she said.
Her workout and training regiment is already under way. Vonn has two physical therapy sessions seven days a week. The first session is at 8:30 a.m., and for now she can't do a whole lot beyond patella therapy - essentially moving the kneecaps around - as well as range of motion and quad therapy.
After therapy, Vonn heads to the gym for about an 1 1/2 hour workout focusing mainly on upper body and core exercises. After a break and some lunch, she's back in physical therapy.
"It's pretty boring stuff, but therapy at this point is really important," she said.
Vonn already sees progress. She said there was nothing unexpected in surgery, and the tibial plateau fracture was a hairline fracture - "it should heal up absolutely no problem."
Vonn knows she faces an uphill battle, but she points out the countless other athletes who have overcome injuries much worse than hers. She knows Sochi will feel a lot different than the Vancouver Olympic Games when she was the woman to beat. But that's the kind of thing that pushes a competitor like Vonn.
"I will do everything I can to be stronger than I was before," she said.
U.S. Ski team Dr. Bill Sterett, of Vail Summit Orthopedics, said Vonn was asking when she could get back on her skis just moments after her crash. She has learned patience, though, since that day.
"I'm taking it one day at a time," she said. "It's important for me to be really patient - it's going to be a long process."
There's a mental price to pay with that patience, though. She enjoys watching movies with family members who have been in Vail to support her, but sitting around isn't something Vonn is used to doing.
"It's pretty hard, honestly, for me to just sit around," she said. "I feel pretty helpless sometimes."
But Vonn is far from helpless. Two days after surgery, she tweeted a picture of herself doing a core exercise in bed, seemingly unaffected by the massive brace encompassing her entire right leg.
The message with the photo read: "When you fall, get back up."
Vonn might not be walking yet, and it will certainly be some time before she's skiing again, but she's already getting back up. She had a hard time mentally while still in Europe as she realized her season was over and she wouldn't be defending any of her titles. Sitting in her bus so close to the finish line in Schladming and hearing all the celebration didn't help, either.
"Since I've gotten back to Vail, I feel a lot better," Vonn said. "The surgery was a big step. I was definitely nervous about it."
She draws inspiration from all around her - from Sterett, her doctor since she was 13 years old, from family members and from other athletes. (She wouldn't comment on one specific athlete, Tiger Woods, though, saying she's not going to talk about her personal life two weeks out from the worst injury of her career). She also draws inspiration from herself.
"A lot of people have blown out their knees and come back and had a lot of success. I have no doubt I'll be back and be able to ski the same, if not better, than I did before, it's just going to take some time," Vonn said. "It all depends on me - I have to work hard."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.