Broken bones don’t put a stop to the flight
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS Every reference book should have a picture of an aerials skier next to the category of “high-risk sports.”I had the pleasure, and terror, of watching my first aerials contest last weekend. It featured the country’s top aerial skiers competing for an Olympic spot in Steamboat Springs Friday night. Like many other spectators (most of whom were also uncontrollably “oohing” and “ahhing”), I couldn’t keep from letting my jaw drop as competitors took to the air – soaring some 50 feet straight up off huge quarter ramps, then flipping and twisting in the night sky before dropping onto the landing area – a 37.5-degree slope.While most aerial skiers have backgrounds in gymnastics and practice landing their tricks in a swimming pool, I still cannot fathom wearing a pair of heavy ski boots, using no poles, and executing such control over my own gravity and mortal balance in midair.
Of course, one wonders immediately upon watching an aerials competition why the death toll of these skillful athletes isn’t higher. Miraculously, these skiers always seem to land on their feet. Of course, landing on one’s feet isn’t the final order of business when it comes to aerials skiing.During a national teleconference last week prior to the Steamboat Olympic qualifier, South Dakota aerialist Jana Lindsey was asked about the frequency of injury in her sport and its obvious potential for catastrophe. “A couple of my teammates have gotten through injury-free, maybe with just a few bumps and bruises,” Lindsey said. “We try not to think about how we have the (high potential) to get injured. We do it because we love it. (Potential for injury) is just a side note.”Head over heelsDuring Lindsey’s final run Friday night, she sailed off the jumps and expertly contorted her body into a pair of back flips and twists. Her body was not ready to stay upright when her feet hit the ground, however. Her skis hit the slope for a quick second before exploding off her feet as her head catapulted into the ground and her body somersaulted and rolled like a rag doll down the slope of the finish area.Even before she came to a halt in the snow, her coach, teammates and paramedic crews were running to her aid.The 21-year-old was taken away by stretcher and ambulance to Yampa Valley Medical Center, where she was kept overnight for observation with a concussion, according to sources from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
Lindsey’s teammate Emily Cook, 26, won the women’s competition Friday, earning herself an automatic spot on the U.S. Olympic Aerials Team. While joyous, Cook’s win was overshadowed by her friend’s crash, which hit home particularly acutely with Cook.After winning a spot on the Olympic team four years ago at the Steamboat qualifier, Cook went on to break both of her feet in bad landing in training and wasn’t able to return to competition until 2005. Her tale of Olympic recovery has got to be one of the most poignant going into the 2006 Games next month in Torino, Italy.”Of course, I’d been dreaming about going to the Olympics my entire life,” she said. “I won the event (in 2002). I was going to the Olympics. Then I crashed and broke both of my feet. I was out. From that moment on, sitting in the stands watching the Olympics from a wheelchair, there was no question in my mind that I would come back and compete again in another one.”Cook was the next competitor off the jump after Lindsey’s crash Friday. It gave her flashbacks of her previous two World Cups in China and Australia, where she had to be the first down the course after those right before her crashed. In China, it was her teammate Kelly Hilliman, who broke her femur.Bumps, bruises and big, broken bonesThat’s right. While torn ACLs are just as prevalent in aerials as they are in other forms of professional skiing, not many disciplines can lead to broken femurs and simultaneously broken feet. Still, Cook said, during the few seconds he or she is airborne, an aerialist knows when things are going awry.
“I knew exactly why it happened,” she said of her injury. “It was a snowy, windy day. I got too little speed and landed on the flat of the knoll. Jana knew what was going on, too. That’s why her hands were above her head. As an (aerialist), you have a feel for if you’re too fast or slow. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it too.”Clearly, this is not something that brings her down.”I’m never thinking ‘injury’ at the top of the hill,” Cook said. “I’ve got my headphones in at all times. So even if (the announcers) are talking about ‘Emily Cook broke her feet in 2002,’ I don’t hear them. I block it all out. I’m thinking technical. I’m thinking of when I need to set up, when I need to drop my arms … whatever I need to do in the air. All you’re thinking is positive thoughts.”That said, Cook doesn’t hesitate for a second when asked if she feels that aerialists, as a breed, have got to be a little crazy.”Crazy? Oh yeah,” she said. ” You’ve got to be totally crazy.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado