Fracture Friday: Pro skier Chris Anthony’s injury, recovery and redemption
I had escaped most of my career free of knee injury.
Most of my injuries seemed to be more so in my back. This started when I hit a fence going 75 mph at U.S. Nationals when I was 16. Back then the fences did not move. They were fences, not nets.
That was my first fracturing of bones in my back. The back pain caused me to be a little more protective, so I relied on my lower body to take on the extra workload. Then in 2000, I got back on bump in the 24 Hours of Aspen, and air got under my skis while going over 80 mph and I was pushed back while flying through the air. The tail of my left ski hit first. That pair of skis out of the five pairs I had were mounted with an older binding that did not have a vertical toe release. So when the leverage of the ground hit the tail of my ski, the weakest link was the hinge between my lower and upper leg, the knee. And it blew badly.
It was Dec. 5, the beginning of the ski season and what was looking like would be a productive season in my career, but now this could be career-changing.
I choose to forgo surgery and skied the entire season on a blown knee, completing two Warren Miller Shoots (one of them training with the U.S. Marine Corps) as well a number of photo shoots and corporate ski engagements. I was having my knee drained once a week and injected with cortisone as much as they would allow me to.
Support Local Journalism
Surgery came in May. From the surgery on for the next 20 years, I never had full extension of my knee and lived in complete pain. But I had to try to absorb it as well as hide it. I didn’t want anyone to know, especially sponsors. But the sport I loved had also become the most painful thing I did every day.
I did not know how much pain can destroy you as a person. You think you are hiding it, but it comes out negatively in other ways in your life, and how you deal with that is another story.
Eventually, I was able to talk one doctor into looking into the right place of my knee for what I felt was the issue. Long story short, Dr. Millett became my hero and did a surgery where he pulled out a free-floating bone fragment that had not only destroyed a good portion of the joint but became tangled in the peroneal nerve. No wonder I was in so much pain.
Oh, by the way, now that I had been favoring my right leg for years over my left, I was tearing apart my right knee. So, it needed several surgeries, and not to mention what this imbalance does on an already-damaged back.
But I continued.
The removal of the nugget along with years of working with a regenerative medicine doctor gave me at least another seven years of faking my way through my career. I still had to get it drained and injected twice a year. I changed up my lifestyle, and avoided a ton of activities but never skiing. I just faked my way through it.
Then both I and Dr. Millett were like “enough is enough,” I either need to quit or it was time to do something I was completely scared of: Get the replacement.
Dr. Millett referred me to Dr. Kim at the Steadman Clinic. We had a long talk. He made no guarantees, but he did describe in detail the mechanics of what he was going to do.
In April 2020, I went under the knife. Amid the COVID-19 shutdown, without any FOMO, I have to admit I went through the most painful weeks of my life, but also the most intense self-imposed rehab that would be two sessions, three hours each for five straight months.
December 7, 2020, I put on a pair of skis.
I was by myself and scared to death. Getting off the lift, it didn’t feel right. “I’m done,” I thought.
But I proceeded to a green run and dropped into my first left-footed turn. My brain detected that some sort of feedback was missing in the joint; because now, it is metal. But there was no pain.
For the first time in 20 years, I put pressure on my left leg without pain. Halfway down the run, my brain adjusted and used other receptors in my left leg to figure out what was going on. By the bottom of the run I was arcing turns. Two runs later, I realized I was given a second life to my ski career. And here I am now, February 2022, and I can’t get out on my skis enough.
We are living during magical times. Thank you to my two doctors, Millett and Kim.
TELL US YOUR STORY
Injuries are a common topic in mountain communities. We tend to push ourselves to the point of having them. If you have an on-mountain or sports-related injury, we want you to share the story of your injury, recovery and redemption (and if you’re currently injured, we want to hear your plans for the last two).
To read more Fracture Friday stories and to share yours, visit VailDaily.com/FractureFridays. And be sure to check the paper every Friday for the latest Fracture Friday.