Schleper on the up-and-up
VAIL – Most athletes spend entire seasons recovering from back surgery. Vail ski racing veteran Sarah Schleper had an operation in November and was back on the race course in December. She finished 13th in her second race after surgery (in Lienz, Austria) and 17th in the following race in Croatia. Those two results make up the complete tally of her World Cup points this season. Still, the Olympics aren’t entirely out of the question. Schleper, who won her first World Cup event last season and has numerous top-10 finishes in her 10 years on the U.S. Ski Team, has experienced chronic back pain for a large part of her racing career. After undergoing major back surgery in Vail last summer, Schleper was on the mend, but was told she would need a follow-up surgery. This necessity became an emergency at the beginning of her 2005-06 season when she began on-snow training, and reached a point where just the act of standing was too much for her to bear. In November, she underwent another back surgery in Austria and spent the following weeks recovering there. She is back on the World Cup circuit, and took the time to answer a few questions via e-mail from Europe.How is your back feeling? My back is feeling amazingly better than it was back in early November when I was in Vail. The nerve damage to my left leg is getting better every day, and soon I hope it will be back to normal. I have been gradually progressing my skiing loads, and everything seems to be maintaining.
What did you do to recover so quickly? I had a surgery in Innsbruck on Nov. 13. Then I worked with an amazing therapist and also a trainer. They progressed my loads very gradually. I was working in the pool and on land. I also got a new tempreputic mattress. I tried to eat healthy, not a lot of alcohol, and took vitamins. I also listened to the doctors, and didn’t do anything I wasn’t supposed to. When did you get back on the snow and start training gates? I got back on snow about four weeks after the surgery, but very light skiing – just sliding around and getting the feeling for the snow again. At six weeks Christmas day, I was able to start training gates. It didn’t leave much time before the first race I was going to enter in Lienz, Austria, on the 28th. I basically had one day of stubby gates on the 25th, a half day of (giant slalom) and a half day of slalom on the 26th, and then it was race time. I wasn’t happy with my performance in Lienz, despite the little training I had, although my coaches and teammates thought it was pretty spectacular.What did you do for Christmas? I celebrated in Telfs, Austria, with my Austrian friends. They celebrate on the 24th here in Austria. I went to a midnight mass in the most beautiful acoustic church I have ever been in. I go there every year on Christmas. I skied on Christmas day, and that evening I stayed at home in my apartment alone and had some pizza and beer.
How did it feel on the race course in Lienz? I felt all right on the course. My timing was definitely a little off as well as my balance, edging and pressure. Did you feel tentative at all? I wasn’t tentative, just not quite comfortable. Was it different than your previous post surgeries? It wasn’t different than any other post surgeries. It was a little weird to hop into the race circuit halfway through the season. My feeling at the start house was different than normal. I don’t know what the feeling was … a little surreal.
How was this surgery different than the one you had in the summer? Why was it necessary? The surgery was very similar to the one I had this summer. I saw Dr. Corenman in Vail and he said I had a recurrent disk herniation at the same level after looking at my MRI. He said that I would need another surgery. I really didn’t want to have another surgery, so I thought the doctors here in Austria might have some other way of going about this type of thing since they deal with so many ski racers over here. But Dr. Lotz, a very famous sports doctor here in Austria, had one look at my MRI and said I needed a surgery. I stayed here for the surgery because I couldn’t waste anymore time if I was to race in the Olympics. The treatment I received here was very professional and high-class.What are your immediate goals?My immediate goals are to get a little more comfortable on my skis so that I can resume skiing where I left off last year. I want to work on driving my hands in GS and getting the feel for a really clean turn again. I think it is definitely realistic that I will be back on the top again. I just watched my video from Lienz, and I am not that far off, despite the little training I had. I will be training with some top GS racers this week, and will be looking to get my form back.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado