Bouncing back from racing injuries … all the way
BEAVER CREEK — Face it, if you’ve been on the World Cup, and don’t have the scars to prove it, you just haven’t been trying.
Ligaments, knees, legs, ankles, shoulders, arms and concussions, ski racing has its inherent risks. With the skiing world’s most-talked-about right knee rehabbing in Vail with a possible return to the tour next week in Lake Louise, Alberta, as Lindsey Vonn told Matt Lauer on the NBC “Today” show on Wednesday, there are successful comeback stories on the Raptor racecourse in Beaver Creek.
Both Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather and Switzerland’s Lara Gut are rising stars in both downhill and super-G. Both are trending well here two days into training — Gut was first on Tuesday and third on Wednesday, while Weirather has been third and second, respectively. Both are all but teammates as Weirather from tiny Liechtenstein trains with the Swiss.
And both had injuries that sidelined them for the Olympics in 2010.
“Of course, you know that,” Gut said of risk. “We crash bad once or two times in our life, but we ski, I don’t know, 250 days for a year. It’s not that much.”
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Welcome to purgatory
That is the mentality a ski racer has to take. Once one skis while worrying about an injury, well, that’s when injuries happen.
Not exactly ancient now at 22, Gut was 17 years and 233 days old when she go her first career win in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Dec. 12, 2008. She was “the next” for Switzerland, a nation obsessed with skiing.
Gut dislocated her hip during offseason training before the 2009-10 season, and there went an entire season, including the Olympics.
“It was horrible,” Gut said. “It was the first time I had to wait. Until there, everything came easy. Then, I had to start from zero. It was challenging, but I’m thankful now that I could do that. I know what I want now, and I’m doing it because I want it. I think now I am stronger than before. But I have to work at it every day.”
Meanwhile, Weirather was going through her own version of purgatory. She managed to tear the same ACL three times during the span of 2007-10. Even by skiing-injury standards, that’s wrenching.
“There are a lot of tough days, but there are also good days,” Weirather said. “The most important thing was that I was always really in love with skiing, and I have so much passion for it, I could never imagine to not ski anymore. So I just tried everything I could, and I had good people around me helping me … There are still bad days when you think you can never reach your goals and never get back where you wanted to go. But then you just have to keep on moving and trying.”
Being physically healthy is one thing. The brain also has to be ready as well. A racer can know that her knee or hip is fine, but believing that on the course during race conditions is entirely something else.
“It takes time,” Gut said. “I remember starting racing World Cup after my injury it was more than a year after my injury. The beginning, I was fine, but I wasn’t fast. Then, one day, everything was back. I was fast and I was on the podium. I don’t think you can describe it. It was instinct. … One day it’s not in your mind anymore.”
“Yeah, I had that a lot, and I still have days like that,” Weirather said. “It’s a long time since my injuries and I still have days like that. I think it’s still important to have those days because there are also the days that save you a little bit because you can’t always go 100 percent. Sometimes, you listen to your feelings and your body and when it says it’s not possible, you have to accept it and try the next day to go hard again.”
Gut burst back into the win column in Zauchensee, Austria, on Jan. 9, 2011, in super-G , about 18 months after the injury and three years after her first win. Three of her four World Cup wins, including the 2013-14 opener in Soelden, Austria, have come after the injury.
A slow journey
The path has been even slower for Weirather. The podiums came early, which was reassuring. The long-sought-after win, finally arrived on March 1, almost six years after her first ACL injury.
“I was pretty good when I was really young, like 17, and then I had many injuries in a row, three big injuries in a row,” said Weirather, who is now a grizzled 24. “It took me pretty long to get back. I had to learn a lot about myself, my body and my mind. I think I know myself much better now, and I hope I can perform more consistently.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.