Catching waves, healing some injuries
VAIL – Not many World Cup skiers want to talk about snow come May.This season, Sarah Schleper doesn’t mind.”I’m excited to get back on the snow,” said Vail’s Schleper. “I think a lot of the (U.S. Ski Team) girls are at the point of the year where they don’t want to go to (training) camps. I totally want to go.”After taking this past season off – her first since she began skiing – Schleper is healed and mentally refreshed.”Everything feels good,” said the 28-year old Schleper. “I feel stronger than I’ve felt in a long time.”In March 2006, Schleper crashed during a World Cup race in Norway, tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus. Between her subsequent knee surgery, and the lingering effects of a previous back injury, Schleper decided last spring to step away from the slopes for a bit.”I thought it was going to be hard to tell my coaches and family, but everyone was supportive,” Schleper said.Riding the waves
While her teammates and competitors were skiing all over Europe in January and February, Schleper wasn’t too envious.Schleper, who was living in Venice Beach, Calif., headed down to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico in mid-January to hang out with her boyfriend, Sederico Gaxiola, and catch some waves.”The first time I surfed was in Cabo, 10 years ago,” Schleper said. “I’ve wanted to surf since then – I’ve been drawn to it.”With plenty of days on the ocean up and down the Pacific coast, Schleper found her groove on the water.”I can make nice drops and turns,” said Schleper.A new four-fin surfboard – a birthday gift from Gaxiola, gave Schleper an edge, she said.”The same thing happened to me in mountain biking,” said Schleper, who cross trains in the summers instead of full-time traditional training. “When I switched equipment, I got better so much faster. It’s like when you switch from a straight ski to a side-cut ski.”For Schleper, surfing was more than an athletic endeavor.”It’s nice because when you are out there in the water waiting for a wave, you meditate,” she said. “You are with yourself and nature.
“The challenge of it is very nice (and) the fact that when you fall it doesn’t hurt is (nice). Although it’s scary and the water can hold you under. But it’s pretty forgiving.”Anyone who thinks that Schleper’s surfing may translate into a burgeoning snowboarding career can dispel those thoughts. “I’m the worst snowboarder,” Schleper said. “Whenever my friends from Minnesota come up who aren’t good skiers, I snowboard with them.”Fresh tracksWithout a rigid World Cup schedule, Schleper was able to enjoy life like most Vail residents when she came home.”I did a lot more powder skiing, which was nice, and got to spend Christmas here, which I haven’t done since I stared on the World Cup,” Schleper said. “My goal was to ski, have fun and get in powder, which is a lot less stress than racing where you are on ice and your skis are chattering.”Schleper took some time to give back to the sport, too, coaching at the J3 Junior Olympics in Aspen. While in Aspen, Schleper and her younger brother Hunter had a friendly bet as to who was faster.”He thought he was going to kill me,” Schleper said. “I had my bad skis on … and on the first run I beat him by 0.02 seconds or so. I was a little blown away. It was good for not training at all. My touch was still there.”
Next year, Schleper hopes she can continue training side-by-side with her 16-year old sibling.”We have a game plan that my dad may not be too excited about,” Schleper said. “(Hunter) may come over and live in Europe and workout and train while I race. We can start a brother-sister motivation thing. I can motivate him to work out, and he can teach me the young, new techniques.”Back on trackThursday, Schleper is in Park City, Utah for physical testing with the U.S. Team. During the winter, Schleper checked out how her teammates and other skiers did on the Internet, but kept her distance.”I kind of let them do their thing and wanted to let it all go,” she said.Schleper, who is one of the longest-tenured skiers on the men’s or women’s U.S. Team, hasn’t felt this healthy in a long time.”I feel young,” she said. “I stopped drinking alcohol for three months, and that helped a lot.”I’ve done all the partying I’ve wanted to do. I’ll give this last effort my all, and see if I can’t do better than I’ve done in the past.”
One of Schleper’s goals is to make it to the 2010 Vancouver Games, along with her brother.After the physical testing, Schleper will be training in Mammoth, Calif. – her first camp back. Then, she’ll head back to San Jose del Cabo with some big luggage.”I’m picking up a Skier’s Edge machine to bring down to Mexico,” Schleper said of the conditioning tool that simulates the skiing movement.Then, Schleper will spend some time coaching junior skiers in Mt. Hood, Ore., before she goes to Dartmouth College for an intensive 10-day Spanish program.”I did the same program in German, and I’m fluent in that now,” Schleper said. Before the U.S. Team’s late summer camp in New Zealand, Schleper hopes to get some more surfing in with Gaxiola.”We’ll do some surfing on the north side of the island, then he’ll snowboard and I’m going to start training,” Schleper said. “That’s when things start getting intense.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.