Fracture Friday: Olympian Nina O’Brien recovering in Edwards, planning for redemption
O’Brien undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy for fractures in her leg
Editor’s Note: Six weeks after Team USA alpine skier Nina O’Brien broke her left tibia and fibula in a high-speed crash during the women’s giant slalom event in Beijing, she returned to the Vail Valley to pursue her recovery with NexGen Hyperbaric at All Points North Lodge in the Cordillera in Edwards. The Vail Daily recently visited O’Brien to hear about her path to recovery and redemption. All words were spoken by O’Brien in an interview and then transcribed for this story.
On the day of the GS race in Beijing, I woke up feeling confident and was just trying to stay relaxed. I really believed that I was capable of having a great result. I was feeling all the emotions of being at the Olympics and the significance of that day— the first time of me racing at the Olympics. There was a lot of emotions there.
But I wanted to put aside any fear or pressure or expectations, and really go for it. And I think I was able to do that. I had a great first run, better than I even thought I was skiing. I was pleasantly surprised to see the result, but that even gave me even more confidence because I felt like I had a few mistakes on my first run, so there was room to improve.
I was sitting in sixth, and then we had this long break in between runs, which was like five hours. It was unusually long. But I felt very relaxed and was just trying to stay loose and not think too much about the results.
My mentality was to just go for it in the second run; in the very least, I can say I did that.
I’ve had races in the past where it felt like I didn’t give it my all, and that’s a pretty awful feeling when you had more that you didn’t show. So, I wanted to put it all out there, and unfortunately, I wasn’t skiing well. I vividly remember at the end of the course feeling like I was getting a little bit behind the line, but the tempo was stacking up on me.
I don’t actually remember what caused the crash. That part happened very quickly, but I remained pretty lucid and aware of everything that was going on through the fall and thereafter.
I went to a hospital in Beijing that was shut down just for Olympic athletes, so it was very empty, it was part of our COVID bubble. I was allowed to have one person from the US Ski team with me, so I wasn’t there completely alone, which was nice. I had surgery the night of my fall to stabilize. I had a compound fracture, so they basically lined everything back up, put me in an external fixator just to get me stabilized and from there after I was just recovering in the hospital for two days.
I then went to a hotel in Beijing where I was with US Ski team coaches and staff so it felt good to get out of the hospital and see my team again. And then I made the journey from Beijing to Tokyo to Dallas to Denver, which was a little bit uncomfortable. But I did fly with some teammates who carried all my bags, and they were great to me. Everyone on the airlines took wonderful care of me, and it felt awesome to get home.
Editor’s Note: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a form of treatment where a patient breaths 100% oxygen while in a chamber of varying atmospheric pressure to promote circulation and healing. The tech on site that day likened the sensation to “going up and down in an airplane.” O’Brien is scheduled for 60 days worth of hyperbaric treatments at NexGen, in addition to months of physical therapy.
It’s a lot of physical therapy sessions in the chamber here. I’m in the stages where I’m trying to get mobility back in my joints, and I still need my bones to heal. Before I can get back on snow and doing what I love, I really have to get strong again. So, it’s a long way to go, but I’m in the best of hands so I’m feeling pretty confident about the team I have around me and getting back on snow.
Editor’s Note: As O’Brien takes the time she needs to heal, she is setting her sights on an Olympic return.
My goals haven’t changed at all. Certainly, this is a bump in the road and a challenge that I have to overcome, but the end goal is still the same. Hopefully in four years or whatever (at the next winter Olympics) I will be back in that starting gate, and I’m even better than I will have ever been. I’m hoping there’s a good redemption story.
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.