Sullivan ready to make comeback
COPPER MOUNTAIN “-For a while now, Marco Sullivan has had a recurring dream about soaring off a roller on a downhill course and never coming down.
Driving a SnowCat and tuning skis all season gave Sullivan, from Squaw Valley, Calif., a new perspective on skiing.
These days, getting mistaken for Bode Miller on a regular basis shows him yet another angle of his profession.
“Look,” said the scruffy, five-o’clock shadow-endowed Sullivan while pointing to Bode Miller at Copper Mountain on Monday. “You see? He’s clean-shaven now.”
Now that Sullivan is back on the race hill after involuntarily taking the last two years off, he’s got some added considerations to simply running gates.
“It’s almost like a new beginning for me,” said Sullivan, whose Monday training session at Copper was canceled due to heavy snowfall.
Sullivan laughed and shrugged about not getting to train Monday. He laughs and smiles about just about everything, which isn’t characteristic of many athletes who have managed to sideline themselves for two seasons straight with the same injury.
Double time on reconstruction
Sullivan dislocated his right knee and tore his ACL while training for the Birds of Prey downhill race at Beaver Creek two years ago. At the beginning of last season, when he thought he was recovered, he re-tore the same ACL while training in France.
When asked what he did in lieu of racing last season, Sullivan laughed.
“I got a variety of jobs to keep me busy,” he said. “I drove a SnowCat all winter at Homewood and tuned skis at a shop in Truckee. I just tried to take my mind off of my injuries.”
While some might feel that a higher power had it in for them, Sullivan owns up to his role in hurting himself.
“I’ve never said, ‘Oh, I’m cursed.’ In every case, it was a little mistake on my part or a little mental error,” he said. “You kind of look at yourself and know you messed up and are hurting because of it. You know why you’re in that hospital bed.”
Sullivan admits that he’s “getting good at the whole rehab thing.”
In addition to the dual reconstructive surgeries he’s tallied on his right knee, he’s also torn his left ACL and separated both shoulders crashing on the race course. For someone who’s been clocked racing at speeds exceeding 90 mph, Sullivan knows how to go down.
“You sort of let the hill take you,” he said. “Once you stop and you’re at the fence or wherever, you say to yourself, ‘Can you move this arm? That’s good. Can you move this leg? That’s good.’ If you can move everything, you’re pretty stoked.”
This season, Sullivan feels strong. Laughing, he said there’s no question that getting back on the horse is par for the course. He remembers how to ride. He remembers what to do. Now, he just needs to remember how to tap into his fearlessness, or, depending on how one looks at it, tap out of all fear.
“My strength is good. My skiing technique and everything is pretty natural. It’s kind of the mental thing right now; getting back to pushing myself down a downhill course,” he said. “It requires a pretty unique sort of focus.”
Sullivan got back on his skis for the first time in almost a year in Chile about two months ago.
“He had his healing process,” said U.S. Men’s Ski Team downhill and super-G head coach John McBride. “You come back after your first injury and question, ‘Is this going to be a career-ending injury?’
He was asking a lot of life questions. Then he got back on top of it and recommitted himself to competing. I think he’s going to be in a place to ski how he did in the past.”
Sullivan had his best World Cup result to date with a sixth place in the Birds of Prey Downhill race three years ago. His second-best international result was a ninth place in the 2002 Olympic downhill event in Salt Lake City.
“Marco is someone who can compete at a higher level than how he trains,” McBride said.
Sullivan concurs. While he plans to take one race at a time this season, he feels confident that he can make it back to the Olympics alongside Miller and fellow Tahoe skier Daron Rahlves this February in Sestriere, Italy.
“I’m very fired up to race,” he said, adding that the hype of big events such as the Olympics or the races at Beaver Creek, where he has many friends and family watching, serve as motivational fuel for him and cause him no trepidation.
“Obviously, the Olympics are on the back of my mind,” he said. “Friends, family … everyone’s always asking about the Olympics. Like, ‘Are you going to be healthy for the Olympics?’ From my standpoint right now, I’m more worried about these first few World Cups. If I have good results, I can start focusing on the Olympics.”