US skier Lanning recovering from crash in downhill
AP Sports Writer
TJ Lanning replayed his harrowing downhill crash over and over in his mind, revisiting every little detail.
The American skier tried to figure out if there was anything he could have done to prevent the spill in Lake Louise, Alberta, late last month that fractured a vertebra in his neck and shredded his left knee.
Could he have salvaged a run that had suddenly gone so wrong?
Lanning frequently scrutinizes his actions following a bad wipeout, usually detecting some way the crash could have been averted. This time, he couldn’t.
“Flukiest thing ever,” Lanning told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from a condo in Vail, Colo., where he’s recuperating. “Usually, my crashes where I get injured, in hindsight, there’s something I could’ve done different.”
This wreck – the face-plant at high velocity, his body flipping over and skidding down the hill – was simply unavoidable.
He’s just thankful for one thing – no paralysis.
“I was actually pretty lucky,” Lanning said. “Pretty damn lucky.”
This is what he counts as lucky:
– Surgery to fuse two vertebra in his neck to stabilize the fracture.
– A second operation to “fish out” the meniscus in his left knee and suture it back down, as well as to repair some of the extensive ligament damage.
– In another six weeks, a return trip to the operating table to fix his destroyed anterior cruciate ligament.
– His neck immobilized in a collar brace for the next month, hopefully to avoid another round of surgery.
The 25-year-old Lanning was churning down the mountain, tightly in his tuck when his run began to unravel.
The light was flat, making bumps on the course hard to detect. Lanning hit a small mound of snow that had built up, sending him careering at nearly 75 mph. He was on his way to staving off a fall, when the flag from the gate wrapped around his right ski for an instant.
That altered his balance and veered him off the course, his right ski plunging into a patch of piled-up new snow. Lanning somersaulted through the air, his right ski popping off, his left remaining on.
He skidded for a while down the steep piste, finally coming to a stop near the protective fencing.
As he sat up in the snow, he glanced at his leg, which was jutting out at a 90-degree angle. He figured his femur was fractured.
A moment later, the pain hit, an excruciating ache in his knee, followed by an intense discomfort in his neck.
His howls for help echoed throughout the course.
“Most pain I’ve ever experienced,” he explained.
Before he was airlifted off the mountain, medical personnel stabilized his neck and realigned his dislocated knee.
Up at the top of the course, his teammate Erik Fisher waited to go. For nearly 30 minutes, Fisher tried to gather his thoughts but was understandably unnerved.
“That was a little tough, having your buddy go down right before you go,” said Fisher, who wound up 60th that day. “He’s a tough kid.”
As he mended in a Vail hospital, Lanning had a swarm of skiers in nearby Beaver Creek for a World Cup event drop by to visit. His U.S. teammates even brought him a Wii console and video games.
Given the recent number of serious accidents in World Cup races, the International Ski Federation asked Alpine racers and coaches Friday to help the governing body find a reason.
Among those that have been injured in recent weeks – and ruled out of the Vancouver Games – include downhill world champion John Kucera, World Cup slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange and former women’s overall World Cup winner Nicole Hosp.
Lanning appreciates the concern.
“Everything can’t be perfect, then it takes away from the extreme part of the sport,” Lanning said. “But there are things they should be able to do to keep it safe.”
He was discharged from the hospital Tuesday, taking a few days to unwind before returning to Park City, where he lives, for more physical therapy.
Lanning is no stranger to rehab, having come back from two torn ACLs, surgery to fix a ruptured disk in his lower back and ligament damage in his ankle.
This, in his mind, is simply another obstacle to overcome. He fully expects to be back on skis, possibly even by the middle of next season.
However, he won’t rush back to the mountain.
“I want to feel 100-plus percent before I even get on snow,” Lanning said. “It’s going to take a while. I’ve got to let the body heal completely … Good thing I’m young and heal quickly. I’m determined to get back out there for another four years. I can’t miss the Olympics in my lifetime.”
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva, Switzerland, contributed to this story.
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