Racing involves pushing your limits – being on the edge of control.
Naturally, I have crashed several times while racing over the past few years. Each time that I have crossed the line of control into the unknown, I have found myself holding my breath and tightening every fibre in my body. Then I remember, that I need to relax to reduce my injury risk. After dusting myself off, checking to make sure my ACLs are still intact (phew!), and gathering up my gear I continue with renewed vigour to the finish line. And so far this has worked. But not this time.
On January 5, 2020 while competing in the Elite Individual Ski Mountaineering Race at Castle Mountain I had a crash and tomahawk that ended my 2019/2020 ski season. I clipped a rock at the top of a chute and entered an out of control tumble and then slide for 220 metres of vertical distance. With each revolution I could feel a different part of my body yelp in pain – knee, back, tibia, ankle, hip, back. I coached myself into the same relaxation I have used before to decrease the forces impacting my body.
After I finished tumbling I found myself on my back, going headfirst down the mountain at an alarming rate. I had one pole left in my hand. So I dug the handle into the mountain like one would with an ice axe to arrest my fall. Once that was ripped out I resorted to my fingers and managed to bring myself to a full stop before hitting any rocks or trees. I could tell something was wrong with my right lower leg and knee. I knew I wasn’t going to be skiing out of this one. It felt like I broke my Tibia and tore something in my knee.
I feel so fortunate that there were others racers behind that paused their race to help me by alerting ski patrol, gathering my equipment, and helping me layer up to conserve body heat. Hypothermia started to set in as I sat in the snow in my thin spandex race suit and wind breaker jacket and pants that I had in my bag. More jackets and space blankets were layered on my and one of my team mates hugged to help reduce my shaking. After 30 minutes I was loaded in the ski patrol sled and brought to the base of the mountain.
After some screening by ski patrol and convincing the paramedics not to cut my National Team race suit (I worked hard to earn that!) or cut my carbon ski boots ($$) my ankle was visible for inspection. Swelling seemed pretty controlled and nothing was poking out or obviously deformed.
Pain was significant in the ambulance ride to the Pincher Creek Hospital. After my gear and health card arrived with a team mate I was in for x-rays. X-rays revealed no obvious fracture, so I was discharged. After some morphine/pain induced sickness I finally made it home. I was feeling thankful for no head injury. I had some suspected ligament damage in my ankle and suspected ligament and meniscal damage in my knee. I figured I would take a day off, get back to work, continue training on the spin bike, and be back in time for racing mid February.
I made it back to work. I saw my Family Doctor and the Sports Medicine Physician and confirmed my thoughts hypothesis on injury. I rested for a week and then started small amounts of training in my basement and at the gym. I tested my ankle with some gentle ski touring at the end of January. I was able to teach a Ski Mountaineering clinic at Whitewater Ski Resort and was feeling like things were going in the right direction to return to the Canadian Circuit. Then I did a few gentle downhill runs on a firm day at the hill. The next three days I could barely walk and everything seemed to take five steps backwards.
After seeing the Sports Medicine Physician again, we decided it was time for more imaging. Perhaps there was something more serious going on.
I had an MRI in Cranbrook which revealed multiple bones with microfractures and ligament damage deep between the two bones in my lower leg. None of which needed surgery though!
Any injury that I get, I like to think of it as research of what it is like to be injured so that I can better relate to my patients who are going through the same thing. There is road of unknown length ahead of me as I work to return to high level sport for next season. I will need to focus on balancing rest with targeted exercise, having patience and keeping a positive mindset. Now more than ever I will need to lean on friends, family, and my coach to keep me going in the right direction.