I’ll cut to the chase quickly here: I began the new decade with knee surgery, which will keep me out of competition (physically) for the remainder of the 2019-20 season. On my last training run before the last World Cup of 2019, on the final day of my 6-week training and competition travel trip to Sweden, Finland, and China, I tore my ACL in my left knee. In all honesty, this is the last thing I’d thought would happen to cap off my 2019.
I’ve been hesitant to share this on social media because I feel that at times, what we choose to share on the Internet can be a bit fake, and I really want to speak my truth in all of this. I’m almost 4 weeks post-op at this point, and it has certainly taken me some time to truly wrap my head around it all. This has been incredibly overwhelming, too, because in a matter of seconds, this injury has changed my life path so drastically. However, I know that my voice does matter and my story is worthy of sharing. I’ve also realized that this injury does not define my ski career, nor does it define me as a person.
Before I begin, though, I want to say thank you. Thank you to all of you, for following along, for sticking with me through my wordy writing, and for supporting me through all the ups and downs. I’m grateful for everyone who has reached out to me recently. I’m especially appreciative of my family and friends, who are always there for me throughout the good and bad. ❤️ This injury has helped me to further realize the group of people that make me so happy in life, with or without skiing. I’m thankful for the path I’ve walked, places I’ve traveled to, and the people I’ve been graced with meeting. With that being said, let me rewind to properly describe how I got here…
After my last blog, I traveled to Sweden for a 3 week training camp, then to Ruka, Finland, for another quick camp and the first Singles World Cup event of the year. I felt extremely confident going into the new year of competition; I felt that everything was in place for me to perform my best. I had worked relentlessly on my skiing this past summer to create what I felt would be a winning run. In Ruka, despite a few mistakes, I qualified for finals in 5th, which theoretically set me up pretty well for later rounds. Yet, when the moment came, I fell immediately after my top jump, therefore effectively ruining my chances at competing the way I had envisioned. Before my run, I had let doubt edge its way into the back of my mind. I wanted so, so badly to ski my best and have the results to show for it, and was incredibly frustrated when things didn’t work out that way. From there, things spiraled as I headed into China.
I hadn’t let myself take a step back from my finals run in Ruka to gain some perspective, and instead began to feel anxious and scared about how this season might be an extension of last year. I wanted my skiing in training to reflect exactly how I’d compete, but that didn’t appear to be the case at the first event of the year. On both training days in Thaiwoo, my head was never quite on completely straight, so to speak. I only skied a total of two clean runs before competition, one of the lowest pre-competition quality percentages I’ve ever had. I told myself that this training didn’t matter, that I could do better than I had in the past two days of training and better than on Singles Day in Ruka. Needless to say, this doubt had already threaded its way into the recesses of my subconscious and despite faking confidence on the morning of Singles competition in Thaiwoo, it felt as though things ran away from me once again. In qualifications I fell again immediately after my top air, therefore ensuring that I wouldn’t make finals.
On duals day — the second day of competition in Thaiwoo — I was skiing one last training run before competition began when I lost my balance a few bumps after the top landing and flipped head over heels. My ski tip caught on a bump and twisted my knee. Though I never felt a pop, I knew something was seriously wrong in my knee. After my crash, I completely broke down, nearly hyperventilating on the side of the course as I tried to convince my PT to let me ski down (I also tried to tell him that I was competing that day, though that was nowhere close to a feasible option). When I tried to stand and click into my skis, I collapsed from a searing pain from instability in my left leg. There are no words to explain how terrified I was in that moment. “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. How in the world is this happening?! I have to be okay!” ran through my head at 250 miles an hour, doing nothing to calm the burning shame, dread, and fear overwhelming me. I was completely resigned to a fate that I had absolutely zero interest in actually living out. I was transported to a sled, then to a Chinese ambulance, where I felt completely overwhelmed by the amount people surrounding me and attempting to get me where I was supposed to be.
Once I was finally back at the hotel, my heart broke as the gravity of the situation began to sink in. The US Team doctor on the trip did the ACL test to my knee (a hands-on examination on both knees to see if there’s a tear in the injured knee) as tears poured down my cheeks. There was no way around it: my right knee had an ACL, my left obviously did not. That was followed by a heartbreaking phone call to my parents, in which my stomach dropped to the floor, digging a hole all the way back to the US. In short, I felt like I had let them down, let myself down, and wasted every opportunity I had been granted over the past few weeks. That was the beginning of an odd, unbearable waiting game.
In a matter of days, I flew back to the US with the rest of my team, my knee swelled to the size of a melon, I began physical therapy in Park City, and my mom and I drove to Vail for surgery consultations, all before Christmas. Picking a surgeon was the first glimmer of hope that I’d had for my recovery. I ended up choosing Dr. Hackett at the Steadman Clinic, a world-renowned surgeon at a highly-acclaimed surgery center in Vail. As I walked into my consultation, I was instantly comforted by the sports jerseys lining the walls — all from professional, Olympic-caliber athletes who had gotten surgeries from the Steadman Clinic and not only healed, but accomplished more within their sport afterwards. Everyone from Julia Mancuso to Tom Brady to Kikkan Randall was on that wall. I could feel the potential for my successful recovery vibrating through the clinic. At one point during my meeting with Dr. Hackett, he’d said “I’m going to fix the sh*t out of your knee.” I looked at my mom. We were both sold. I’d get a new knee on January 2nd, perfectly aligned with the start of 2020.
Though everything happened in a rush in that first week at home, things suddenly slowed down as I waited for my surgery date to roll around. The reality of the situation also began to sink in as my life changed in obvious ways. For example, for the first time since I began toddling around on skis, our family ski day on Christmas — at least for me — was no longer an option. I spent Christmas with my family, but I felt like the holiday was shrouded in a grey cloud.
In those days just prior to surgery, I felt beyond defeated and helpless. There was nothing I could do but think. Questions raced through my mind, seemingly unanswerable:
Why had this happened to me? Was all of this even worth it? Why was I sacrificing my body and mental state for something that seemed progressively further and further from my grasp? Why shouldn’t I just go to school, scrap it all, and begin the rest of my life? What was I doing in competition that made things go so horribly wrong, when (for the most part) my training felt so, so good?
Yet, despite all of those thoughts, one steadfast belief always remained: I haven’t even come close to reaching my full potential in this sport. I have so much more left to give!!
So, I was simply waiting for surgery as the holiday week crawled by.
And on January 2nd, while the US Team resumed training without me in Steamboat, one of my favorite places to ski, I had surgery done on my knee.
If you know me (really at all), you know that I like to get things done. I admittedly like my to-do lists and feeling like I’m taking real steps to achieve the goals I have in mind (even if it is an illusion in some cases). Though waiting and being patient is so incredibly tough for me, it’s been perhaps the biggest blessing yet that has resulted from this injury. This was my body’s way of telling me that I need to stop. I needed to take a hard look at what was really going on in my head. If I was going to go through with a strenuous rehab just to get back into the gate and make the same mistakes, none of this would be worth it. I need to make a change.
I need to improve my mental game. I wasn’t dealing with nerves or doubt in a way that benefitted my competing. When I’d perform poorly, I couldn’t let it go and move on to the next event. Instead, I’d inevitably carry some baggage with me into the next competition. I had also connected my identity too closely with my performances in skiing — my journal entries after my disappointing performances in Finland and China this past December were an example of that. Looking back with a fresh perspective after my surgery, I was appalled. I’d berated myself based upon a 30 second run. (That sounds so stupid when I actually put it in writing, but unfortunately, it was true…)
Though this has been tough so far, I’m thankful for the fact that I’ve gained perspective. I will learn and grow from this process — in fact, I already have! Because of this path, I’ve stumbled upon some resources and mentors that I never would’ve found if it weren’t for this injury. Physically and mentally, I’ve already come so far — not only since surgery, but since my initial crash, too. Each day has become lighter and more promising as things improve quickly!! I couldn’t even lift my leg on my own for several days immediately following surgery. Now, even though I’m still not allowed to put weight on it, I almost have a normally functioning leg. And since December 15th, I’ve internally accumulated a deep understanding of the depth of my resilience, how I can change, how I can ask for what I need, the commitment it takes to make a true difference, and my amazing support network of family and friends.
Moving forward, I have a concrete path to implement change and I am committing to it. As cheesy as it sounds, I’m taking it all day by day. I am focused on staying present with myself, patient with my healing, and working to be the very best I can on that day. My big goals and dreams remain the same — if anything, they’ve become clearer in my mind. I believe that this just might be what I need at this very moment to grow to be my best version of OG! I’m a big believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason, and this is no exception. Each day has shown me the many positives and benefits that have already come about as a result of this recovery, and I am SO excited to step back into the gate upon my return to World Cup competition as a better and stronger competitor, athlete, and person!!!
Until next time,