New Castle skier injured, out for season
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Alice McKennis was nearing the finish of her World Cup super G training run in Saalbach, Austria, when her ski tips crossed.
A spectacular crash resulted, and the 21-year-old New Castle native knew immediately she’d injured herself badly.
“I remember it all very clearly,” the 2010 Olympian said of the Jan. 2 accident. “I knew instantly, before I even finished crashing, that something was definitely wrong. … I just felt this super-intense pain on the left side of me knee. I knew there was something wrong. My coaches and teammates all tried to tell me, ‘You don’t know yet. You don’t know.’ I said, ‘No, I know this.'”
McKennis was right. She had suffered a tibial plateau fracture just below her left knee joint, an injury common among ski racers and one that is bringing a premature end to her second full season on the World Cup circuit.
“I’m obviously really bummed about it,” McKennis said. “I’m bummed I’ll miss the World Championships this year in Germany, but, you know, setbacks happen. You just have to work hard and have faith in yourself to keep on going.”
McKennis underwent successful surgery at Vail Valley Medical Center on Thursday and is facing a lengthy and grueling rehabilitation process.
“I’ll be on crutches for six to eight weeks,” she said. “I can have no weight bearing on my legs. If everything is where it should be, I’ll be off crutches and strengthening again. Obviously, I’ll lose a lot of muscle.”
McKennis hopes to return to the slopes in September for U.S. Ski Team’s alpine camp in Chile.
“That definitely depends on a lot of things,” she said. “I have to take it one step at a time.”
A major injury is something McKennis had yet to face in her ski racing career, which began at the age of 6 with Sunlight Mountain Resort’s youth program.
“I’ve been very lucky,” she said. “I’m 21 and generally, you know, I’d say more athletes have suffered a serious injury [by that age] than those that haven’t.”
While she’s staring down a long road to recovery, McKennis is somewhat lucky. She somehow skirted ligament damage.
“I mean, it’s basically bones that were broke,” she said. “Bones heal really well, better than ligaments. It’s just going to be a matter of time – a lot of rehab and a lot of therapy, but it’s just part of ski racing. Injuries are a part of the sport and they happen all the time. You never really think you’re safe. It’s always in the back of your mind that it can happen to you.”
McKennis had been enjoying a solid World Cup season.
She finished 11th and 15th in downhill races at Lake Louise, Alberta, in early December. At the same stop, she posted a 22nd-place super G showing. She added 30th-place finish in the downhill at Val d’Isere, France, in mid-December.
“It was going well,” McKennis said. “I sort of knew how things worked better and didn’t feel quite so out of my element. I knew a few of the hills and was definitely looking forward to the season and being more confident.”
Though she’s sidelined and back at the New Castle ranch where she grew up – when not immersed in physical therapy sessions in Vail, anyway – McKennis is nonetheless charting her teammates’ exploits from afar.
“I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to watch the World Cup races going on in Europe,” she said on Saturday. “I was watching it live, online. I’m definitely going to try to keep learning from it. I miss it, obviously – a lot. I wish I were there, but I’ll do what I can and keep watching the best skiers, men or women, and try to take something from them.”
McKennis, who will get a break from the globe-trotting ways of the World Cup circuit, plans on making the most of her idle time in Colorado.
“I get to spend some time with my family,” she said. “My niece is 13 months old and she’ll start walking soon. I’m sure I’ll be able to see that now. I don’t think I would have been able to see that if I had been in Europe racing. At least that’s one good thing. I’ll probably take some online classes to keep me occupied.
“It’s always great to be home in Colorado. Obviously, I wish it weren’t under these circumstances.”
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Fans, players and coaches on both sides of Stubler Memorial Field seemed to know it would come down just the way it did, regardless of who had the ball at the end.