February 1, 2009: Major Setback

Sils, Switzerland – So for today’s race, third consecutive, I wanted to really figure out my best pre-race mental state. We’d been on the same hill for 4 days now so there shouldn’t be any surprises and I believe that mental and emotional preparation are just as important as the physical one. So today I wanted to mimic my state when I was training a few days ago when I had solid, fast runs, and had fun.

In the morning at the lodge, I casually chatted with friends and talked briefly to my coach about my focus for today, which was to keep things light and not be super focused too long before the race. I just wanted to move and take my freeriding skill and feeling into the course. I just wanted to ride the way I know how and to have fun. I wanted to smile at the end of the day. So today’s motto: Flow like water.

Instead of listening to techno/electronica or metal music to find my aggression, I listened to dance/happy music (a lot from the Blue Crush soundtrack) when I took some freeruns and slipped the course. Before my run I chatted and joked with people, and made sure to smile and laugh. It’s a bit of a fine line because I don’t want to be too relaxed, I am here to win afterall, but I wanted to treat today like a normal training day since that’s where I perform my best. It wasn’t until a few minutes before I was to go that I started my focus. I started with deep abdominal breaths to release any stress or tightness I had and then kept repeating my motto and did the physical movements of that motto in the race course. Then it was go time. The snow was super firm and that freaked me out at the first two gates (another coach said I was shakey on the first couple of gates but then pulled it together for a good run), but I think because I was so relaxed and focused on moving and flowing I was able to keep myself together.

I had a decent run, leaving me in 12th on my course and eligible for a second run. It wasn’t a super fast run since my heelsides were suffering a bit from not being round enough. But I was able to generate speed on my toesides. One thing I had to do on the second run was to look up more at a few gates ahead instead of down at the gate immediately ahead of me.

For my second run I did the same mental preparation except I added “look up” into my starting gate chants. It was very foggy so you really had to look up to see where the next gate was. I started off a little shakey again but got myself together. I got behind the girl I was racing so I started riding a bit out of control to gain some time. I completely forgot about the tough snow conditions and all I thought about was, “Go! Go! Go!” into the finish. It was a good run.

But unfortunately I was going too fast through the finish and since that snow was really hard it made it tough to stop. A lot of racers were crashing hard after the finish and sliding on their backs down the slope. I was one of those people after the first run so for the second run I tried to slow down on my toeside. But I wasn’t able to hold it and I crashed with my arm smacking the snow hard, dislocating my shoulder.

I tried to get up but had no power in my arm. And it was excruciatingly painful. To make a long and unpleasant story short, I was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital where they put me under so they could pop my shoulder back in. I wanted the doctor at the mountain patrol to do it Mel Gibson style but it didn’t work when he tried. So now I’m in a sling and out for 4 weeks. 4 weeks.

I’m still in Europe typing this all lefty (I’m right-handed so there have been a lot of difficulties; I won’t even be able to drive my car when I get home since it’s a stick shift L and I won’t even be able to surf!) and trying to find an early flight home so I can start rehabbing this thing. When they told me 4 weeks I started bawling. I don’t have 4 weeks to spare, I was just making some good breakthroughs in my riding and racing, I don’t want to come back with fear of re-injury, I already bought my plane ticket to Europe, etc., etc. But at the end of my pity party I realized that I could either throw in the towel and quit snowboarding, or make the best of it and have the right attitude so that when I’m all healed I’ll be mentally and emotionally stronger than before. I chose the latter. I’ve been very fortunate in my racing career to have good health especially compared to most. So while this is a major setback, I have no doubt that I’ll come out of it a better athlete and person.

I ended up 20th today. Another European top 20! So at least I had a good result. It would’ve really sucked if I crashed in the course and did poorly, then it would’ve all been for naught. But I think having a good race day is really helping my spirits and keeping me positive. And it’s not just about where I placed, but also what I learned about what works and doesn’t work in the starting gates, and about myself and how I deal with setbacks. I’m hoping this good attitude carries all the way through my rehab!

At the Hospital in Switzerland After Dislocating My Shoulder


2 Responses to “February 1, 2009: Major Setback”

  1. 1 kayano14 February 4, 2009 at 4:06 am

    Sorry to hear about the injury but safe travels back to the States and good luck with the rehab! I’m sure it’ll go by faster than you think.

  2. 2 Fellow Catalan February 4, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Glad to read you are doing relatively well considering what you just went through. A little story to cheer you up:

    “To qualify for the 1984 Olympic marathon in Los Angeles, Joan Benoit Samuelson would have to finish in the top three at the trials, no easy task considering that she would be competing against the world’s fastest women. Her training went well until mid-March when her right knee became injured during a 20-mile training run. By mid-April it had become clear that the injury was one that would require surgery, and on April 25 Samuelson underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee. When she hobbled from the operating room that day her Olympic aspirations seemed all but futile to many in the press: after all, just 17 days remained until the trials, and Samuelson’s injury had totally derailed her training program.

    While many in the running world bemoaned Samuelson’s likely inability to qualify for the Olympic Summer Games in the wake of such an invasive surgical procedure, they didn’t factor in the runner’s resolve. With less than three weeks available to regain her former strength, Samuelson focused on rebuilding her speed and endurance. Four days after surgery she was once again running.

    On May 17th, and through an outstanding effort she finished first with a time of 2:31:04, one of the most stunning athletic achievements many running enthusiasts could recall.”

    Not only did she win the trials, but on August 5th, she ended up winning the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic marathon!!

    Now you go get some well deserved rest and come back stronger than ever!

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