Broken Fibula

Because I haven’t posted anything, I didn’t know anybody knew about my crash yesterday. Apparently I was wrong. I just turned on my computer for the first time, and I’m overwhelmed by the number of get well messages. I feel incredibly lucky to have so much support! Thank you all.

I see now that posted this article yesterday about my crash.

Yesterday was the first distance World Cup of the year, a 15 kilometer classic individual start race in Kuusamo, Finland. Before I went out to warm-up I got to watch the ladies’ race on T.V. Here’s my teammate Liz Stephen with her game face on at the start line.

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As a team we didn’t have a standout day, but Sadie Bjornsen had a great race with a 17th place finish. You can see the full ladies’ results here.

Yesterday was my first time working with my new wax technician Jp Laurin in a real race setting. It went really well. We were efficient and ended up with a great pair of skis. My skis seemed as good as anybody I skied around in the race. Here’s Jp before we started testing skis:

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Our physical therapist Pete Dickenson was in the start pen to help us shed clothing and prepare to race.

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Simi Hamilton started 30 seconds after I did. Here he is shaking out his legs:

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My goal for the race was to start under control, to be patient and to glide. My first kilometer, which is up the biggest hill on the course, was maybe a little too hard, but then I settled in with some guys who were one or two laps ahead of me. I kept it really under control, just following as easily as possible because I was anticipating a faster ride later in the race. As I came through the stadium after completing one lap (5 kilometers), Norwegian Paal Golberg started his race. He was about 5 seconds ahead of me. Paal is a great 15 kilometer classic skier. He proved it again yesterday, finishing 9th. I thought he was the ride I needed to take. I went really hard up the big climb to catch him, and I did, about half way up. I stayed with him to the top, but the effort of catching him and staying with him was too much for me. I couldn’t stay with Paal, my legs flooded and I slowed way down. For several kilometers I had to focus on being smooth and recovering. I lost a ton of time. Then right at the end of the second lap, Finnish skier Sami Jauhojärvi caught me. He had started a minute behind me and was having a great race. He ended up finishing in third place. I needed to stay with him, and I did, all the way around the stadium and up the big climb, but just like the lap before, the effort was too much for me. He dropped me and I was blown. I was suffering for the rest of the race. I was not skiing fast. At the 13.1 kilometer split station, which was right before I crashed, I was in 52nd place, not where I want to be.

The corner that I crashed on is definitely challenging. It’s a sharp right hand bend at the bottom of a straight fast downhill. It’s blind so you can’t see where you’re going, and it gets really icy with lots of traffic; yesterday was no exception. All that being said, I’ve skied the corner dozens of times in the years I’ve been skiing in Kuusamo. It doesn’t scare me and it should not be that challenging for me. When I went down the hill on my third lap yesterday there wasn’t anybody around me. I wasn’t trying to be super aggressive; in fact, I maybe should have tried to carry more speed through it. I’m not sure exactly what happened. I slid on the ice, went into the snowy berm, lost control and slammed into the fence. The fence was made of alpine netting, but the bottom half of it was covered with some sort of solid paper or plastic. One of my skis snapped in half when it hit the fence and the other punched a whole in the solid material and went through the fence. I believe that my right ski was the one that snapped and my left ski was the one that went through the fence. I hurt my left knee and ankle as I kept sliding and my leg got torqued from the ski that was caught in the fence.

I knew almost immediately that I was hurt. I got up and glided about a hundred meters down the trail. I needed to get out of the way of other racers and I needed to get to some people who could help me. I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. I knew I couldn’t finish the race, which is significant because I’ve never previously dropped out of a race. I’m bummed that I had to end that streak yesterday. I called for help and some coaches from the nearby coaching zone ran to me, including the U.S. Ski Team’s Bryan Fish. They helped me take off my skis and lay down. They put a jacket over me and contacted the organizers for medical help. Bryan also radioed to Pete to come to me. Pete arrived and we waited for a snowmobile and stretcher to arrive. The race was still going on and athletes were flying by us. We tried to get off the trail as much as possible. When the snowmobile arrived it was in the middle of the trail and some racers nearly hit it.

They put my leg in an air splint and loaded me into the stretcher that was being pulled by the snowmobile. They then drove me back to the stadium where there is a small clinic. Pete stayed with me the whole time, riding on the back of the sled. We had to drive through the middle of the waxing area where there were a ton of athletes who had already finished their race. There were also lots of spectators. I felt like I was being paraded through the onlookers. I was super embarrassed.

Then Pete and I had to hang in the clinic while we waited for an ambulance to take me to a place to get X-rays. We were only going half a kilometer and I thought the ambulance was overkill. I could have gotten in a car or hopped, but my input didn’t matter. Here’s a picture Pete snapped of me chilling in the clinic:


I was a little incredulous that I was getting loaded into an ambulance. Here’s a picture Liz took of me after she dropped off some food for me:


We drove to another small clinic right in the resort village of Ruka. I was glad we didn’t have to go all the way into the city of Kuusamo, 20 kilometers away. The Ruka clinic had a portable X-ray machine. Here I am getting the X-rays taken, still in my race suit.

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Pete took this picture of the X-ray. It didn’t turn out super well but you can see the fracture in the fibula behind the tibia, at least that’s what I’m told.

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The plan then immediately became for me to get back to the U.S. as fast as possible. There wasn’t really any discussion about it, and I didn’t have any say in the matter. They put me in a hard cast for the travel.

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After my leg was casted we had to take a taxi 300 meters from the clinic to our condo because Pete wouldn’t let me crutch down the icy stairs and hill.

Things happened really fast once I got back to the condo. I got on the phone with the U.S. Ski Team travel agent to try to re-book my ticket. Because my scheduled return flight was from Munich, Germany to Hartford, Connecticut after the Tour de Ski, and I now wanted to go from northern Finland to Denver as soon as possible, the travel agent couldn’t re-book the same ticket. The cheapest option to buy a new ticket was $1000. Cost aside, there were no seats available from many of the airports close to Kuusamo. We looked at five different departure cities, and they all had awful or nonexistent options. When we kept striking out I started doing some research on my own and amazingly found an award ticket option through United but on partner airlines out of Lulea, Sweden. The only ticket available was in business class for 70,000 miles. Luckily I had that many miles available and it sounded better to me to spend them than paying $1,000, so I purchased it at 6 O’clock last night. The flight was at 6:20 this morning. Lulea is 5 hours from Kuusamo.

The reason it was possible for me to make the flight was because our wax technicians, Jp and Oleg Ragilo, were driving the cargo van to Lulea last night anyways on their way to Lillehammer for next week’s World Cup races. The cargo van has a three person bench seat in the front so I could cram in. Oleg and Jp were ready to depart before I even booked the flight and I hadn’t packed, eaten dinner or showered. Also, my leg was quite painful. Luckily I have incredible teammates. They did everything for me. I took a washcloth bath while Simi and Ida packed my duffel bag and Liz made me four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. I got out of the condo in less than 15 minutes.

As we took off on the long drive I had to make a ton of phone calls, organizing things at home. I talked to my coaches and parents, started the process of setting up doctor’s appointments and organized transport with Emilia for when I land in Denver. The drive was long and monotonous on snow covered roads.

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We arrived in Lulea at midnight, having gained an hour when we entered Sweden. I checked into a hotel room and ordered a 5 a.m. taxi. I slept pretty well considering I had to keep my leg elevated.

I made it to the airport without issue, although crutching while rolling a duffel is a challenge. At the airport I went to check in and the Scandinavian Airlines computer system didn’t have my ticket number. I had to spend half an hour on the phone with United to get it figured out. I almost missed the flight.

Since then the travel has gone very smoothly. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been getting pushed around airports in a wheelchair. I’m now on a flight from Frankfurt to Denver. This is my first time having internet access on a trans-Atlantic flight. It’s very nice. Also, I am thoroughly enjoying business class. I got a little present when I arrived that was a pouch with a toothbrush, sleep mask, ear plugs, etc…

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We ordered off of a menu for a four course meal for lunch. Here are the appetizer and salad courses:

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I got cheesy pasta for the main course.

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I had to inject myself with a blood thinner this morning and I’m taking regular doses of Aspirin to reduce the risk of a blood clot. I’m heading to Breckenridge tonight and hopefully seeing somebody at The Steadman Clinic tomorrow to get a diagnosis. Then I can start making plans for my recovery and my return to racing.

Thanks again for all the support!