When Breezy Johnson, one of the U.S. Ski Team’s brightest stars who last season only narrowly missed the downhill podium at the PyeongChang Olympics, tore her ACL while training in Chile, she was knocked out of this season’s competition. But she’s not knocked down and out. In fact, when you speak to her or see her social media posts, it’s clear she’s more committed than ever not only to racing among the best in the world but also to inspiring the skiing community.
We talked with the Olympian about how to handle a skiing injury, how she’s rebuilding, and more. Here’s our conversation, which has been edited for clarity.
SKI Magazine: First of all, thanks for being so transparent about your story and sharing your journey. A lot of people, while they're not at your level, can relate to having bumps in the road. Can you share an update about how things are going and where you're at in your injury journey right now?
Breezy Johnson: I'm doing pretty well. I'm eight weeks out from surgery. The knee is beginning to feel really good which is great because it feels good, but then it's also hard because I'm ready to jump and run and all that sort of stuff and they’re like, "Calm down, Breezy."
SKI: What can you do right now?
Johnson: I'm doing a lot of strength work. I'm starting to work into single leg strength in physical therapy and beginning to do double leg strength in the gym. Throughout the process I've been doing a lot of upper body core and single leg lower body on my good leg.
Read more: Why Skiers Need to Work on Mobility
SKI: Would you be able to share some advice for anybody who's at an unanticipated or upsetting juncture in their skiing life? Obviously, as you have expressed, it's super frustrating to not be able to do what you want do with your body, so what would you say to someone who is facing a similar obstacle or even a smaller obstacle that feels really big to them?
Johnson: Sometimes, when it's not the worst injury you've ever seen, you feel like you can't talk about it or be bummed about it. But, first, accept that whatever you have to deal with is difficult and hard. You can be both bummed about what happened to you and be grateful that it wasn't worse at the same time.
While I wish I could give people a lot of really great pump-up advice, I think sometimes it doesn't really help you in the moment. But you will get through it and it's okay to have a tough time. Realize that in, say, six months you’ll be back and feel better. It’s temporary and it's not your whole life.
SKI: That's great insight. You are a fabulous role model in demonstrating grit and confidence—and not just when you're racing. Do you foster that or is it just innate?
Johnson: Some of it is innate. Also, there’s a saying that courage is not the absence of fear, it's not allowing fear to dictate your actions. We can have fears and they're natural. But we can’t allow fear to affect who we are. If I want to be a downhill skier or I want to be good at something, I have to have courage. We can't live our lives dictated by fear.
SKI: Do you do any mental training to deal with stressors?
Johnson: I do a lot of visualization, especially since I'm hurt, just imagining things. I watch video of old World Cup races. Things like that help me a lot to move forward. I write notes and occasionally read them as a means of understanding where I was and giving tips to myself that I might not remember a year or two from now.
SKI: It seems like you're really busy with the recovery and rehab.
Johnson: I have been really busy with the recovery. I think it's easier for me to do things than sit around not doing anything. You have to do what's best for you and for other people taking your mind off the injury. It’s unfortunate that in skiing and ski racing we deal with so many injuries. But with advances in technology, maybe we'll have a time soon when at least our rate of injury can be lower. What’s really important, though, is to have people you trust and who you can talk to. Especially because the medical system can be hard to navigate. Learn as much as you can and then decide what's best for you.
Read more: The Making of a Ski Trainer
SKI: So, what do you love most about skiing?
Johnson: There's a feeling you get when you're training really hard or racing where you have 100-percent focus on what’s in front of you. Mentally and physically you are working at 100 percent, when your muscles are firing and you're feeling fatigued. But there's nothing else that exists. That's living and that's what I love so much about skiing.
Also, my whole family grew up skiing and it's a great way to socialize with people. And then also, I love just being outside on those cold days where there's fresh powder and you just feel very at one with nature.
Learn how to prepare for the ski season and bullet-proof the body against ski injuries in SKI Magazine and AIM AdventureU's comprehensive, step-by-step online course SKI Injury Prevention.