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April 4, 2006
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (USST Press Release)—Three-time Olympian Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO), who was used to independence and mobility during a decade on the U.S. Ski Team, is starting to lengthen the “leash” she’s been on since shattering a kneecap and suffering other injuries in a World Cup training crash.
“I’m adjusting to a different-paced life,” Lalive said. “I’mdoing therapy, pilates and so forth, and I’m gonna start school soon. I’m trying to keep myself busy.
“It’s definitely a big adjustment for me, from being active in skiing to not doing anything…but it’s good, just being here in Steamboat. I’ve been able to see my family quite a bit and I’m moving forward.”
Despite the time-honored saying, her third time wasn’t a charm – Lalive, 26, shattered her left patella, fractured a femur and tore a quad tendon Jan. 25 during training in Cortina d’Ampezzo,Italy. Coincidentally, that was the day Lalive – who had beensecond in a downhill at Val d’Isere, France in December – wasnamed to her third Olympic Team; instead of competing, shewatched the Winter Games of Torino on television at home.
“I felt and heard…”
She had gone off a jump and crunched her knee in the landing – without crashing. “The landings were all really flat on most of the jumps. I jumped farther that day than the first day; it wasn’t that awkward at all…[pagebreak]”As soon as I landed, I felt and heard a loud pop. I gave myself a second or two to internalize. I tried to keep skiing, I grabbed my leg and skied to the side of the course. I sat behind a banner and I could feel pieces of my kneecap up in my quad.”
Taken to a hospital, doctors said X-rays showed her knee to be broken into “four or five” pieces. She decided for surgery with Dr. William Sterett at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in the Vail Valley Medical Center. Sterett said the operation showed her kneecap in dozens of pieces. She expects to undergo arthroscopic surgery in late April to check on her progress and gauge any need for additional surgery.
Lalive’s latest step forward came with graduating to riding abike. “I haven’t done anything aerobic for two months, so I’ve been looking forward to that. Once I get my range of motion back (in her knee), I’ll work on getting my strength back,” she said.
Apart from the physical progress in her knee and leg, Lalivesaid that while she’s had other injuries in her career, this one has given her a new perspective on life. She’s learned toappreciate even more about her life.
Watching the Olympics from bed wasn’t in the plan
“The hard part with the Olympics going on was that I was in the last place I expected to be – in a bed, completely immobile. Watching the Olympics on TV was really hard. There were all the questions, of course – ‘Why did this happen? Am I supposed to be skiing any more?’ At this point in my career, I’ve had so many injuries and that comes with the territory…[pagebreak]”I went through a good two weeks really struggling with it, not knowing what was going on. But once I got into (physical)therapy, that gave more purpose to my day. Being a goal-oriented person helps, too. Even silly goals, something like bending my knee three degrees.
“Y’know, everything is relative. I’ve had so many incrediblethings in my life,” Lalive went on, “and just people sharingstuff with me that they’ve gone through. It kind of puts a lot of things in perspective.” One pick-me-up phone call came from Georg Capaul, the former U.S. women’s coach who was struck down – paralyzed below the waist – by a mysterious ailment heading into the 2002 Olympic season. “I talked with Georg; he had something absolutely unfair come into his life,” she said, “and so many other people, a woman whose son died of leukemia five years ago…”
On the World Cup, she said, she thinks of Jimmie Heuga and the multiple sclerosis he’s battled for more than three decades, the terrible accident Austrian great Hermann Maier weent through in August 2001 and the continual medical problems Croatian star Janica Kostelic has endured. “It’s crazy, what they’ve dealt with, but it also helps me sort things out,” she said.
“You get such tunnel vision in our world. These little pit stops (accidents, surgery) are eye-openers…
“My biggest thing right away was ‘What am I gonna do? Will Ihave to quit skiing?’ This isn’t how I planned on retiring. I’m certainly not ready to quit,” she said. She was encouraged when Sterett told he feels she’ll make a complete recovery.
“The question is the time it’ll take to get back. We’ll see. I mean, I’m not even walking yet so I have no idea about skiing. I’m taking it one day at a time and hoping for the best. I want to be strong and ready to go. If I can’t ski again next year, I’ll have to be ready for that, too.”[pagebreak]Coaches, teammates stay in touch
When it was suggested she channel her abundant energy intoanother activity like playing a musical instrument or knitting, Lalive laughed. “When I blew out my knee the last time, I picked up a guitar. I’ll have to get back to it…but you need to dedicate yourself to it entirely.”
She’s heard from coaches and teammates, Lalive said, and she’s exchanged text messages with Julia Mancuso, the Olympic giant slalom gold medalist. Team leader and longtime teammate Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME), who has worked her way back from ahorrendous injury – the first major injury of her career — in January 2004, “has been awesome in keeping tabs on me and making sure all is well and the coaches have been really good,” she said. “We just have such an awesome team.”
Coincidentally, former teammate Alison Powers, who fractured her left kneecap in a racing crash, has been working in Steamboat Springs since the fall and contacted Lalive when she returned home. “Having had the same experience, it was pretty cool of her to think of me. We shared our knee stories,” she said with another laugh.
She’s looking into classes at Colorado Mountain College, which has a branch in Steamboat. “A 26-year-old freshman? That’s not too out of the ordinary, is it? CMC has a Mud Season course, every day for about five weeks. I can do it…
“I’m in a brace and I’m using a cane to walk, looking tograduate to a cane and no brace. This is definitely a test of my patience…but it would be foolish to rush it.”
Lalive continues to take a positive approach in her rehab. “In the meantime, there is definitely motivation to come back and compete again. I’ll be 30 in 2010 (when the Olympics are in Vancouver – with alpine races at Whistler). Racing then doesn’t seem like too far-fetched. I think it’s definitely plausible.”