BEAVER CREEK, CO - (USST News Release - Nov. 29, 2007) - Dane Spencer (Boise, ID) didn't know what was going on. Preparing for a NorAm in Montana, he had just heard that teammate Ted Ligety had won Olympic gold 6,000 miles away in Torino. But a short time later, Spencer crashed and was unconscious more than a week with multiple injuries including a broken neck. This Sunday, as his storybook comeback continues, Spencer will take another step towards his own gold medal when he gets into the World Cup starting gate in the Beaver Creek giant slalom.
"I take it day by day. I try not to get ahead of myself," Spencer said. "I'm on a long road back and there are no shortcuts."
As the saying goes, and he agrees, "I'm just 'chopping wood every day.' I keep chopping wood. I try not to kid myself. I focus on things to make me ski well."
The simple fact he's walking and talking, much less preparing to race in Sunday's giant slalom, may not qualify as a miracle for some people. On the other hand, everyone feels there are special elements to this comeback story by the straight-talking, no-excuses 2002 Olympian.
Coach: "extraordinary" character
"Where do you start? All of us - and this includes coaches and athletes from other teams who know him - are happy Dane's back. He's such a great teammate but his character and his competitiveness are extraordinary," U.S. Men's Head Coach Phil McNichol said.
"But then there's this whole element of racing again that lifts this story above most others."
Spencer didn't mope around after narrowly missing the 2006 Olympic Team. He went back to racing and it was in a NorAm downhill at The Big Mountain, MT, when he went down Feb. 14, 2006. As he left the starting gate, he heard that Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) had won the combined gold medal in Torino.
"I've told Ted, 'You have the best moment of your life and I run into the worst moment of my life.' It was great for him and I didn't get time to enjoy it because I crashed a minute or two later," Spencer recalled. In addition to breaking his neck, Spencer crushed his pelvis.
Doctors said he had a high chance - 98 percent by one count - of dying. Or he could live as a quadraplegic, they said. Spencer spent nearly a week in a medically controlled coma; when he had his senses back, he said he would walk again. He quietly began charting his return to racing. Three months after he was injured, as he was recovering at his home, he stopped using canes to walk.
He began free-skiing a year ago. He took it easy. But when the men's squad regrouped after the 2007 season, Spencer was there to take part in training for this season. He was at all training camps and, 20 months after his horrendous crash, Spencer competed in the opening Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom in late October in Soelden, Austria. He achieved his first goal: getting through the finish, not crashing.
Spencer: "Now I move on..."
"Sure, I had some nerves before the race. I don't think I'd be human if I didn't but it was good to be back racing," he said. "For me, though, it was good to get that event out of the way. It was significant, sure, but this comeback can't revolve around just one race. Now I move on to the next one...to Birds of Prey, and then on from there.
"I've got some hurdles to overcome, some things I need to work on daily," he said. "I enter each training session, each day, each run with a focus. This road back is going to be fairly long, so I work on keeping it all in perspective. I keep it one day at a time."
A two-time U.S. champion in combined, and a World Cup super G racer in addition to GS, Spencer plans to compete only in giant slaloms this winter.
"It's only GS to start, and then we'll see where things go. I'm excited to keep moving forward one day at a time."
All men's World Cup races, except Friday's downhill, from the Charles Schwab Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek willl be webstreamed live on WCSN.com. Sunday's Rauch Men's GS will be available at 11:45 a.m. ET on WCSN.com while Versus will televise coverage Dec. 16 at 5 p.m. ET. The men's downhill will be televised on NBC this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.