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The Art of Recovery

Fall Line

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Two ski racers have near-fatal crashes. Both are told they will never ski again. That’s where the similarities end as two new books describe the lives of Austrian superstar Hermann Maier and U.S. downhiller Bill Johnson.

Hermann Maier’s autobiography (with Knut Okresek),The Race of My Life (Velo Press), follows the fanatical—and inspiring— dedication that enabled Austria’s most popular athlete to recover from motorcycle-crash injuries and win ski races again on a leg held together with a titanium rod.

Jennifer Woodlief’s Ski To Die: The Bill Johnson Story (Emmis Books) tells the cautionary tale of the 1984 Olympic downhill gold medalist’s failure to rehabilitate himself physically, spiritually and morally, and his bottoming out after suffering a head injury five years ago while attempting to return to racing at age 40.

Maier, who finds a role model in Lance Armstrong, stationary-biked 6,000 miles and lifted more than 800 tons to rehabilitate his legs. Johnson, on the other hand, found physical therapy boring and replaced it with drinking and smoking. Two champions, two challenges, two very different outcomes.