As Sochi prepares to debut slopestyle skiing at the Olympics, it's hard not to think that skier Kaya Turski shouldn't be here.
That's not saying the Canadian slopestyle queen is without the skill set—four X Games gold medals and a World Championship can attest to that—but after suffering a potentially damning third anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear just five months ago, there's no way she should have been ready.
In Turski's case, however, her injury experiences may have actually been her greatest ally.
"It's definitely not hurting me to have gone through this before," admitted Turski in an interview with ESPN. "Dealing with something like this is a big mental game; you're not sure what's going on, what you're feeling in the knee, and what to expect. But I've done it twice already, so it didn't freak me out."
Turski underwent a revolutionary and highly experimental surgery last August in hopes of returning to snow in time for the debut of Olympic slopestyle. The monumental surgery essentially implanted a synthetic ACL to take the place of the ligament, an operation that is said to cut recovery time—usually eight to nine months—in half. Turski also had the traditional cadaver ligament put in so that eventually her knee will heal and she won’t need the artificial ACL.
After the surgery, the former champion moved from her hometown of Montreal, Québec, to Vancouver, British Columbia, in order to fully immerse herself in the rehab process. While this provided her the focus she needed, it also gave her a chance to think—and, perhaps more dangerously, a chance to doubt.
"You're battling a lot of pressure from yourself," she explained. "Dealing with that pressure, the fear of re-injury, timelines, deadlines—it's quite a bit to wrap your head around."
Just four and a half months after going down with her injury, Turski saw all the gym hours, on-snow training in Mammoth Lakes, California, and mental gymnastics pay off as she skied to an X Games slopestyle gold in her first competition since March 2013. The win cemented her place in Sochi and reminded the rest of the field that the Canadian is still a serious contender for Olympic gold.
In a blog entry from this fall, Turski made it clear that despite her steep road to recovery, nothing was ever truly out of reach. "The hope is still there, and I truly believe I have it in me to continue on and do what I do best. I'm all in … with not much else to lose."
Women’s ski slopestyle qualifications begin at 10:00 a.m Tuesday, Sochi time, followed by the final event at 1:00 p.m. NBCOlympics.com provides viewing details.
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