Benni Raich: I can breathe free again

28 October 2011 19:42

Interview by Max Ischia, originally for Tiroler Tageszeitung here.

Benjamin Raich about functioning, continuous pressure, self-discovery and the factor known as time.

When did you take your last pain killer?

Benjamin Raich: That is some time ago now. For sure none during the entire rehab period. That would be the wrong way to go about it. At least for me. But in the end everyone is responsible for themselves.

Does Raich not know the concept of pain?

Raich: Of course but since the operation it has been getting constantly better. It sounds like a cliché. But we took our time. It was never my goal to stand back on the skis as soon as possible. I’d rather wait another month than start back a day too early.

Are you looking back at the most exciting time of your career?

Raich: You can say that. When you leave the beaten path there is a lot of unknown there by default. I had to listen to my body very carefully and learned a lot otherwise too.

For example?

Raich: Even if the diagnosis was tough and you are taken from 100 to zero right in the middle of a World Championship, it was a radical development which also brought me many positive learnings. I have been going at full speed pretty much for the last 15 years. Not only on the course but also off it, with all the requests, appointments and obligations. And then suddenly I had time, a lot of time. Time for me. That’s something I didn't have before.

Some other people might fall into a depression?

Raich: For me it was the opposite. Even if may sound pretty simple to keep up with the very top for years, it requires a lot of effort. You have to invest a lot, your life is public and you have to present yourself accordingly. That is part of the business, and I am not complaining, but it starts to take its toll. Season after season.

So the injury actually had some kind of liberating effect?

Raich: Liberation is maybe not the correct term because I do love what I am doing. But I came to terms with my injury very fast and for me it was immediately clear that I would come back. The attention around me subsided two, three days after the operation. The Worlds and the season continued and Raich was not that interesting any more. Which is understandable. Consciously or unconsciously I noticed that I started to breath freely again. No appointments, no obligations, no need to have to function. And when you are laying on a bed when outside there is the most beautiful winter day with awesome snow, it becomes very clear to you what a blessing it is to be able to make your hobby into your profession.

What role did your partner Marlies Schield play on your journey to comeback?

Raich: I could not have had a better role model. Just to will power that Marlies showed in times of pain, disappointments and uncertainty is extraordinary. And I knew that patience is key.

The head coach of the Austrian men’s team Mathias Berthold said recently that you used the injury and the comeback for a few technical improvements?

Raich: That is possibly a reason why many athletes return very strong after such injuries. You often need a major occurrence to change your habits. A bit like a reset of a hard drive. In the therapy you begin from zero and develop day-by-day. I really tried to take advantage of this and improve in all areas. That means, in strength and conditioning training and of course in skiing.

How do you feel at the start of this season?

Raich: I am excited, hungry and very ready.

Are you also ready to fight for the overall?

Raich: Honestly, that has not been a focus of mine not for a second. In the current situation I am already quite privileged to even name any concrete goals after such a long time. But for me it is clear that I would like to compete with the best in the course of the season.

FIS has decided on change of the alpine equipment specifications for the season 2012/13 which did not meet with much acceptance. Some 200 athletes have signed a petition which was opposed to the FIS processes for decision-making.

Raich: I do not understand that some sign such a thing. I view many of the changes as sensible. If the athletes feel ignored, they also take it too easy. If you wanted to receive information, it was possible to receive it. I was always well informed.