Coming Back from Injury

08 November 2010 12:53

VAIL, Co. – The sport of alpine racing tests every athlete’s determination but few more than it has U.S. racer Resi Stiegler (of the tiger ears on her race helmet fame), who is once again returning to the race course after a long line of injuries.

Not once but thrice has Stiegler fought her way back to health only to fall to another injury, each battle following the one before it in uncannily rapid succession. The first injury came in 2007, just as Stiegler had started to inch closer and closer to a World Cup slalom podium and had become a regular face among the top 10. She crashed in the giant slalom in Lienz, Austria, breaking her left arm and tearing ligaments in her left knee. Sidelined for the remainder of the 2007-08 season, Stiegler had scarcely gotten back in athletic shape when she broke her leg playing soccer that summer, keeping her off the circuit once again save a memorable appearance in the 2008 world championship slalom, in which she finished 19th. Just a few weeks after that, however, in yet another freakish, off-hill accident (falling off a step), Stiegler broke her foot.

Boiling over with excitement and passion to get back into the gates, Stiegler was strong, healthy and ready to re-launch her career when exactly one year ago, she was in the midst of early season training and took another blow – her worst yet. Training giant slalom in Colorado, Stiegler fell and broke her left leg in two places, leaving her screaming in pain and off snow for a full year … until now.

“I broke my femur and tibia plateau. It was really a long rehab. I couldn’t walk for 17 or 18 weeks … so that sucked,” Stiegler recalls. “Since then, I’ve had another surgery to get all of the plates out. So that was nice because my leg doesn’t hurt at all, which is really awesome. Skiing’s been really fun coming back. But I’ve been taking it a lot slower than normal.”

The U.S. Team has been training at Vail, Colo., this week and Stiegler has had her first round of real slalom gates in a long time. But they are not the only obstacles she is steering around.

“Getting back on snow is so natural to me … like riding a bike. The mental part is the hardest,” she says. “It’s my fourth injury in three years and I never hurt myself before. Last year coming into that season I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get injured again. It was a really tough one. It’s more a struggle with post-traumatic disorder.”

Just recently cleared to start racing again and finally free of physical pain, Stiegler is prepared to tackle the mental blocks. She plans to stick to slalom and a little GS this season, beginning with NorAms and Europa Cups and slowly make her way back onto the World Cup … in Aspen, if possible.

“I haven’t raced in three years, really,” she says. “But I need to and I want to. I would really like to ski a whole season. I had pretty much three years off. But you build a fire within … and get so determined to come back.”

Check out a video interview of Stiegler in Vail


by Shauna Farnell