Manny's road back...
by Michael Mastarciyan
If you follow World Cup downhill racing, it’s pretty much public knowledge that Manuel Osborne-Paradis is by his very character a “glass half full” kind of guy – inherently positive about life and the unexpected twists and turns that happen to people when, as John Lennon so aptly put it, “you’re busy making other plans.”
Late last January, Osborne-Paradis was busy visualizing and making his own plans in Chamonix, high atop France’s majestic Mont Blanc massif in preparation for his turn to race down the famed “Verte” piste. Then, as the 26-year-old Canadian Cowboy was torching his way down the track, and well on his way to finishing off, as he describes it, “a great run” – “life” suddenly happened to him when he caught an edge and crashed hard.
“When I crashed I was just worried about not hitting my head. I knew I was flying backwards, and you know you can catch a couple things and the next thing you know you whip down on the ground and wake up in the hospital. For the most part this was what I was concerned about when I was crashing, hitting my head. Then, when I was in the nets I was thinking, ‘Damn it,’ I knew I was doing well, and it was a good run, and it was only the last turn that I had any concerns about. I’d given it the extra space and done everything in my head to keep all the speed up, but I knew that I had just screwed it up. You know, stuff like that just happens, that’s life. After getting initially checked in Chamonix, they thought it was a broken fibula, but then we went to Geneva for an MRI and they told my ACL was also torn and I had a slight tear in my LCL,” Osborne-Paradis says recalling the crash.
Not surprisingly, and in typical “glass-half-full” fashion, just hours after the accident, Osborne-Paradis made positive light of the serious nature of his injuries on a media conference call and jokingly bragged about the silver lining he’d found in the crash that was suddenly clouding his life – free pizza and a free helicopter ride!
But the “silver lining” wasn’t just limited to helicopters and pizza. Ever the eternal optimist, Osborne-Paradis now says the break from racing - even with all the surgical procedures and countless hours of physical rehabilitation that went with it - was probably a good thing.
“In a strange way I think it was time to get injured. I had been so long without injury, pushing so hard to the Olympics. I’d been racing World Cup since I was 20. Early on I think I was a good enough racer to be on the tour but I don’t think I was a good enough skier in terms of ability, and I think that took a lot of energy, to push out of myself and to perform. Then, before I knew it I had qualified for Torino and then the day after Torino ended, the next day, media questions about Vancouver and the tons of buildup that went with that. It was a busy and intense five or six year period for me and I think I just needed a breather of some sort.”
“Now the time off has given me the opportunity to do things I didn’t have time for before, like getting laser eye surgery. And like I said, in a weird way the timing of my crash couldn’t have been better. I was burnt out and there was no real way I was going to get a break or get any leeway from racing. I think I was having a hard time staying focused and staying in the moment during last season’s races. I don’t think I had a bad race all season, just bad sections, and they were sections where I maybe had a lapse of judgement or wasn’t focussed as well as I needed to be so I was getting seventh to fifteenth all the time instead of one to five where I wanted to be. You need to be on your game and you need to be ‘there’ if you want to do that.”
Despite all the positivity, the season-ending crash, the serious nature of the injuries, and the forced hiatus from downhill racing made for a tough new track the Canadian speed specialist has had zero experience on. Having never suffered a serious ski injury before, Osborne-Paradis has suddenly had to navigate his way through uncharted territory on a road he’s never been on before.
“I’m not a 100% ready to ski yet, but in three or four months, after I’ve been back in the gym and in race shape, I think I’m going to find a whole new passion for going fast and racing. When I get back on snow I know it’s going to be taking it easy and going from square one. And I know it’s not going to be easy when I get back to the races, and I’m going to have to deal with not having the same amount of training as everyone else. But you know, once you know how to be a good skier, it’s not like you just lose that, and I always have that in my back pocket, it’s just a matter of rehabbing it on snow, getting confident with my knee and then digging deep down and finding how I used to ski and where I used to be at when I was at my best. I’m kind of using Grange (Jean-Baptiste) as an inspiration a little bit, after blowing his ACL and then having such a successful season this year.”
For now the road back to top form is the only route Osborne-Paradis is keeping his eyes on – but that doesn’t mean a little detour won’t happen from time to time according to the friendly British Columbian – especially if the detour is happening when he’s at the wheel of a vintage 1967 Chevrolet Camaro borrowed from a friend, driving down California’s stunning Pacific Coast Highway Route 1 before hitting the famed Coachella Music Festival.
“My trip to California in April was such a cool holiday. My girlfriend Lana and I we were driving down the Pacific Coast High and I was thinking about how many peoples’ dreams it would be to drive a souped up ’67 Camaro down the PCH. We were able to use the car for two weeks and experience what it must have been like to do a driving trip in the olden days.”
“Coachella was above and beyond anything I’d ever experienced. It was fun, just a lot of happy people everywhere. It was good to free myself up and climb out of my shell a little bit, to just dance around a little bit and have a good time. I’m so used to doing sports at the end of the season, and I just want to do anything that’s not skiing. I just want to surf, or mountain bike or play golf - and not to be able to do any of these because of my knee injury - I think I found a good substitute with going to the music festival and hanging out with friends I never get to see. I thought Tinie Tempah was by far the best band I saw the whole weekend and The Strokes, The Black Keys and Duck Sauce were the three right behind them.”
With his California road trip behind him, Osborne-Paradis is now back in Canada spending most of his days at the gym rebuilding his racing frame and preparing for a return to snow. He says the timeline for his World Cup return will depend on the progress he makes this summer.
“Laying around is not what I like to do and it’s what I’ve had to do during the initial healing process. I’m excited to get stronger and feel good about myself in the gym, and when I’m back on snow to feel like I did 100% what I could have done. I think I’ll be back on snow by middle or late August and then it’ll be a hectic September, October, November. I’m going to have to catch up on days on snow compared to the other guys, but you know at that time, with such a long break, you’re not necessarily playing ‘catch-up.’ You’re just prepping yourself just as much as everybody else, and who knows it might be something that really works out for me. You know, it’s like you take a longer break in the summer and then you really get ready for race season - where I feel like sometimes you ski so well in the summer that you just try to hold onto that skiing until Lake Louise. But now for me it’ll just be one big buildup and then race time in November. If all goes well, without any hiccups, I’ll be ready for Lake Louise.”