Spence has knee surgery

01 April 2012 16:51

Canadian slalom racer Brad Spence is determined to complete some unfinished business after going under the knife to fix a nagging knee complaint that had started to slow him down.

The 27-year-old from Calgary battled through chronic knee pain to put together an incredibly consistent 2011-12 season which included nine top-30 World Cup results. But the knee complaint got progressively worse towards the end of the year and Spence knew it was time to take action. Although he will now spend several months on the sidelines, Spence is hoping to bounce back stronger than ever and chase down some ambitious career goals that include a trip to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

“This year it became pretty apparent that it was something I had to do. The pain was so bad, the knee was giving me so much grief, that I couldn’t do my job,” Spence said. “The (problem) had been there for a year and a bit. I kind of knew it was going to have to happen.”

Spence travelled to London, Ont., last week to be seen by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bob Litchfield. Dr. Litchfield performed microfracture surgery – which is used to repair damaged cartilage – and Spence was due to head back to Alberta on Monday after spending the weekend recovering in Ontario. The Calgarian is expecting to be on crutches for around six weeks but the timeline for his return to snow is less certain.

“It was a good surgery. Once Dr. Litchfield got in there he was quite pleased,” Spence said. “He found two spots that were probably causing the pain and was able to fix those.

“Everyone keeps saying there’s not really a protocol (for time out). It depends on the individual. It could be anywhere from four to 12 months to be back going full bore. I’m not going to push it faster than anybody recommends.”

Spence is no stranger to battling back from injury, having shown great courage and perseverance to fight back after suffering a career-threatening injury in a serious crash in Bormio, Italy, just prior to the 2006 Olympics. He suffered a broken tibia, fibula, torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and meniscus damage in his right knee. After a long and difficult road to recovery Spence realized his dream of competing at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler, B.C., but after failing to finish the slalom and finishing 42nd in giant slalom, Spence is hungry for another shot at the Winter Games.

“I’m definitely not putting any timeframes on my career. I want to do it as long as I’m successful and it’s fun,” Spence said. “This, for sure, is going to buy me a couple of years through to Sochi.

“I think if you ask any Canadian (the Olympics) is definitely what’s important. Since I was a kid I dreamed of standing at the top of the podium at the Olympics.

“I remember being in my grandparents’ living room (during the 1988 Calgary Olympics). Both my parents were volunteering. I remember watching the snowbirds flying overhead. Since I was four I had that Olympic dream and obviously to come back after such a big accident in 2010 was huge. Not performing as (I wanted to) in Vancouver left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.”

Kip Harrington, the Canadian men’s alpine team’s technical head coach, said Spence has shown great courage to battle through pain and perform both in training and races.

“This injury has been, in Brad’s words, his ‘limiting factor,’ ” Harrington said. “It limits his training and places a daily challenge for him, not to mention the pain he works through. He does a fantastic job in spite of this.

“We just want to see him happy and healthy and able to focus on fast skiing and training without limitations. I think we have to be patient, and help him toward a healthy return to training and competition.”

Spence’s ski-racing career has been on an upward trajectory in recent years but he’s equally well known for his work off the hill. Spence is heavily involved with several charities, including the Branch Out Neurological Foundation and KidSport. Spence also made headlines throughout the world earlier this year when he granted an eight-year-old fan’s request to become his headgear sponsor for a race. He arranged for young Gage Ferguson, of Calgary, and his family to be flown to Switzerland to watch him race at the famous Wengen World Cup stop.