The unsinkable Kelly Vanderbeek
By Michael Mastarciyan
With tears in her eyes, and a heavy heart, Kelly VanderBeek landed at Vancouver International Airport late last December, just one day after tearing up her left knee during a downhill training run in Val d'Isere, France.
After hobbling down the arrival hall with crutches, she was embraced by her husband David Ford. It was a teary, emotional homecoming, and it was also a very public one.
Waiting for VanderBeek - throngs of television, radio and newspaper journalists eager to hear from the racer who, until the crash, was one of Canada's best hopes for an alpine skiing medal at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
"I had been given a heads up through a text from David that media was awaiting me. Knowing they awaited my arrival, I tried to ‘steel' myself for the questions thinking I could keep my composure. However, as soon as I saw David I crumbled emotionally. It felt so good getting that hug, yet so sad at the same time; we had both worked extremely hard preparing for Vancouver," VanderBeek said.
The initial diagnosis was not promising. An MRI had indicated a completely severed ACL, MCL, and PCL in her knee. The LCL was also damaged. Her tibia was fractured and the menisci and IT band were also in need of repair. If medals were handed out for blown knees, VanderBeek would have been a shoe-in for gold.
"I knew the prognosis was bad after the MRI when it took four telephone conversations over a week before I knew the extent of the damage. I also knew it was bad when no one was talking about my return to snow - it was a real possibility I would never ski again. That was a level of injury I hadn't expected or prepared for.'
Fortunately things took a more positive turn after doctors operated.
"Once they got into my knee they realized the MRI wasn't totally accurate. My ACL and LCL were still intact. This was extremely good news - the prognosis went from rather dire to the fact that I should be back on my skis in eight months to a year. I felt like ‘high fiving' Dr. Litchfield (VanderBeek's surgeon) when he gave me the news after surgery! Ya it was still a bad knee, but way better than what the MRI had predicted," VanderBeek said.
With a bum knee, plenty of time on her hands, and her heart still yearning for the Olympic experience she was not destined to have, VanderBeek secretly wished she could participate in the games she'd trained so hard for.
Then, just days after her surgery, some amazing news - VanderBeek was invited by VANOC organizers to run with the torch - even if running would only be wheeling in a chair.
Shortly after this - even better news - a phone call from The CTV/Rogers Olympic Consortium, the umbrella group of Canadian television networks tasked with broadcasting the Winter Games - and an offer to work as an alpine skiing analyst.
"I really had no idea what to expect with TV since all I knew going in was what hotel to be at on what day. I went in just hoping I wouldn't put my foot in my mouth, and left having had such a wonderful experience. Other than being an athlete, it was the best possible way to still feel included at the Games. The energy in Whistler and Vancouver was something special - I'm so glad I was able to still be a part of that. Plus the Consortium was simply amazing to work with - the group in Whistler really seemed like a tight knit sports team. I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm hoping to work in TV after my ski career," Vanderbeek said.
By industry standards VanderBeek's television performance - gold medal calibre - and the talk of the Olympics in terms of media chatter.
"Kelly was an absolute natural right from the start. She had no on-air experience but you would never know it. The camera obviously loves her, but her real appeal is in her warm personality and her effortless delivery of quality information. She was always asking questions, wanting to learn more about the business. Even though all of the feedback was positive, she was never satisfied with her performance. She's competitive - very similar to her life on the mountains. Obviously, we all want her to have a long, healthy and successful career as a world class skier - but there is no question that she would be in huge demand from the TV networks the second she decides to retire," said Paul Graham, Executive Producer of Live Events for the CTV-Rogers Olympic Broadcast Consortium.
Still, despite rave reviews, VanderBeek maintains she is not ready to give up her ski racing day job just yet.
"I'm looking forward to that feeling of energy and speed out there on the hill again. Sochi is four years away and that's where my sights are set."
Health-wise, VanderBeek says her knee now feels like it's at 40%. She's back in the gym working towards getting back on a full training program. Now able to bike again she's working towards more active motions like jumping and agility.
"My knee is making consistent progress because I'm working with such an amazing team supporting my return to snow. I couldn't be working with better people and I look forward to joining my team on snow again later this year!"