Nick Fairall: "I'm moving forward and enjoy my life"
Exactly one year ago, Nick Fairall suffered a severe back in injury when he fell in the qualification in Bischofshofen. Now he returned to the ski jumping World Cup for the first time. At a press conference on Tuesday evening he spoke about the fall, the recent months and his plans and goals for the future.
The 26-year-old American remembers the fall itself very well. "In the trial round I did the exact same fall than in my qualification jump. I just landed a little too far forward in my trial jump. I broke my skis and we did a lot of rushing to get my skis ready for the qualification round. I went up, I knew what I had to do and knew what I had to focus on. I then had a great jump, a jump that I was working on the entire 4-Hills. I finally did what we working on on the last hill. I saw myself jump over that green line. I put a telemark in and the moment I hit the ground I just stuck, I put my weight forward a bit too much and I landed a little too far forward. I kinda knew I was gonna fall, however I tried to fight the fall because I wanted that jump to count and I wanted to finish the 4-Hills on a good note.
Unfortunately the radius kinda pulled me in and I hit the ground really hard. The moment I hit the ground I knew I hurt something, I didn't know what it was. I knew there was severe pain in my lower back. I never lost consciousness. There's one special thing with ski jumping boots, when you put them on for a long time your feet start to hurt a little bit and feel uncomfortable. I remember asking the medical staff to remove my boots, that was they said to me: Your boots are already off. That was the moment I actually knew that it was a very serious injury."
After that went very fast and just a few hours later he was already in surgery. "They got me to the hospital and I went immediately into x-rays, into MRIs. I ended up needing emergency surgery to fix the break on my vertebrae. After the surgery I remember the doctor informing me about what they had done. The injury I sustained was a dislocated and fractured L1 vertebrae, which resulted in a spinal cord injury. I also broke two ribs, punctured a lung, bruised a kidney and had internal bleeding. From that I knew this is gonna be some time."
A year of rehabilitation and sports
In this last year since the injury it was mainly about rehabilitation for Nick Fairall, but there was also time for other activities. "I left the hospital here in Schwarzach at the end of January and I went to the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation just outside of New York City. There I participated in a very, very intense physical therapy two times a day for just over four months. After that I spent a little bit of time visiting friends and family. Then I went to the US Nationals in Park City at the end of July. It was great to finally be back with my team and to be back around ski jumping. In September I went out to Lake Tahoe, do to something that's called neuro kinetic pilates. That was a great extension to my rehabilitation. That's where I saw some great improvement. I've been water skiing, alpine skiing with a monoski, playing golf, I've been skydiving, I also played wheelchair rugby."
With the help of the intense therapy over the last year, there's also some progress. "I do have some feeling and some movement in my legs, which is a great sign. I've been making progress and in slow, small increments. At times it's hard to see, it just continuous moving forward. I like to use the analogy that there is a piece of paper and that page is blank. It's up to me to write what's on that page and decide where and how things go from here. As of now everything seems to be improving and will continue working hard to get me in that direction."
The former American national champion definitely is not lacking plans for the future. "Right now I'm probably starting some school classes and I want to start getting my pilots license. And there's another project I'm working on. Being an athlete I've gained so many skills throughout the years. I remember the mental skills that were involved in my preparation for the Olympic trials a couple of years ago and now through these difficult times of my life I'm using the same mental skills to help me through this. I'm starting taking notes in regards to hopefully write a book to help other people going through such difficult situations."
"I want to return to ski jumping"
A big for him is also to start ski jumping again. "Ski jumping is an amazing sport and it's a sport I want to return to. Just being here today I wanted to jump so bad. It will always remain a goal of mine to get back to jumping. I will continue to work hard and make whatever improvements I can towards that goal. Ski jumping is a sport of risks and as an athlete you know that there are risks involved. The sport is unbelievably safe. The fall was may fault. I understood that this was a possibility in my sport and I wouldn't change anything."
"It's hard to find words"
An obviously very moved Nick Fairall also used the chance to express his gratitude for the support from all over the world. "I truly appreciate all the support I received. Right after my injury there was a great deal of influx, of donations to help pay for my medical bills. I'm so thankful for what everyone has done for me. People I don't even know, fellow jumpers, fans of the sport. I'm just so grateful, I can't even find words. It speaks highly of our ski jumping community, it's absolutely outstanding. All the financial stuff that was given to me has all gone to help towards my rehabilitation costs. I has been a huge help letting my advance my recovery and to move forward. I'll never be able to pay that money back and all I can do is make a return on their investment by continuing to move forward and continuing to work hard on my rehab. I'm so grateful for all that everyone has done for me. People have invested in me, they have believed in me. I never thought of any of it as a gift, it's an investment they made for me and the return of my good health. That's something I take very seriously. I want to say thank you. It's been huge.
He concluded this press conference with again very moving and inspiring words. "As a result of this injury i had a choice. I could have chosen to sit down and feel sorry for myself, be really sad and just stay home and do nothing. Or I could go out and do the things that I enjoy doing. And that's one of the main things I've decided. Regardless of where I am I'm still moving forward and enjoy my life. I encourage everyone to do the same."