Alice McKennis knows what it takes to come back from a serious injury; she’s done it before.
Less than two months after her first career World Cup win in St. Anton, the 23-year-old crashed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, shattering her tibial plateau and fracturing her tibia. Although McKennis successfully rehabilitated a similar injury in 2011 and went on to achieve career-best results, this go-round is proving quite a bit more “severe,” said the downhiller who has been off crutches for a couple weeks.
“For the first ten days (off crutches), I took it pretty easy. I hadn’t put any weight on my leg for three months, so we had to move a little slow at first,” said McKennis. “Now, we’re starting to ramp it up. I haven’t really had any pain in the knee joint or anything or even in the fracture on the tibia itself, so I’m really excited about that. It’s really encouraging.”
Vail’s Dr. Bill Sterett, who also performed Lindsey Vonn’s surgery, had given McKennis a best-case-scenario of eight weeks on crutches, so she was disappointed to have to spend an additional four in order to fully heal the bones.
“To be honest, Dr. Sterett told me after the surgery it could be 12 weeks,” McKennis acknowledged. “He said, ‘We’ll check in eight weeks and take an X-ray. If it looks really good, then you can get off crutches.’ So in my mind I was really determined to get off crutches at eight weeks, but no amount of determination will make your bones heal faster.”
The injury hasn’t deterred McKennis’ ambition for the upcoming season. The Arlberg winner is committed to qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, and she’s moved from Colorado to Park City, where she’ll have access to the Center of Excellence facilities and an opportunity to attend a couple classes with Westminster College, which has helped to take her mind off the rehab, she says.
“For sure, when I was coming back from my first injury, I always had doubts, but I don’t really have any doubts this time around because I know I’ve made it back to the top level before and I know it’s possible to do it again,” McKennis said. “My goals haven’t really changed at all; it’s just going to be more challenging for me this season. The Olympics are definitely a goal for me — to go to Sochi and have a really good race there.”
McKennis’ conditioning has been ongoing since the injury, “taking it easy” for only 10 days after surgery. She was right back in the gym doing upper body workouts — rowing and core exercises — to stay in shape while on crutches. Now that she’s weight-bearing again, McKennis has been able to spin on the bike, “which has been really nice. … I should be able to start mountain biking in a couple weeks, which is really, really exciting.”
McKennis is shooting to get back on snow in November.
Story by Geoff Mintz
Photos: GEPA and Alice McKennis