Canadian veteran speed skier Kelly VanderBeek is hoping to return to the World Cup circuit this weekend after celebrating a major breakthrough in her battle to recover from a long-term knee injury.
The 29-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., hasn’t skied competitively since she hurt her left knee in December 2009, and she has had to overcome several setbacks on the road to recovery. But her knee has improved since the turn of the year and VanderBeek feels ready to test it in race conditions. She plans to head to St. Moritz, Switzerland, this week and if all goes well in training, she will race in Saturday’s World Cup downhill.
“I’m pretty excited. More than anything I’m happy with how my knee is doing,” said VanderBeek, who lives in Chilliwack, B.C. “I can ski three days in a row and my knee isn’t huge and swollen. Before Christmas I couldn’t do that. I’m just so glad to see that it took another step forward.”
VanderBeek, who has three World Cup podiums to her name and finished fourth in the super-G at the 2006 Olympics – missing the podium by 0.03 seconds – is the most experienced and decorated member of a young Canadian Alpine Ski Team ladies’ squad. Her presence in the start gate would be a huge boost for a team that recently celebrated the return of VanderBeek’s teammate and rehab buddy, Larisa Yurkiw, of Owen Sound, Ont.
“Kelly has been struggling the last year but there’s been a big improvement,” said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s ladies’ team. “All the reports I’ve had about her have been really positive. She’s realistic about the fact that she’s got to see how things go.
“It’s good to have Kelly and Larisa back. We will have a strong speed program again.”
VanderBeek, who suffered fractures and torn ligaments in 2009 and later underwent a second round of surgery, has been training in Panorama, B.C., with coach Peter Rybarik. She has had a chance to forerun at some Nor-Am Cup races but is yet to return to competitive racing.
“I haven’t trained much super-G or downhill. But I’m excited to get out there, to do it and see how it goes,” VanderBeek said.
“I’m flying in the night before the World Cup downhill training run. It’s a track I’ve done so many times. I could get off the plane and my knee could be huge and swollen but I’ve got to prepare for the best and the worst. I’m going to feel it out; see how it goes.”
VanderBeek has needed great courage and perseverance to keep going over the past two years. At times, she’s wondered if her knee would stand up to the rigours of training and racing at the highest level.
“It was like, ‘OK, how long do I wait? How long do I hope it’s getting better?’ ” VanderBeek said. “My spirit really needed something to keep me going.
“Training with Pete Rybarik was a great experience. So now I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s do this.’ ”
Image by Gepa