Remember Nolan Kasper? It’s OK if you don’t, he’s spent the better part of three years out of the game recovering from multiple knee surgeries. With an additional ACL tear suffered in 2012 and two hip surgeries earlier in his career, Kasper is no stranger to the scalpel. This coming Sunday, the two-time Olympian and 2011 World Cup podium finisher will step back into the starting gate for the slalom in Wengen, Switzerland.
“It’s definitely awesome that I’m getting the opportunity to do that,” Kasper says. “I’ve worked really hard these past few years to try and come back from these injuries and I’ve had some success early in the winter and to have that translate into being able to start a Word Cup has been awesome. I’m definitely looking forward to jumping in the gate again and seeing how these real hills go.”
The last time Kasper was on a World Cup start list was January of 2015 when he raced in Schladming, Austria, at the world famous Night Race. Kasper did not qualify for a second run that night and underwent surgery on his knee shortly thereafter.
A cartilage tear in his knee suffered in December 2014 sidetracked the American who was up until that point a top talent on the men’s slalom team with two Olympic appearances in Vancouver and Sochi, a handful of World Cup top-10 finishes, and a miraculous second place in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, in 2011 on his resume.
After his initial injury, four surgeries in the span of two years that included two cartilage transplants and a complete ACL reconstruction sidelined Kasper indefinitely. Some wondered if he would be able to come back at all.
“The biggest setback was the first surgery didn’t work,” he explains. “After skiing about a month and a half during the 2015-16 season, I had to stop skiing and redo the surgery and get my ACL reconstructed. That’s the worst setback you can have, having the surgery fail and having to redo it. Mentally, it’s tough and I think having the outlet with school was really, really key to making sure that I wasn’t getting too mentally down when things weren’t going well.”
In-between rehab appointments, Kasper used his newfound downtime to complete his studies at Dartmouth College, graduating in the spring of 2017 with a degree in economics.
“It’s definitely difficult, but I was able to go to Dartmouth College and I was able to go from almost finishing my sophomore year before these injuries to graduating this past spring,” he says. “It definitely was good mentally to get a break and be able to put my mind toward something else and not really focus on the injury and the amount of time I was going to be out. I was able to put my energy into something productive and useful.”
With two Olympic Games under his belt and some degree of uncertainty surrounding the men’s slalom team heading into the PyeongChang Games next month, Kasper has a golden opportunity to make his third Olympic team. If you ask him, though, he’s more focused on the process and taking full advantage of the moments he has been given.
“I think the way I’m going about it is just utilizing the opportunities that I get and try to ski well,” he says. “The biggest thing is to try and focus on what I can focus on. There’s a lot of chatter and stuff that goes into the Olympics and it’s definitely not something that I’m worrying about right now; I want to go out and try and ski well every day and make progress. If things work out, great, if not, I’ve been out a long time.”
Kasper is hardly the first athlete of his caliber to come back from serious injury. What makes him unique, however, is the undeniable grit and determination he has shown over his career to get back to the form that saw him become a consistent podium threat on the World Cup. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks, he just might surprise you.