Resi Stiegler is no stranger to adversity, having endured four different injuries resulting in a total of eight surgeries from 2007 to 2011 only to come back and earn her first-ever World Cup podium in Ofterschwang, Germany in 2012. Less than two weeks after that victory, she tore her ACL and was forced to miss the remainder of the season and spend yet another preparation period rehabbing instead of training. Last season she was well on her way to a top-10 result in the Olympic slalom before straddling a gate with the finish line in sight. Despite the bad break, Stiegler still managed to finish the season ranked 29th in the world in slalom following strong end-of-season World Cup results.
Despite being one of only two U.S. athletes to score World Cup points in slalom last year (behind World Champion and Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin), 28-year-old Stiegler did not secure enough results to be renamed to the U.S. Ski Team which chose youth over experience. Coaches left Stiegler off of the team for the first time in 12 years after she failed to meet the nomination criteria which required a top-25 ranking on the World Cup Start List (WCSL) for her age (the national team scales the criteria for year of birth, making it more challenging to qualify the older an athlete becomes). After being fully funded and managed for her 12 years on the national team, she now has to fundraise and plan her own travel and training for the coming season.
“It was pretty straight forward, Resi didn’t meet criteria for multiple years in a row and this year we were really following through on our criteria,” said USSA Alpine Director Patrick Riml. “She (Stiegler) has tremendous speed … (but) there is a little different philosophy or point of view on how to get things done—so we were like, ‘Okay maybe it’s a good scenario for her, she can do whatever she thinks is the best for her.’”
While being left off of the team is a setback, it is only a minor one in the eyes of Stiegler.
“It’s not easy at all, but it’s liberating … I like the independence, it’s a refreshing feeling to take care of yourself,” Stiegler stated.
She spent the summer in her hometown of Jackson, Wyo., working out at the Mountain Athlete training facility that caters to professional athletes from a variety of sports. The training has been “aggressive” and Stiegler noted that she is able “to do things I was never able to do before.”
She trained on snow early this summer at Mt. Hood during Erich Sailer’s camp with members of Team America and close friend, former teammate, and newly-minted Mexican Ski Team member Sarah Schleper.
“She was training hard in Hood, hiking 15 or 16 runs one day in the rain … smiling, looking fierce as a tigress,” reflected Schleper. “I think this could be the best thing to happen to Resi. She can do exactly what Resi needs to do to prepare without having to check in or have pressure … Resi is a free spirit, setting her free can only give her wings.”
Riml echoed those statements as well, “Now she can do whatever she thinks (is needed). She is a free spirit … the door is always open, it’s up to her to communicate when she wants to come in.”
It is easy to let the injuries and setbacks overshadow just how talented Stiegler was at a young age. She competed in her first World Cup a little over a month after her 17th birthday and finished with an impressive 11th-place result. Each subsequent season saw her world rank and results improve to the point of 10th in the world in slalom, 25th in GS and 7th in super combined by the age of 22. Then came the string of injuries. Through it all Stiegler remained positive, upbeat, and happy, which is ultimately why she was able to overcome all of the injuries that filled her career. She still maintains that same upbeat, positive attitude, even when facing the daunting task of attacking the World Cup as an independent athlete.
“Sometimes I think there is something wrong with me,” laughed Stiegler. “Where are these happy pills that someone keeps feeding me? But I think it’s true, there is something about loving it (skiing).”
Stiegler chose to save money and not travel to ski in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, but she plans on joining the U.S. women’s technical team in October for training in Soelden, Austria. Then the offer is on the table for her to join the tech team for training in Colorado in November and throughout the season as long as she takes the lead.
“If she wants to join in the whole month of November preparing for Levi and then after Levi, she is welcome. She just has to reach out,” said Riml. “We will look after her when she takes the initiative to call and wants to be a part of us; she will be treated like a team member, she doesn’t have to worry about that, but she has to follow the program.”
Although Stiegler has slipped back to 33rd in slalom on the WCSL heading into the new season, she is guaranteed a start in the slalom opener in Levi and will continue to get World Cup starts as long as she holds her position in the top 60.
“Resi will for sure race in all the World Cups,” stated Riml. “As long as she stays in the 60, then we don’t lose a spot … right now there is no shortage of spots.”
Stiegler, never one to lack self confidence on race day, has no doubt that she still has the speed that brought her 18 top-10 World Cup results and has her eyes set on the Vail-Beaver Creek World Championships.
“I know exactly what I want to do and what I want to get,” Stiegler said. “I love what I do. The only reason I do it is because I love it, I love training … you gotta do it until you can’t do it, or until you hate it.”
Stiegler has had two consecutive injury-free seasons and more importantly, injury-free preparation periods where she has been able to train with 100 percent health both on and off the slopes.
“I’ve been blessed that somehow my body keeps letting me come back…my body feels amazing and I can do things for hours and not be in pain, I’m finally healthy and I’m finally happy.”
Stiegler’s comeback story is already impressive and inspiring, and there is no reason to doubt that she will add to it in 2015.