Breezy Johnson was born to ski. And to ski fast. With a name like “Breezy,” she had no other choice, right? Ski racing is a no risk, no reward kind of sport – especially for downhillers, who have to be tough-as-nails physically and mentally in order to hurl themselves down a mountain at upwards of 80 miles-per-hour. Another season on the World Cup and all of the excitement it brings was on the horizon for Johnson.
Indeed, Johnson had a lot to look forward to, with her first Olympic bid under her belt and a host of solid results from the 2017-18 season. Of her 15 World Cup downhill and super-G starts, Johnson was in the points 10 times, top-15 five times, top-10 four times, and narrowly missed her first podium in Garmisch, Germany, finishing in fourth place. In PyeongChang, South Korea, she grabbed a solid 14th-place result in super-G and a seventh in the downhill. Incredible results for the first-time Olympian.
However, the 2018-19 season ended almost as soon as it had started, as Johnson is sad to announce that she has torn her right Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) at a recent training camp in El Colorado, Chile, training with the women’s speed team.
Johnson has been competing in the sport she loves so much for more than 15 years. Through it all, she has watched countless teammates, friends and fellow competitors suffer from knee injuries. With the risks inherent to downhill racing, she knew, at some point, it would likely happen to her as well.
“But knowing that it would come and that it did are two different things,” she reflected. “Anterior Cruciate Ligament: the three little words that so many ski racers have experienced, that there’s barely any of us left on the World Cup without scars on our knees. Last week, I, unfortunately, joined that vast majority.”
Johnson is undergoing further evaluation and has yet to determine when she will have surgery. Though she is going through all of the emotions elite level athletes do when they experience a heartbreaking injury, she knows she is young and strong and is positive about her rehab in the months to come. She is fully aware it will be challenging, but she’s up for the challenge.
“When I was younger, I thought an ACL tear was the worst thing that could happen to a ski racer. Now I know better,” Johnson said. “ACL tears are, relatively speaking, pretty lucky in our world. Perhaps that makes things better. I have less fear about the surgery and rehab to come. Yes, I know it will be difficult, painful, and aggravating, but I am no stranger to any of those things. However, that luck cuts me like a two-edged sword because I also look to the future and see myself waiting for 14 excruciating (and I say excruciating in a mental sense) months to once again throw myself down a World Cup course, and all of that for a little ACL tear, which makes it feel a bit like a curse from the universe.”
She’ll miss the people, the places, and the experiences – like the chance to celebrate teammate Lindsey Vonn’s potentially historic moment if she breaks the World Cup wins record (Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark holds the record with 86, while Vonn has 82 victories). She even hoped to join Vonn on a podium before the legend retires. However, what Johnson will miss most is racing.
“Perhaps I was born to be a racer because while I love skiing, racing is my true passion” Johnson said. “That feeling of flying down a course at 80 miles-per-hour, body and brain both working at full capacity to try to make you go even faster because, to me, that feeling is living. No, I will not miss an Olympics and World Championships come back around in this sport. But for me, the thought of spending 14 months without that true feeling of living, that feeling of racing, kills me a little bit inside. I would love to think that everything happens for a reason – that anything is possible – but my experience with this sport has dissuaded me from those illusions. So, while I am grateful that this injury isn’t worse, the next 14 months feel like they might be the hardest I have ever faced.”
Johnson is incredibly thankful to the community for the support and wants everyone to know – from sponsors to fans and beyond – that she will return. Stay tuned to Johnson’s Instagram for frequent updates as she experiences the highs and lows of returning to the mountain.
Release courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.