First Person: Recovery Run
Kearney Feeling Better After Recent Mogul Training Crash
Olympic and World Cup moguls champion Hannah Kearney, of Norwich, expects to be at full speed for the start of the season despite injuries suffered in a training crash earlier this month in Switzerland. (AP File - Mike Groll) Purchase photo reprints »
Norwich — Life is filled with new experiences, sensations and lessons.
One of the newest for Olympic mogul skiing champion Hannah Kearney: There’s nothing fun about being suspended from a helicopter above the Swiss Alps.
A crash during training with the U.S. freestyle team near Zermatt, Switzerland, on Oct. 5 led to the unwanted taxi ride. Performing a back layout off the first jump of the Zermatt mogul run, Kearney pitched over forward and crashed to the snow, sustaining two fractured ribs and a bruised liver, among other injuries.
A volunteer physical therapist traveling with the U.S. team recommended a hospital trip, even if all Kearney thought she’d done was knock out her own breath. Unfortunately, getting from the shadow of the Matterhorn to the closest emergency room is a can’t-get-there-from-here-without-a-chopper proposition.
“I thought he was being slightly overly cautious; I don’t think he said the words ‘internal bleeding,’ but he alluded to it,” Kearney said during an interview last week. “If you hit your internal organs, you just gotta be extra careful. He never said the words ‘broken ribs’ to me; he gave me enough information, but didn’t cause me to panic.
“Unfortunately, because we’re skiing on a glacier that takes an hour to get up to each morning, three tram rides, there’s no way down except for a helicopter. That became the most terrifying part of the day, being winched to a helicopter and hanging. Someone emailed me a video this morning that the Canadians took me be getting flown away, and it’s terrifying.” If ever there’s a time to sustain such an injury, Kearney found it. Her defense of her women’s moguls and overall World Cup titles doesn’t begin until Dec. 15 in Finland, and her forced respite to recuperate isn’t expected to adversely affect her preseason training, to which she has already returned. Kearney isn’t likely to be cleared for the snow until heading to a team camp in Colorado next month.
Back home for rest, Kearney sat down on Thursday to talk about the crash, getting better and preparing for her latest season on the bumps.
What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
Valley News: So what exactly happened in Switzerland?
Hannah Kearney: It was on our fifth day of skiing. I landed a back layout on the top jump — it was a perfectly good trick; I’ve been putting a lot of energy into making improvements on that one trick. I was excited to be doing it on snow. We can’t really analyze exactly what went wrong. Maybe I could have bent my knees more on the landing. It could have been that I landed in a slight hole. … My body was in position to land on a hill, and all of a sudden I landed on a flat part.
I just started to fall forward, picked up my foot to save myself, went past the first mogul and just crashed into the second one.
VN: Did you know at the moment of impact that something was wrong?
HK: No. It felt like the wind got knocked out of me. I was definitely in pain. The first person to come up to me was a young French-Canadian skier, and he just said was, ‘Physio? Physio? Like, ‘Do you want the physio to come?’ (The pain) subsided quickly, not completely, but that initial shock subsided. … Probably like a 10-minute helicopter ride later, as I was panicking and not in very much pain at that point — thinking this is all for nothing, what a waste — I arrived at the hospital. After a CT scan, they broke the news to me.
VN: How long did you have to stay in Switzerland?
HK: I ended up staying in the hospital for five days, which shocked me.
Every morning, the doctor would come in and say, ‘Unnh, you need to stay another day.’ I’m almost grateful they didn’t tell me on the first day that I would be there for five days because I would have freaked out.
They have your best interests at heart. I didn’t know much about my liver beforehand, and now I certainly do, and you don’t want it bleeding, you don’t want it bruised.
VN: What’s your target for a return to on-snow training?
HK: Nov. 14, the day after I fly out to Colorado (for team camp). The good news with my injury was when I was laying there in a pretty extreme amount of pain — I mean, I’d just got throttled basically in the abdomen by a mogul — my head was fine and my knee was fine. Those are two … bad scenarios. I’d never spent a night in the hospital, and it was shocking that was the end result. But that, for the long term, is not the worst thing that could have happened.
VN: Did your past experiences recuperating from head and knee injuries help this time?
HK: Yes, because it’s a nice reminder of how those situations turn out.
A knee injury is much worse: You’re going in for surgery, you’re sidelined for six months, but knowing that I was better off after that whole process five years ago now gave me a lot of confidence this was going to be OK.
VN: When do you usually begin preparations for an upcoming season?
HK: After the nationals banquet (in late March), I spent the night at Stratton; on Monday morning, I put my ski clothes back into my car, I packed up my stuff — I think I even had my (World Cup) globes in my car for TV stuff — and drove directly to my first day of class at Dartmouth.
That was my break, I guess. It wasn’t a very good vacation; I’m telling you, this medical vacation in Switzerland was a lot more enjoyable than my break from school. I think for a week I didn’t go to the gym. Then the month of April for us is what they call “active rest” — play tennis if you want, do what you feel motivated to do. Nothing is forced; nothing is a program. … And then, in May, our conditioning program begins. The week after school term was finished, I moved into the Olympic training center in Lake Placid. That’s when I consider the sport-specific part of the offseason to begin.
VN: By the time that training starts, do you miss the snow?
HK: I think the reason my career has gone well for me is I genuinely enjoy each aspect of it. I think the timing is just right. I, of course, live to compete, but by the last time that competition rolls around, I think I’d skied 48 competition runs, so I was ready for the break. By the time I take my last exam, I’m really ready to punish myself physically and take a break from the mental torture. By the time I’ve done 1,200 or 1,100 water ramp jumps, I’m really ready to go to snow. I love that balance. I don’t miss the snow; I’m always surprisingly excited once I return to it, but I don’t ever miss it.
VN: You’ll have another 12 stops on the upcoming World Cup season. Will you be seeing anything different in the competition this winter in comparison to last winter?
HK: It will be the same competitors. I think when you are having a good season and people are striving to beat you, they assume they are going to get better and you are going to stay the same. But I’m doing everything I can to get better myself and keep the gap per se. There’s definitely motivation in the fact that — now, I don’t think every one is an evil human being — when they saw me get airlifted off that course (in Switzerland), there had to be a part of them that thought, ‘This is the advantage we needed.’ But guess what? Only time will tell if that’s what really happens.
Greg Fennell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3226.