This year I came across the hardest few months I’ve ever experienced as an athlete. At the end of the season on April 5th I ruptured my ACL ligament in my left knee. This is the most common injury in ski racing, mainly due to the fact that we have a 1m80 piece of wood on the end of our feet that stops the knees ability to bend in all directions when under stress (like in a crash). I have previously written about the work I have been doing in rehab to heal my knee but this is only half the story. Half the battle is in the mind and I am interested in finding out whether each athlete mentally goes through the same process or it differs greatly from person to person. If you’ve experienced an injury of any kind, athlete or not, I’d love to hear about your journey!
I have kept a diary throughout my rehab where I log the exercises I’ve done but also how I’ve felt. I created a “mental timeline” where every few days I just write the a few words to describe how I’m feeling. It’s a quick and easy way to get something off my chest and it’s nice to look back at when I’m having a bad day to remind me that I’ve overcome worse. The day I crashed my mind immediately went into catastrophising mode. I didn’t want to ski anymore and I didn’t want to put in the work required to get back to full health! Why should I have to put in the extra work and suffer, why did it happen to me. My mind turned incredibly selfish: “I’ve worked too hard for this to happen to me”, “no one else has to do this” and probably the most difficult thought “everyone else who has torn their ACL has had it easier than me”. Now writing about my thoughts they sound so silly but when something big happens my mind directs itself inwards. The worst thing that somebody could say to me was to relate my injury to someone else’s. I didn’t care about anyone else’s injury! Mine was clearly a bigger deal. 5 months on I can see that actually having someone else’s point of view and experience was really helpful.
I took me a few weeks to get over feeling sorry for myself and decide that I could make it through. I felt like the world was against me, my surgeon told me I would have to wait 6 weeks for surgery, I couldn’t have the operation I wanted and I was panicking about getting into a rehab centre. I spent hours searching online for stories of people who had made miraculous ACL recoveries in just a few months but eventually I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, I was in this one for the long run.
I got stuck into doing my prehab despite knowing that after my operation everything would go backwards again before it went forwards. I was so ready when I went into my operation, I walked (literally) into the operating theatre determined to get this show on the road! My mind surprised me again after the operation when I suddenly had a drop in my determination again. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this, did I really want to dedicate the next 6 months to hard work to get back on skis? It took me a whole week before I realised how much I missed skiing and I was ready to do whatever it would take to get back.
As soon I was in rehab my mind refocused on getting better. My days were filled with everything to make my knee better and having my mind occupied on one goal set me back on track. I came to accept my injury and see the good side of it. I was learning so much about fitness, strength and my body that everyone who was skiing wasn’t learning. I began to understand that what I thought was hard work before didn’t even come close to how hard I was now working. I think my recovery is almost an easier goal to work towards than a specific race or competition. It can take weeks to see improvement on skis but in rehab is a gradual everyday process and you can clearly see your body healing and strengthening.
Last week somebody asked me if I had every considered quitting skiing. My answer was that I never had until I hurt my knee but every time I did I ended up with the same answer: I have worked far too hard, given up too much and love this sport too much to stop. My journey in skiing is far from over and I still have so much more to give to it.
I have now fully settled into the rehab routine. It’s kind of like the routine I get into during the season with getting up and going skiing before going to the gym, except now I get up and go to the gym... and then go to the gym again. I’ve spent 6 weeks in the IRU now, so much so that the chef has my breakfast ready for me every morning before I even arrive!
My day starts at 8am with my mobility session which is 3 series of 5 exercises to help my knee’s extension and flexion. Despite my full flexion and extension having completely returned it’s still important to maintain it. My mobility takes me about half an hour and I will then ice my knee for 15 minutes which takes me up to 9am which is when I head to the gym!
First up is a physiology session. I’ve never had the chance to do any physiology testing before but whilst I’m in the IRU in Bisham, Luke, the physiologist, has been monitoring me very closely! This includes my sleeping patterns, hydration levels and lactate production. In order to create a program that works me to the right level we tested my maximum power capacity on the bike and also my endurance capacity. From this data Luke works out at which power and heart rate I should be working for my maximum benefit. Whilst I’m on the bike he even takes blood samples to test my lactate and check that I’m working hard enough! I’m on the bike 5-6 days a week. For those of you that know me, and my love of cycling (not!), will be surprised to hear that I am actually really starting to enjoy spending time on the bike and I have therefore invested in my own road bike!
After my fitness session I have soft tissue therapy. Cass, is the soft tissue therapist and she makes sure that all the soft tissue in my legs is moving as it should be. At the moment we’re working on my scars to make sure they don’t go all hard and lumpy; this means Cass gets to dig a curved metal tool into my scars to smooth them out, this was pretty painful before my scars fully healed.
Once I’m all loosened up I will either see Sarah the psychologist, who I see twice a week, or Wendy the nutritionist, that I see once a week. Sarah has been great at finding techniques to help me through my injury but also to help me when I’m back on skis. There are so many things that I can take from my rehab to my skis. She is also brilliant at helping me see the positive side to everything – the first time I met her she told me that every situation is neutral, you decide whether it is positive or negative and I try to remember that! Wendy makes sure that I’m eating everything I should be to help my knee and my training. I have started taking some vitamins and collagen to help with my knee heal. I also now have a better understanding of the amount of protein that my body requires for the amount of training I do! Building muscle is a huge part of rehab and it’ s important to understand what my body needs to be able to do this.
During my lunch break I refuel for my afternoon and I also re-ice my knee and do my mobility session again. It’s also a nice time to relax for a while, and of course keep up to date with Bethan, who works at the reception and does an amazing job keeping everything in the IRU in check!
After lunch I head into physio with Andy. First up he always checks that I still have my full leg extension and that there is no pain or swelling in my knee. At the beginning of my rehab process Andy was vital in helping me get my mobility back but now it’s more a case of making sure all the small bits around my knee are exactly as they should be. This means lots of poking, prodding and massaging. He flushes out any swelling that may be in my joint and also stretches all my muscles.
My progress is also closely followed by the doctor who is on site one day a week and is always available to check in with if I have any issues. It is so reassuring to always have someone watching my knee and I know that I’m in excellent hands.
Finally, my day finishes with one of the most important sessions and one that I am definitely enjoying more and more every day: my strength and conditioning session! Fionn has been the S&C coach for the last 7 weeks of my rehab. We do so many different exercises in the gym that it’s hard to explain a standard session but at the moment we are focusing on rebuilding my hamstring in my injured leg. I lost 3 cm of muscle in my leg after my operation but I started rebuilding my quad straight away and now I almost have two matching quad muscles. However due to a piece of my hamstring being removed for the operation I had to wait 6 weeks before I could work my hamstring again, before this it was just too painful. So, obviously I have lost a lot of hamstring muscle during this time. Fionn is making up for lost time now though by making sure my hamstrings are being worked every day through a variation of exercises. We alternate a day of heavy lifting with a day of more body weight exercises that also challenge my balance and coordination. It’s great that there is such a big variation of exercises so every part of me is working. I also do an upper body session 2 or 3 times a week to keep everything in balance.
After dinner I go back into the gym to do my mobility session and ice my leg one more time. It is amazing to see the progression that I have achieved in just 2 months with the help of everyone at the IRU. I’m really excited to see how much more I can do before I get back on skis. I’m in a really happy position with my injury at the moment. It’s exciting to see how far I can push my body in the gym or on the bike and I can’t wait to see how much of a difference my higher fitness levels are going to make when I get my skis back on!
I can’t believe that already 5 weeks have gone by since I was sat in a hospital bed waiting nervously for my knee operation. I was pretty scared, I was undergoing surgery for the first time in my life and about to embark on a 6 month journey back to my skis with lots of new challenges. I had no idea what to expect.
I had the classic hamstring ACL reconstruction. Some of the hamstring tendons on the inside of my thigh were taken to form a new ligament, the old ligament was shaved away. The new ligament was attached by drilling a hole through my tibia and another through my femur. I didn’t ask for any more details, I still find the whole concept incredible. When I came round from surgery I felt pretty dopey but good. The last thing I remember was the anaesthetist asking how fast I ski, I still don’t know if she got her answer. The surgeon told me that everything had gone perfectly to plan with my knee. I spent the next five days in London recovering before heading to the IRU (Intensive Rehabilitation Unit) at Bisham Abbey National Sport Centre.
I didn’t know what to expect the first day I started my rehab. I soon made a new best friend: a Game Ready ice and compression machine that went everywhere with me. It was brilliant at getting rid of my knee swelling. My days were filled up with daily physio and strength and conditioning sessions, a mobility session for my knee which I can now do in my sleep having done it 4 times a day for the last 6 weeks, a nutritionist, a soft tissue massage therapist, a psychologist and regular check with the on site doctor. I was back on the bike on the first day of physio and we didn’t waste any time with getting back into the gym to restrengthen my left leg which had lost 2 cm of muscle in just 5 days since surgery. My knee was very closely monitored for any changes in swelling and pain.
After the first two weeks of rehab I experienced my first really bad days since the surgery. You might think that seems soon when recovery is a 6 month journey but those of you that have been injured before will know how slowly the days crawl by, especially at the beginning. My mood would shift from being willing to work at 100% to wondering what the point of it all was. Still, my mind always came back to skiing and it set me on the right path again.
My hard work started to pay off in weeks 3 and 4 when I did my first squats with a weight on my back in 2 months and I really started to see my quad muscle reappear. I began to be able to hyper extend my knee without any problem and my natural knee flexion has returned. These may seem like such small things but when you’re starting right at the bottom, like you do coming out of surgery, they feel like huge victories.
I’m heading home back to Italy for a few weeks before I will return to rehab again for another week or so. The hard work doesn’t stop while I’m away as I can keep doing my mobility 24/7 and the awesome team in the IRU will be sending me gym sessions and closely following my progress whilst I’m away.
I haven’t written a blog in a while and it’s probably due to the fact that I haven’t wanted to talk about what happened to me at the end of my season. As many of you will already know, I tore my ACL whilst forerunning a boys race in Courchevel on the 5th April. My journey back to me skis is well under way and although it hasn’t exactly gone to plan so far, things are starting to look up.
It took about 2 weeks for the swelling to go down in my knee after the crash and to start feeling normal again. I’ve been lucky because my knee has been pretty stable and hasn’t caused me much pain. I had to wait for three days to get an MRI to confirm the damage after my crash. I was then told that I would likely have the operation in about a week’s time and there was no need to rush. A week later I flew to London to see a surgeon who told me I would have to wait 6 weeks for surgery due to the risk of scarring. I was devastated, in my mind I was about to waste 6 weeks and delay my return to skis for no reason. In France, where I had my crash, they overlook the risk of scarring and operate after a week. In Austria they try and operate on the same day. In the UK they wait 6 weeks. As frustrating as waiting is, the point is that I want a knee to last for the rest of my life, not just the next 10 years.
However, I still wanted to find a quick fix for my knee and I flew to Scotland to meet Dr Mackay who has a new “internal brace” technique for fixing ACLs. He could do the operation immediately and I could potentially be back on skis 4 weeks faster. My hopes were crushed again when Dr Mackay told me that because I had also stretched my MCL, my knee was too unstable for his operation to work.
So I flew back to the London to reorganise to see the surgeon to find out if I should be having my ACL repaired with a graft from my patella tendon or my hamstring. I had heard good and bad things about both operations but the doctor decided that, as a skier, a hamstring graft would suit me best.
The operation date was eventually confirmed for the 17th May, which is tomorrow. I can’t wait! It should mean that I am finally on my way to recovery and with nothing else standing in my way. Anything can happen but I can finally let myself believe that everything could take a turn for the better. It feels like the world has been against me for the past 6 weeks. When I first found out I had done my knee I didn’t wanted to give up skiing. I had watched friends work through months of rehab and I didn’t want to go through with it, I didn’t think I could. It didn’t take very long before my cravings to be back on skis took over and I knew I would do whatever it took to get back.
My prehab has been going really well and my legs are now stronger than they were at the end of the season. I know I will lose a lot of my work from the past month after the operation but in the long term recovery it will pay off!
I now really believe that this injury could be the best thing that ever happened to me. I still know that there are a lot of bad days to come before good ones but I have already learnt so much about determination and my own strength and my journey back to the slopes is only just beginning.
I can’t believe that the Delancey British Alpine Champs are already finished. What happened to the season!? I was really happy with my results throughout the week and defending my overall titles was definitely a surprise!
The week started off with the speed events; super G was up first. I was feeling a bit wobbly in warm up as I hadn’t been on my super gs for over a month but I was determined to go for it from the first run. I have skied the speed hill in Tignes plenty of times and I knew that it wasn’t difficult and that I usually lose the most time on the top flat section so that was where I really had to glide and take the fastest line possible. I was pleased with my skiing in the Super G but I knew there were a few turns where I could really take the hand brake off! I finished 3rd overall and 2nd brit. There was still a second race though. I skied better and moved up in the rankings by one place but I was still 2nd Brit behind Alex Tilley but this time I was closer to her.
The next day was the downhill training. They were brilliant fun and my times weren’t too bad! The next day I was going for the win in the races. I had a good first run but I made a classic mistake of taking way too much space on the line on the flat even though I skied the steep well. With yet another silver medal I really wanted a gold! My top section in the second race was much better and I was really happy with my skiing on the bottom section where I made up time. I felt really on the limit and I let me skis go. It paid off though as I crossed the line just 0.10 seconds ahead of Alex Tilley. I was great to finally get a win, even though it was a Junior race so I wasn’t on the podium. It was really cool having Tilley race the speed races, it definitely made me push myself harder to go for the win and it was great being able to compare my times to hers, whether I was behind her or in front!
I sadly packed away my downhill skis for the season and it was onto the tech events! First up was slalom, definitely my worst event. Thanks to the timing not working on the first run I got a warm up run! They then decided to rerun the whole race so we did three runs of slalom in the day, with the second and third run counting for the race. My aim was to place myself as well as possible in amongst the Brits to gain valuable points for the Overall title. I had a bit of a slow first run and I was 6th Brit... My next run was much better and I moved up to 4th Brit! It would have been good to get a podium in slalom, as that has never happened at the British Champs but you can’t win them all!
I was really excited for the giant slalom race the next day. I knew that I had to finish in front of Tilley to win the Overall title but that wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the sun having not stopped shining for 6 days, the weather for the Giant Slalom was wet, snowy and foggy and the snow was soft and bumpy. My first run felt horrific. I couldn’t see anything and I was being bumped around all over the place. I knew that I had skied the bottom steep section well though and I hoped that would have made up some time from my horrendous top section! I was sat in 4th place, 0.7 from the leader and just 0.02 behind Tilley. We had to wait for a while for the second run as the weather got worse but eventually we were off. Just before I went into the start gate my coach took me to one side and told me this was it. This was my run, the conditions suited my skiing best and I had nothing to lose to go for the win. It woke up the fire inside of me and once I placed my poles over the start wand I felt completely on my own and 100% focused on the course in front of me. My run started off really well, I felt fast and then I hit a big turn and there was a huge hole that you couldn’t see because of the weather. I got really late on the line, my coach said that from the start the only thing he saw was my leg going above my head and he thought I had fallen! In my mind the win was gone but it also made me angry and I charged all the way to the finish. When I crossed the line I had no idea what to expect. As I skied over to the timing board I saw that Tilley had unfortunately DNFed but I also saw that I had the fastest overall time by 0.03! I also scored a second best result of 18 points to go with my 17 points from a few weeks ago so my points will now to go 18.09, placing me around 150th in the world.
I had defended my Ladies Overall title for the third year in a row and won the Victor Ludorum for the second time. I was also really proud to have won the British Giant Slalom title for the first time.
My Giant Slalom result was really unexpected as were all the Overall titles. I’m looking forward to the end of the season, with 3 GS races and 3 SS races still to go the season is definitely not over. I have scored in all disciplines this season so I don’t have to worry about points for the next few weeks. My aim is to try and ski right to the limit, with nothing to lose!
You can find pictures from the week on my facebook page
And check out this awesome video my Orsatus coach Greg put together
It's me, Cara!