Landing on her feet

IAN BUSBY, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

Fresh off her first World Cup medal in two years, Deanna Panting had to face the toughest race of her life. The Calgary skeleton racer needed to negotiate the icy turns of the track that had caused her so much pain, so much frustration.

But it was the final stage of her therapy upon returning from a nasty concussion in January 2003 that kept the 40-year-old mother of two out of action for more than a year.

"I went from a severe high to absolute fear," said Panting as she prepares for the Canadian Skeleton Championships today at Canada Olympic Park (1 p.m.).

"I got a 17th-place (finish) there and that was fine. My goal was to get through that week uninjured.

"I've never shed so many tears just through frustration. In a two-week span, I ran the whole gamut of emotions."

There was a huge sense of relief for Panting after winning silver in Winterberg, Germany, at the end of November.

More than anything, the racer knew she could still compete and all the money put into coming back was well spent.

When Panting crashed in Altenberg, her A-level funding also went out the window.

So for this season, she had to take out a bank loan and make a leap of faith.

"The debt is mounting up. I was thinking I might not be able to race this year because I couldn't afford it," she said. "To be able to take out a loan and do one more season, it was a big high. It was a wonderful day."

During the 2003-04 season, Panting's body had healed enough for her to race but the trauma of the crash kept haunting her on the track.

Whenever she would hit a turn and feel the G-force grip her sled, Panting would have a panic attack and lose control of her motions.

She pulled out of the World Cup circuit that season after a ninth in Lake Placid and a fifth in Calgary.

For treatment, Panting tried a method called eye movement desensification reprogramming.

After two sessions, she did a practice run at COP and felt no more symptoms. But by pulling out, her season was done and she wasn't able to compete again until the fall.

"It was like soldiers after a war who have flashbacks," Panting said. "They're not only remembering the incident but reliving it.

"My brain thought I was crashing in Altenberg, Germany, even though I knew I was in Calgary.

"The brain is like a computer. When you have a trauma like that, the brain doesn't file that into the memory banks. It stays in this little cluster in the present. My brain thought I was back in the crash."

Maybe it was stubbornness but Panting never gave up on her goal of ending her career on her own terms. An injury wasn't going to dictate when she would quit sliding.

However, the end could be in sight. Every winter, the time away from 10-year-old son Dante gets more and more painful.

There are days when she's touring in Europe they'll spend hours on the cellphone, discussing day-to-day things such as homework.

But the 2006 Olympics are a mere 13 months away, so there is every reason to believe Panting will keep going until after the Turin Games in Italy.

Like any World Cup, the toughest competition for Panting will be from her Canadian teammates. If she wins the national title today at COP, she just might be ready for the world.

"I don't think very far ahead but it's a goal," Panting said. "Right before the last Olympics, I had a severe calf tear and saw my Olympics go down the toilet.

"I know that anything can happen. And we're at a limited number that's able to race in the Olympics. Instead of a four-person team like we have in the World Cup, it will only be two. Lots can happen.

"But it would be a wonderful thing, especially because I would be 41."


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