Patience. That’s the biggest thing injured skier John Kucera has learned over the past year, during which he has gone from world champion to physiotherapy disciple.
Kucera was all set to do well at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics after taking the world downhill title in February 2009. But crashing and breaking two bones in his left leg in November 2009, three months before the Games, changed his course. The 26-year-old had surgery and embarked on a year of recovery and dryland training. A scar marks where the bones stuck out the back of his calf.
“It was a long injury,” admitted Kucera, who is from Calgary. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about this process is patience. It was a ton of work, obviously, from the physio side and the healing side, to the physical side, getting the strength back, getting ready to ski and be able to compete.”
As a columnist, I sometimes cringe at featuring injured athletes, because it’s mean to exploit their emotions. But in chatting with Kucera, one is struck by his even keel and matter-of-fact outlook — he doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself at all. He could have won an Olympic medal at home, but instead did guest spots as a TV analyst.
“I enjoyed the experience because it was fun to give inside knowledge to the viewers,” Kucera reflected. “But it was definitely weird, because so much went toward being able to compete at the Games and as a Canadian, it was the only Games I’ll ever see in my career on home soil.
“It was tough to miss for sure, and at the same time, it’s the sport of skiing and everybody knows it’s not the safest thing to do in the world. I’m in a dangerous sport and I’ve kind of accepted those risks. It was unfortunate it happened that year, and I just kind of got over it and moved on. There’s no reason to dwell on it. That’s not going to help my cause.”
Last November, Kucera cautiously got back on snow for the first time. In December, he was a forerunner for a Nor-Am ski race in Panorama, B.C. His unofficial time on the second run ranked him third, so while his speed is coming back, he still has a ways to go.
“There’s a bit of work there for sure, becaute obviously I don’t want to ski at the Nor-Am level,” Kucera said. “But that’s definitely a good sign, to just ski for a couple of weeks and do that.”
His plan is to head to Europe this month and forerun the Europa Cup Giant Slalom races in Austria and then forerun some women’s World Cup speed races “to get the feel for some speed. Just kind of build off of that and work in to eventually returning to competition.”
There’s no telling when he’ll be at full speed, though. The way Kucera sees it, he could have 10 years left in his ski career, so he’s taking his time and doing the comeback right. It helps to know that other top skiers have come back from broken legs and done well. Kucera’s past success helps his spirits, too.
“I’ve been there, I belong there, I want to get back there,” Kucera said. “The last thing I want to do is try to rush this a little bit or tweak it or injure it so my one year (off) is turning in to how many years. I look at this as just another obstacle and I’m driven to overcome it.”