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ROAD TO RECOVERY

For pro skiers, dealing with injuries is in the job description. But being prepared doesn’t make it easy.

By Kimberly Beekman

Blizzard/Tecnica athletes Anne Wangler and Jackie Paaso are no strangers to physical pain. They are skiers, after all. But injuries last season—Anne broke her leg and Jackie tore her MCL for the second time in less than a year—tested their physical, mental, and emotional strength. We caught up with both of them via Skype shortly after—Anne from Austria and Jackie from Sweden—to see how they were doing.

Anne in her favorite type of playground. Aspen, CO

Jackie filming for Evolution of Dreams in Montafon, Austria

P:  Hans-Martin Kudlinski

Q: How did you get injured?

Anne: I got to go to Canada in January 2018 to do some heliskiing. On the third day, I went off a blind takeoff and there was a log in the landing. My tips got stuck and my knee was turned around. I thought my whole knee was wrecked, but it turns out I just broke my tibia and ruptured a muscle in the back of my knee.

Jackie: I was in Montafon, Austria, filming for my movie project with [pro skier] Eva Walkner. We had a really great morning and I was really happy with how the day went. Eva wanted to go up and get one more run. I was pretty tired, but I figured I should do it because we had the camera crew. Right before I was going to drop in I thought, ‘I’m really not in the mood for doing this right now.’ I hit the first cliff and it was OK, but it was flat light and I couldn’t see the landing. I started cartwheeling down the mountain. I skied down and told Eva I was going to be OK, but I knew it wasn’t good. I ended up fully tearing my MCL for the second time in less than a year, but it was in a new spot. I also tore a little bit of my PCL and sprained my ankle. I was devastated that I couldn’t do any more freeride filming with Eva, and missed out on the comp season.

Jackie at her home in Sweden

Anne returning home from Canada

Q: What goes through your head when you’re trying to push yourself to come back?

Anne: I think I can fully trust my leg. I know it’s just that my mind is playing games—I know it’s stable, but my head thinks it’s not true. It’s so much easier if you have a goal and you have something to work for. Before I got hurt I was supposed to go on this photo shoot with Marcus [Caston]. It was my first ‘you get to play with the big boys’ kind of thing. I wasn’t sure when I was going to get another opportunity like that. Then, in middle of rehab, Frank [Shine, Blizz/Tec creative manager] called me and said, ‘How long will it take?’ He didn’t want to put pressure on me, but he wanted me to come to Jackson to do some shooting. I was super keen, and I felt pretty good already. That was my goal, and I made it. I don’t think it was too early, either. If you’re ambitious, you have a goal, and you work for it, I think you can do it.

One of Anne's many rehab sessions. The goal: to get back on snow strong enough for spring skiing.

Jackie: I tried to put everything in the back of my mind and not listen to the negative stuff, to have the most positive take I could. Eva and I had this project that was supposed to be done in one year and it wound up taking two, because I tore my ACL in April 2017. I didn’t know when this opportunity was going to come back. It was pretty hard.

Jackie's rehab with her sites set on a spring trip to ski the Eiger.

Q: In the aftermath of an injury, do you doubt yourself more than you otherwise would?

Jackie: I feel like I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career. All of my injuries have been rehab, no surgery or anything like that. Compared to my friends I’ve been lucky. I haven’t gotten that nervous, and I’ve usually given myself enough time to recover. This past winter, coming back from the accident, I felt just as strong as before or even stronger. It’s really important to me that I’m not destroying myself so that when I’m 70 I can walk. Now the biggest thing when I crash is that I don’t know how many years I’m going to have skiing at this level. Over the last couple years I have started thinking about what is next, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Anne: I’m thinking a lot about self-protection, and it’s not always good to think so much. I’m trying to keep telling myself that everything is stable and the doctor gave me the OK. I am feeling insecure and scared and don’t want to get injured again, but if your mind gets stuck in that place you can’t really move forward. At some point you just have to go for it. You always have to listen closely listen to your body listen to your heart. You have to ask yourself all those questions and evaluate if pushing yourself is appropriate in each situation or not. I’m not a person who says, ‘This is not going to work this is not possible.’ If I find out in the moment it’s not possible, well, I’m a little bit smarter afterwards. I know what I can and can’t do.

Q: What has injury taught you?

Jackie: What you accomplish after getting injured feels better because you’ve had this hurdle you had to overcome. You had all these obstacles you had to jump over so when you are standing on top of the mountain, it makes it so much more special. I don’t know that I feel stronger or smarter, especially because I did this twice in a year, so I don’t think I’m smarter.

Anne: It doesn’t really matter which difficult situation I’m conquering, I always grow. You just have to find work, get back in shape. In some ways I feel like injury is easier to deal with than other situations. You have to fight so much all the time in life. Athletes often have to grow up a little faster and stand on your own feet. And that helps me a lot.

Anne, post-injury, ripping in Alaska

Jackie came back strong enough to climb the Eiger while filming for Evolution of Dreams

P: Hans-Martin Kudlinski

Q: Do you think men and women deal with injury and pain differently?

Anne: I’m having a hard time judging the difference between men and women. I don’t always see the need for making a difference. In terms of injury, we laugh because my dad will act like he’s dying because of a cold. But I don’t really dig generalizing the idea that women deal with it better. It’s all so individual.

Jackie: I’m always joking about my husband [Swedish pro skier Reine Barkered] because he’s a bit of a wimp, but my father [pro football player Dick Paaso] is 76 and he hasn’t missed one day of running since he was 30. He blew out his knees, and his solution was to go running with a crutch. It’s very individual, not just male versus female.

Q: Do your injuries leave you with any regrets?

Anne: It was just bad luck in my case. I couldn’t have done it any differently. The more time you spend out there playing the higher the risk. We’re out there every day, and it just comes with the sport.

Jackie: For me, sometimes but not always. With this most recent accident, I should have listened to my body. But the incident the year before, well, that was just part of the territory. You crash. So sometimes it’s listening to your body and sometimes it’s bound to happen. You can hurt yourself walking across the street or going down the stairs. We weren’t doing something that was beyond our ability, we were trying to do something that could have gone well.