Golden return: Schild takes first at Deer Valley | ParkRecord.com

Golden return: Schild takes first at Deer Valley

American mogul skier sat out 22 months due to ACL injury

American mogul skier Morgan Schild's nerves started to creep back as she stood in the starting gate. The top qualifier from the first round of final runs, she was ready to go in the Super Final of the Visa Freestyle International, with masses of spectators at the bottom of the near-perfectly-designed course built at Deer Valley.

Then, she was off, cruising through the first section of the course with relative ease before hitting the daunting middle portion, where the skiers pick up most of their speed. Schild's knees bounced from side to side, nearly hitting her chest with each pump.

She made it through the middle section with what looked to be the same ease as the first section before hitting the final jump. From there, it was easy.

"Honestly, the second half of the run, I just let it go because I know that I can do that [bottom jump] day and night," Schild said. "And it worked today."

Schild crossed the finish line with a pump of the fist as the large crowd cheered on the American. Everyone in attendance knew it was a good run, including Schild, but it was in the judges hands.

She anxiously waited for her score under a blown-up gate set up for the athletes. When a score of 81.27 flashed on the screen, she could not contain their excitement. It was clear the crowd felt the same way as cheers from the bottom of the course erupted. Schild was the only female skier to break the 80-point barrier that evening, giving her the first-place finish at Deer Valley.

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"I love this course," Schild said. "I haven’t trained on this course in two years. It was kind of just like muscle memory. … I saw the big crowd here and it's always exciting. It gets you a little pumped up, maybe too pumped up sometimes. But today, it worked out."

Following her gold-medal performance (her second World Cup win of her career), Schild immediately took off her skis and hurried her way over to the crowd, where her parents were waiting. She shared bear hugs with both of them and couldn't contain her emotions.

Schild's road back to winning gold was a tough one. Nearly two years ago, Schild, the 2015 FIS World Cup Rookie of the Year, tore her ACL while training in Italy on March 24, 2015, a date engrained in her memory. The injury kept her off of the tour for 22 months, where she remained hungry for a return.

Schild said waiting was the hardest part of sitting out.

"It ate me alive, honestly," she said. "I just wanted to be back with my teammates. They are family to me. The girls team has just become so close this year, that I felt left out. Those are my sisters, I want to be with them. To be reunited and to be on the top is insane."

Those 22 months were full of rehab and Schild's patience was tested during that time. Sitting out for one year is one thing, but nearly two years can feel like a lifetime for someone who's used to skiing every day.

She made her return a couple weekends ago in Lake Placid, where she didn't waste any time making her way to the podium with a third-place finish. Though happy with that result, she knew it wasn't her best. This was evident by her first-place finish on Thursday night.

Since Lake Placid, she's battled some knee pain, typical of someone who sat out for two years due to injury. It's been sore one day, a little less sore the next. Schild couldn't feel her knee at all when she came through the finish area following her gold-medal run

"Right now, my knee is numb," Schild said. "I don't even care right now. I made it down. I'll do some [physical therapy] later and ice it. It'll be fine."

The smile on Schild's face looked permanent, as she worked her way through the crowd following her win,. Words couldn't describe the excitement she was feeling, but no matter the outcome, odds are she would have been smiling anyway.

"Honestly, [I want to] have fun every run," Schild said. "That's my goal is to come down, win or lose, with a smile on my face. That's why I like to do the sport."

Schild certainly missed the sport during her 22-month break from competition, but the sport might've missed having her on tour even more. Schild's smile might be a little wider moving through the rest of her comeback tour now that she's back and competing at a high level.