Parkite Ligety down, but not out
Local skier talks about his decision to have surgery
Olympic skier Ted Ligety has done it a million times over. After the area received feet upon feet of snow roughly two weeks ago, the Park City native decided to take advantage, while he could, with his wife.
They strapped on the powder skis and got some turns in at Deer Valley Resort, one of the places that shaped Ligety’s career. It was a perfect day for shredding, but also, it was a somber goodbye to the mountain, for now.
“I hadn’t had a powder day all year,” Ligety said in an interview with the Park Record. “That was definitely a nice thing, especially to do it with my wife”
This was the last time Ligety would be skiing for the foreseeable future after opting to undergo a season-ending microdiscectomy procedure to relieve pain in his left leg. While the surgery is technically one for the lower back, it is often used to help alleviate pain in the legs, which is what Ligety experiences.
The Parkite has been hampered by back issues for the last couple of years. The pain, however, got to a point when Ligety just wasn’t Ligety anymore. It was back in October when he was skiing in Soelden, Austria for the World Cup opener.
“It was difficult,” Ligety said of the decision. “It’s the kind of thing where I can ski, but I can’t ski well or in a way that I can win the races. That’s been the difficult part of it.”
For Ligety, skiing is his life. It always has been: from being raised in a ski town to participating in its local youth ski clubs to attending the Park City Winter School to occupying a spot on the U.S. National team for the last 13 years.
If he could be skiing, he would be: he wants to finish out this World Cup season. He wants the opportunity to defend his giant slalom title — Ligety is the three-time defending champion in the discipline — at the World Championships in St. Moritz.
“My big goal this year was World Champs,” Ligety said. “I wanted to go for a fourth [giant slalom title]. That was really special and important to me to try and go do that.”
What he really doesn’t want, though, is to have to sit out for the second time in as many years due to injury. He did everything in his power to try to avoid that. He visited a plethora of doctors and neurosurgeons, receiving numerous treatments, such as receiving cortisone shots, that could have helped without getting surgery.
“Nothing was really working,” Ligety said. “I worked with a bunch of different physical therapists who used different techniques. It just came to a point where there was no improvement. One of the neurosurgeons I saw was very confident saying that I needed surgery.”
Upon returning to Park City, Ligety saw a handful of other doctors to gather some different opinions, but much to his dismay, the advice was the same.
“I decided it was really the only way to treat this and to get back to be able to race next year at the level I really want to be able to race at,” Ligety said.
On Wednesday, Ligety underwent the surgery at the University of Utah. It was a successful one with the recovery timetable sitting somewhere between 8-12 weeks. With that timeframe, this would pit Ligety in the middle of spring as a potential comeback to the slopes, but he doesn’t plan on pushing it.
With a long-term focus in mind — the 2018 Winter Olympics are just around the corner — the 32-year-old skier sees summer as a time to get back to serious training.
“I’m not going to try and push it too soon,” Ligety said. “I’ll take that step by step as far as how it feels and what everybody is saying to do as far as the long-term approach goes. The main goal is definitely to be 100 percent in the middle of summer, so I can go train full-on down south in New Zealand and Chile.
“Come the first race [of next season], I’ll be good to go and healthy again.”
In the meantime, Ligety plans on staying in Park City for much of his rehab. Living just over the hill from the USSA gym, he can’t think of a much better place than his hometown to get through this difficult process.
When he’s not busy working his way back to full strength, Ligety will be dedicating his down time to his company Anomaly Action Sports, which designs and manufactures athletic gear under the brands Shred Optics and Slytech Protection.
“I guess it’s good that I have the business and it’s nice that it’s located in Park City now,” Ligety said. “That gives me another little thing to do with my time and kind of keep myself sane.”
Ligety will need those sane moments when he’s watching the World Championships in early February, wishing that he could be out there defending his title. Even so, Ligety won’t be down for long. In the grand scheme of things, 8-12 weeks during a 13-year career is a blink of an eye.
Ligety announced to his fans, family and friends on social media on Tuesday that he made the decision to undergo this surgery. At the end of the post, he used the hashtag “#illbeback.”
For those who know Ligety, there’s little to no doubt he will, indeed, be back.
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In a season full of growth, Park City finished seventh at the Class 5A state playoffs. With five starters expected to return next year, coach Matt Carlson is taking the adversity from this past season and using it as lessons to be learned for another state title run next year.