Road to recovery: Olympic skier Christensen battles ACL injury
Park City native believes he’ll be back for 2018 Winter Olympics
June 9, 2017
Like most in his sport, Olympic skier and Park City native Joss Christensen is always looking to improve his skills. Perfecting his talent was the athlete's mindset a month ago when he was training at Mammoth Mountain in California.
He had been working on a new trick, a rightside cork 1260. The trick involves Christensen spinning at a corked angle for 1260 degrees, meaning the axis of the spin allows for the skier to be basically sideways or upside-down in the air.
After a long day on the mountain, Christensen was able to land the trick, one he's never attempted in competition. He even stuck it a few times that day and decided to throw the trick down again before heading off of the mountain.
"I should’ve known that I shouldn't be skiing still, but I was having such a good time," Christensen said.
He hit the jump and performed the trick, but the landing was where things got tricky.
As he hit the ground, he was a little heavy toward the tips of his skis. The impact of the awkward landing forced his left boot out of its binding, making it difficult for the skier to remain upright. Christensen's left foot flew out in front of him, forcing his entire body to twist over his right knee.
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He heard a huge pop, one, he said, everyone in his sport fears. The result? A torn ACL and meniscus, as well as an MCL sprain.
"I think I still maybe would've hurt myself a little bit, but I don't think I would've torn my ACL and meniscus so bad if my binding stayed in my ski," Christensen said.
Immediately after the injury occurred, a flood of negative thoughts rushed through the Parkite's head.
"I just knew that it was probably over for me," Christensen said. "I just kind of freaked out with the Olympics coming up and everything. I thought about losing my sponsors, not getting my Olympic deals and just taking myself out of the Olympic race before it even started."
While the injury is the worst of Christensen's career, the skier said, he's learned his goal of competing in the 2018 Winter Olympic is not completely dashed. He went under the knife of Dr. Andrew Cooper, the head team physician and orthopedic surgeon for the U.S. Freeski team. After the surgery, it was determined Christensen would make a comeback by February, but not without struggle.
Recovery gone wrong
Christensen's road to recovery started on the wrong foot just days after surgery.
"[Dr. Cooper] did a great job, but my blood wouldn't clot after surgery," Christensen said. "He thinks it was because my body was affected by the aspirin a little too much."
Christensen's knee was continually swelling up like a balloon. Doctors drained the knee on four separate occasions, and even opted for a minor surgery a week after the first one to place a temporary drain in his knee to continue the blood flow.
"It was disgusting, but it was kind of cool to put it in there," Christensen said of the drain.
Between the initial injuries, the draining and a hematoma in his quad, the Olympic skier has dealt with a great deal of pain during his rehab. His MCL sprain makes his knee stiff, making it difficult to move around. He has been walking around his house in Park City for the last few days, sometimes with the help of crutches, but he hopes to be off of them by the end of the week.
He had to take some time off from physical therapy due to the blood clotting. On most days, Christensen, who enjoys mountain biking in the summertime, doesn't leave his bed in order to keep the swelling in his knee down.
Ray of hope
But he said he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
"Things are going to pick up pretty soon," Christensen said. "I'm feeling a lot better. I'm not really taking any pain meds anymore, and I'll start doing upper body workouts starting next week. We're hoping that once I'm walking and off of crutches, it'll just not hurt so badly. I'm just in a lot of pain every day."
Christensen would admittedly be taking the process slower if it wasn't Olympic season. Injuries can easily derails one's career, so it would make sense for him to want to take every precautionary step possible to ensure he remains a competitive skier.
Olympic qualifying events begin as soon as late this fall, Christensen, 25, is now considered one of the veterans in the sport. Knowing the competition continues to get younger, the Parkite knows he needs to push through the rehab process if he wants to defend his Olympic gold medal.
"I have all the resources I can possibly ask for through the ski team and through everyone in Park City," Christensen said. "I have a great chiropractor/wellness doctor. I can get physical therapy every day and have a trainer at the gym. We have nutritionists [on the ski team] and everything is so close for me. It's a good thing. It's a huge bummer, but it's possible.
"The best part for me is just how confident my team around me is that we can do it."
Defending his title is important to Christensen, but remaining in competition for as long as possible is a priority. His biggest motivation, however, isn't a gold medal or a trip back to the top of the podium.
"My main motivation is how much I want to get back to skiing, in general," Christensen said. "Not necessarily just competing in the Olympics, but how much I want to be strong again."
Christensen knows he has a long road ahead, but this isn't the first time he's bounced back from injury. There was the left knee surgery last summer, the broken hand and cartilage damage in the same knee during the 2016 Winter X Games and the separated collarbone at X Games Oslo.
He's hardly the first in this sport to suffer multiple injuries, but he always seems to bounce back. The most-recent injury is the most serious of them, but Christensen, who hopes to find a resort in the Wasatch Front that will build him a jump or two in the early fall, not only believes he will complete the recovery, but that it may be good for him.
"Who knows, maybe this is going to hold me back just enough that I'm not going to do something stupid," Christensen said. "Kids are for sure going to count me out, but maybe that's a good thing. That happened during the last Olympics. … Hopefully I can just surprise."
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