Steven Nyman plans return to World Cup skiing after knee injuries
Last January, Steven Nyman sat under a cloud of snow blown up from a long, skidding crash into the netting at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen World Cup in Germany. The Provo-born downhill ski racer had been leading by .8 seconds in the downhill race when he overshot a landing and fell on the hard, packed snow. His left leg was unable to support any weight, so he waited for a helicopter to airlift him from the course.
At the hospital, realizing his season was over, the former Park City Ski and Snowboard Club skier made a promise to his fans via social media: “I WILL BE BACK.”
Quick update. My season is over but aside from my knee everything is okay. Time for some surgery and healing. I WILL BE BACK!
— Steven Nyman (@Steven_Nyman) January 27, 2017
But in December of 2017, in the very same race, history repeated itself. This time, he tore his right ACL, and Nyman, the United States’ most likely hope for a men’s alpine skiing trophy, would not be racing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
There’s no rushing recovery from knee surgery.
“They just take time,” Nyman said in a recent interview.
But his most recent injury is taking less time – in part because Nyman opted to have surgery immediately.
“I just wanted to get the rehab going,” he said. “I was over it.”
He had already shifted his focus on reaching the World Championships in Sweden next February.
Instead of flying back to the U.S. for the same operation he had gotten before, he decided to stay in Germany to try a surgery that took tissue from the quadriceps tendon, just above the kneecap, instead of the usual American method of taking tissue from the hamstring, which Nyman had done before, or from a cadaver’s knee.
“I’m a very hamstring-dominant guy,” he said. “I have super strong hamstrings, and I felt a big void in my hamstring on my left side (after it was sampled for a graft in the first surgery), so I don’t want that feeling again, I wanted to try something else.”
So far, the treatment is working.
Less than two weeks after his surgery, he was able to walk up to the Olympic women’s downhill finals in Pyeongchang. Soon after, he said he was able to start training, and by summer he was focusing on building muscle mass.
His routine has ramped up. During an average workout, he does three sets of up to 18 different exercises with a balance or memory challenge between each set.
“A lot of my training is fatiguing my body, then challenging it in other ways,” he said. “I’ll do three rounds of that in the gym; hammer through all those exercises, then I challenge it under stress, under fatigue, then go back and do it again, and again.”
This year, this injury, is not like the one before it. His January 2017 crash was what he called his most extensive to date.
“ACL, MCL – there was tons of stuff that had to re-grow; re-attach,” he said. “This year was just ACL (recovery) – very simple.”
Now, he’s at his third camp of the off-season, at a remote volcano in Chile, starting his first true downhill and super G runs of the season.
Before leaving, he said his knee was back to “85 percent” and has regained its stability, though he said it still lacks some of its original power, which he hopes to recover before February.
“Once I gain confidence there, I make the call,” he said, regarding his return to competition.
Nyman currently plans to participate at races in Lake Louise, Alberta, and compete in earnest at the World Cups in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in December.
“I miss racing on the home turf, you know?” He said. “I think I can do well.”
But returning to where he was before 2017 will not be easy.
In an effort to protect his knee, Nyman started the 2017-2018 season cautiously, with results that showed it – his first World Cup race after Garmisch was a 41st-place finish at Val Gardena, Italy. His results crept up to a 15th-place finish in Kitzbuehel, Austria, before his second injury at Garmisch, but now his rank hovers just above 30th overall, a far cry from sixth last January.
“I feel like those first few races, you have the ability to attack on the back, so it will be good to ski the whole tour and to fight again,” he said. “It’s always motivating to be an underdog and claw your way back to the top, and I’ve done that several times in my career. And so that’s the expectation. I know I have that ahead of me, but I know I have the speed still, and I know I can compete for the top step.”
Then there’s the uncertainty of racing at Garmisch again.
He took 10th on the course in the 2016 downhill race, and has placed as high as fourth in training.
“I need to weigh the options, but it’s a possibility I just skip it,” Nyman said.
Whether he fulfills his promise to fans, then, remains in question. He has already returned to the snow, but as far as competing at Garmisch and a return to skiing’s top 10, fans, like Nyman himself, will just have to wait. Nyman gets the impression – from colleagues and doctors – that he’ll return to full strength after a year.
From the time of his injury, it’s 55 weeks until the World Championships.
Park City Mountain Resort is scheduled to start limited summer operations on Saturday, including the operation of PayDay lift for hikers and bikers.