Kelowna ski cross star Kelsey Serwa says her Olympic dream will fuel her comeback from knee surgery as she prepares to embark on the long road back to competition for the second successive year.
The 23-year-old battled her way back to the World Cup podium this season and looked to have put the physical and mental challenges of a blown anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) behind her when she won gold at the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, last month.
But she was involved in a minor crash in training only hours before the ski cross world championship finals got underway and the subsequent diagnosis of a re-torn ACL ended her season and left her to question whether she would be able to compete in Sochi.
“Sochi is what has given me the motivation to heal up and get back out there,” said Serwa from Banff, where she had successful surgery to reconstruct her ACL.
“Winning the test event sets me up well. All my energy is going to go into visualizing Sochi.”
Serwa, the 2011 ski cross world champion and X Games gold medallist, finished fifth at the 2010 Games after being eliminated in her semifinal before going on to win the small final.
“After coming down in Vancouver the first thing I said to my mom was, ‘Well, we have to go to Sochi now, ’ ” Serwa said.
Serwa, one of the most dominant athletes on the World Cup circuit over the past three years, had re-established herself as one of the racers to beat in 2012-13 with two gold medals and one silver in her last four races.
On the morning of the world championship finals – when she was due to defend her 2011 title – she had a minor crash in training and decided to sit out the heats as a precaution.
“My fall wasn’t all that big,” Serwa said. “I went into a turn with a little bit of a tight line. There was a jump at the end and it kind of backed me up a little bit. I thought I would land on my right leg as I knew it could take more impact. I landed but my left side kind of came down and caught a bit of an edge and it just made me fall down.”
Subsequent tests were inconclusive but she returned to Canada optimistic that it was nothing too serious.
“I barely considered it a crash. I did hear something pop but I figured if I didn’t tell anyone then maybe it didn’t happen. I got up and skied down, off the course,” Serwa said. “We were just worried that I had torn my MCL. I came home and got an MRI. I walked into it thinking it was going to be all good and I was so shocked when the doctor phoned me and she kind of seemed sad. She said, ‘You tore your knee again. It’s the ACL.’”
Serwa arranged to see renowned surgeon Dr. Mark Heard, who operated on her in Banff on Friday. Her ACL was reconstructed using tissue from a cadaver.
“It went great,” said Serwa. “It’s my left knee that I had redone but we took tendon out of the right knee. When I crashed last year I built up some (stiffness) so we cleaned that out. It’s like I got two for one.”
Serwa is realistic about the road that lies ahead, having only recently come back from the same injury, but she is optimistic and believes she return a stronger athlete this time.
“It totally sucks. Just coming back from it one year and having to go through all the struggle and pain and having to get back into racing mode, building up confidence,” Serwa said. “The thing about this time is I feel there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it from happening. Maybe my body just didn’t accept it the first time around. I feel like it would have happened regardless.”
Serwa only needed a top-16 World Cup result to pre-qualify for Sochi at the time of her injury; now the situation is less clear but she’s hoping to be back on snow within six months and competing as early as December in Innichen/San Candido, Italy. She ends the 2012-13 season ranked fourth in the world in women’s ski cross despite not competing in several races.
“It’s better to do this now while I still have an opportunity to get back,” said Serwa of picking up another serious injury. “They are saying the course in Sochi is more or less going to stay the same so if that’s the case than I can start to visualize (being there).”
Serwa plans to return home to Kelowna to recover from her surgery before the hard work begins in the gym. Her teammates wrapped up their season at the World Cup finals in Sierra Nevada, Spain, on Sunday – as the final race of the year was cancelled due to heavy fog.
“I’m hoping to start pulling starts in four months and be back on snow in six months,” Serwa said.
“I’m still fighting for Sochi. It’s a really big deal for me.”