Could you ski without an ACL? Survive a stroke then ten months later represent your country? Compete against your brother or dig deep to find a second chance? Snow It All spoke to four Aussie skiers and snowboarders heading to Sochi about the challenges they’ve faced on the road to get here and what’s ahead.
Nate Johnstone – Snowboard halfpipe
Nate missed the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 after breaking his ankle mere weeks before the big event. He had secured his spot, was training on an air bag for his Olympic run when it happened. Four years later he has made the team again, making Sochi his first official Olympic competition.
“I’m going into Sochi feeling good. I have had some good training here in Breck (Breckenridge) the past month. We have another week until we fly out to Austria for some down time before heading to Sochi. We will adjust better to the time zone that way so it is not a huge change as it would be coming from the USA. We will spend some time free riding and relaxing.
As Sochi is getting closer the nerves are definitely starting to come to the surface a little. I’m sure once I get there and start riding I’ll forget about everything and just ride and have fun though. I just really love snowboarding and thats what makes me happy. If I can stay feeling positive, happy and relaxed whilst I’m competing I feel that is when I get my best results.”
Sami Kennedy Sim – Skier Cross
Ten months ago few would believe that Sami would make the Sochi team. The twenty five year old experienced a stroke while at home in Canberra at the time. Lucky for Sami her husband, cross country skier Ben Sim, was at home and able to get her swift medical attention.
“I woke up a few days after minor knee surgery and got up from bed as normal. When I tried to get back into bed, I lost function on my left handside and began to slur and loose control of my body. I had a facial droop and couldn’t speak when Ben (her husband) called the ambulance.
My rehab was initially slow and I wasn’t allowed to have my heart rate above 100bpm. Once given medical clearance I was allowed on the bike, and that was about 6 weeks post stroke. Then I gradually increased my training load under the close eye of team doctors and my strength coach John Marsden. I never lost hope in skiing again, but I was worried that I wouldn’t feel comfortable racing again.
I have always wanted to perform at the Olympics. When I began ski cross, I didn’t think about Olympic participation until just prior to the Vancouver games. When I missed out on going there, I became more and more determined!
I am feeling great. I am always happy when I am racing and am enjoying the race environment and I am looking forward to experiencing Sochi.”
Russ Henshaw – ski slopestyle
Russ Henshaw is consistently in the top three slope style skiers in the world and has had his eye on Sochi since ski slope style was announced as a new discipline. He tore his ACL in 2012 and his father donated his hamstring for surgery. He tore it again last season and decided to power on without it. Henshaw will be competing at the top level in Sochi minus one ACL but it hasn’t stopped him winning podiums this season.
“I didn’t really set any goals this season. I just wanted to go out there and have fun and so far having fun seems to be paying off [Henshaw has won 3rd place podium on The Dew Tour and at the Copper Mountain World Cup]. It is definitely a confidence boost heading into Sochi. Every slope course is different though, so it will be another story once we get to Sochi and see how the course is riding. Every slope style course is different and may play to different athletes strengths. I will have to see when I get over there if the features work to my favour.
I feel like I am skiing well this season so I am looking forward to seeing what I can put down in Sochi. I have Xgames this week and then I head over to Zurich for a few days to rest before the big show in Sochi.
The knee feels normal. I had no idea if it would work or not (skiing without an ACL) but I gave it enough time and figured out that it was possible. I definitely had doubts while I was in Australia doing dry land training but as soon as I got back on snow I had no doubts what so ever that it was the right decision.”
Amy sheehan – ski halfpipe
Amy will be competing at the Sochi Olympics alongside her brother, Lyndon but they won’t be on the same side. While Lyndon is representing New Zealand, Amy is skiing for Australia.
“Being based in the ski fields of NZ most people don’t realise that my family are Australians. I was born in Byron Bay Australia and spent the first ten years of my life on the beach. It wasn’t until we moved to Wanaka that my brother and I saw the snow for the first time. Lyndon, being a bit younger, spent most of his schooling life in NZ and chose to represent the country he learnt ski in. I chose Australia because that’s where my family is from and that’s where I was born.
At first people are intrigued that I am skiing for Australia, as they associate me with NZ. And there is always that subtle cross Tasman rivalry, but when they hear my story about being born in Australia it’s quite interesting to find out that a big handful of kiwi free skiers are actually Aussie born as well. The pipes and parks and even backcountry terrain in NZ are some of the best places to ski and train in the Southern Hemisphere and being home to many international freeski competitions it makes sense for most of us to be based in NZ to achieve our goals.
We grew up learning to ski at Cardrona and then joined the Wanaka race club where we spent most of our days training at Treble Cone. Eventually my brother and I wanted more out of skiing than the restriction of chasing gates. We almost swapped our skis out for a snowboard, but than we were introduced to the twin tip ski.
We joined the local freestyle team to learn more about what we could do with them. It was then, in 2004, that I was introduced to the halfpipe. At first it terrified me, but I learned quickly how much I love getting air and have never stopped wanting to pursue the feeling of flying.
My brother is my biggest inspiration, and although I cant keep up with him anymore, he is always sharing his wisdom and pushing me to be better on my skis.”
Check out the full list of Australia’s Sochi Olympic athlete team here.