With the world's attention focused on Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn's horrific crash in Super G at the World Alpine Ski Championships this week, many wonder how she will make a comeback and return to competitive skiing.
The truth is that Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears in female athletes are a widespread problem, and this injury happens frequently in competitive skiers. But thanks to advances in Orthopedic Surgery, the return to competitive sports is not only possible but a reality.
Truckee ski racers Morganne Murphy, 19, and Perry Schaffner, 16, are a testament to this fact.
Less than one year out from ACL reconstruction surgery, both athletes were atop the podium receiving medals at the Sugar Bowl Open alpine ski races last weekend. Murphy collected one gold and two silver medals in GS and slalom, while Schaffner won silver and bronze in slalom.
These racers attribute their return to competitive skiing to the surgical skills of U.S. Ski Team surgeon Terrence Orr MD, as well as intensive physical therapy and their own determination.
"In 2011 I was at the top of my game," said Murphy, who was the 2011 J2 Combined Alpine National Champion and 2010 U.S. Junior Ski Cross Champion. "That all came tumbling down after my injury, but I feel like I'm better than ever now."
In an effort to decrease knee injuries in alpine racers, the Federation of International Skiing (FIS) has mandated changes to competition ski design starting the 2013-2014 competitive season. Additional recommendations to minimize ACL injuries include strengthening the hamstring muscles, as well as physical conditioning with a focus on strength, flexibility and agility training.
Some racers wear protective braces to minimize the chance of injury, but even these do not ensure full protection. Murphy, who was wearing protective knee braces at the time of her injury, does feel that her brace protected her knee from more extensive damage, however.
Their performance at Sugar Bowl qualifies Murphy and Schaffner for the USSA Western Region Championships in Washington next month. Both hope to compete at the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley, and are looking forward to a bright future in competitive skiing.
- Dr. B Denmark is chief of staff at Pershing General Hospital in Lovelock, Nev.