Ski locally, think globally
Picture this. You’re one of the hometown kids representing the U.S. Ski Team at the World Cup’s latest stop at Heavenly. It’s Saturday morning and you’re standing at the top of Gunbarrel, a hill you’ve been racing on ever since you moved to Lake Tahoe from southern California seven years earlier. You’re at home, you’re comfortable and everything seems as familiar as the back of your hand. The eyes of thousands of spectators, many of them your friends and family, are glued to your shadowy frame at the top of the hill. The announcer’s louder-than-normal delivery elicits roars as your name carries for what seems like miles into the mountain air. It’s your turn. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Game on.
“I’m probably going to try to soak in all of that positive energy in and use it to my advantage,” said mogul skier Chris Hernandez, one of three Lake Tahoe natives who are members of the U.S. freestyle team. “I want to be able to channel that excitement and put it into my runs.”
Hernandez’s appearance this weekend will be the final leg in a long odyssey that has seen the 20-year old go from third place in a major bumps competition in early 1998 to a surgical table just a few months later.
“You mainly think to yourself, ‘Why has this happpened to me?’ But you’ll never really know,” said Hernandez, who has completed 100 percent recovery from surgery to repair a right knee ACL tear suffered at Squaw Valley last March. “I sat there for a while telling myself, ‘I’m in good shape. I’m strong. I’m healthy. How did this happen?'”
Hernandez is now at peace with his untimely injury. For the first six weeks of recovery, he was on crutches. By Memorial Day, he was back on snow again. Not on skis, but coasting on one of his beloved BMX bikes. Finally, nearly seven months after a patellar graft gave him a new lease on life, Hernandez put skis on again. He started by working strictly on flats, but quickly moved on to his specialty – moguls. Could the injury have been a blessing in disguise?
“I didn’t look at (knee injuries) like I do now,” Hernandez said. “I mean, you care and stuff, but you don’t know what it’s like until it actually happens to you and you’re the one that has to deal with it. I think it’s made me stronger. I learned a lot about mu body and what it can and can’t do.”
Hernandez’s return isn’t just about his knee healing, though. Or enjoying himself in front of a hometown crowd. On a deep and competitive U.S. freestyle team, it’s also about doing well. A trip to the podium can make the difference between competing in a singular event and becoming a regular face on the World Cup circuit.
“He’s definitely going to have a big cheering section,” said Heavenly Ski Team coach Jere Crawford. “He’s skiing very well right now and I think he can do very well in the contest. A top-10 finish is a good possibility if he really lays one down.”
“In terms of raw talent, Chris is one of the most talented young skiers (out there),” said former U.S. team coach Jeff Good. “He’s a quick learner; tell him to ‘do this’ and he doesn’t question or evaluate it, he goes out and does it.”
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