Facing Injury: Stories from SYNC Athletes

Ski racing is a thrilling sport, with athletes charging down icy slopes on razor-sharp edges at speeds upwards of 60 mph. However, along with these exhilarating highs come the inherent dangers of the sport. Injuries are not uncommon in ski racing, but this past season, we have witnessed the toll they can take even on the highest-level athletes. Notable names such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Petra Vholva, Aleksander Aamondt Kilde, and Marco Swartz have all had their seasons impacted by injuries.

Unfortunately, SYNC athletes have also been affected. Currently, five SYNC athletes have had their seasons prematurely ended due to injury. Each of these athletes is at a different stage in their career, providing unique perspectives on injury in the world of skiing. We had the opportunity to sit down with each of these athletes to shed some light on the impact of a season-ending injury and how to overcome it.

The day of Injury

For all these athletes, the day of injury starts off like any other. They all warmed up and felt ready to attack the course. However, "every time you race, there's some level of risk involved," said Ella Spear, "and that's part of what makes ski racing cool to a certain extent."

Ella Spear

Ella Spear is a SYNC NCAA Team member and senior attending Colby College. During the NorAm races in Stratton, Vermont, Ella crashed and tore her ACL, ending her season.

For some, injuries happen in the blink of an eye. "I just came around that last corner and didn't anticipate the compression to pull as much as it did, and it just got me squished. I caught an edge, and then once I was going down, I was crashing at 120 kilometers an hour," recalls Stefanie Fleckenstein. For others, "It was really slow motion. Just being aware that I knew right away that my right knee was messed up," Sierra Coe recalls.

Sierra Coe

Sierra Coe is a SYNC Junior Team member and skis for Burke Mountain Academy. During the NorAm in Stratton, Vermont, Sierra crashed and sustained an ACL tear, ending her season.

After a big crash, lots of thoughts and mental checklists rush into your head. The feeling that sticks out most is fear. To say getting injured isn't scary is a lie. Some fear the end of their season, meanwhile, others fear they won't receive the help they need right away. That was the case for Stefanie Fleckenstein: "My biggest fear was that they weren't going to come help me quickly because I had crashed in the finish. That was the scariest thing for me because I was in so much pain, and I wasn't sure if help would arrive promptly."

Stefanie Fleckenstein

Stefanie (Stef) Fleckenstein is a SYNC Independent Athlete racing on the World Cup Speed Circuit. During the World Cup Downhill in Val d'Isere, France, Stef unfortunately crashed and experienced a multi season ending injury.

While most athletes recognize their injuries immediately, sometimes the injury may not be clear. That was the case for Galena Wardle: "I got an MRI, maybe didn't get a great diagnosis from the doctor that I saw, and kind of just thought it was a bone bruise for two weeks. But turns out it was my ACL" Once the diagnosis has been made, the next task at hand is the recovery process.

The recovery Process

Overcoming injury is not just a physical battle to get back to where you were but also a mental one. For Sophia Tozzi, "the hardest part was texting my teammates and my other friends and being like, 'Hey, I'm out for the season.'" However, the biggest advice these athletes have for the recovery process is to "rely on the people around you, like your community or your friends, for support," said Sierra Coe. The mental side of recovery will have its ups and downs. "I'd say 90% of the time I'm able to keep it positive. I think that I accepted my situation really quickly," said Stef Fleckenstein. "But also, I think it's impossible to not have those moments where you get really frustrated and sad, especially when you love a sport that much."

Sophia Tozzi

Sophia Tozzi is a SYNC NCAA Team member and sophomore at Middlebury College. During the NorAm in Mount Tremblant, Canada, Sophia crashed and tore her ACL, ending her season.

While anyone who gets injured wants to get back as fast as possible, it is important to "Take it one step at a time. Take your time. Listen to your body," advises Galena Wardle, who has experienced three previous ACL tears. "And also find joy in other things; don't just grind and rehab."

Galena Wardle

Galena Wardle is a SYNC Independent Athlete on the Ladies International Team and former University of Denver athlete. During training, she sustained an ACL tear ending her season.

Injury's Impact on continuing in the sport

For some, making the choice to keep skiing after being injured is easy. For a young athlete like Sierra Coe, only in her second year of FIS, the decision to keep pursuing the sport is straightforward. But the older you get, the more you have to face the reality of "Can I keep doing this?"

For athletes like Ella, Galena, and Stef, that decision to keep going had to be confronted. Ella, a senior at Colby College, feels this has created a new opportunity for her. She never thought she could continue skiing into grad school, but now "knowing that there are options... people make it work at any age, so I think just keeping an open mind has been helpful." For Galena, a clear decision has yet to be made. As a post-college grad, a season-ending injury may be the sign to stop. But for Galena, she is currently just focused on the recovery, and if all goes well, she will continue to pursue her goals in the sport. For Stef, her recovery is looking to be longer than just a year. But she is determined "to come back and not be scared. I want to have done everything slowly and properly so that when I do come back, I'm jumping back to where I was rather than kind of scrambling. That's just a big goal of mine."

Prove. them. wrong.

"Prove. Them. Wrong." written on a poster behind Sierra Coe, a saying all athletes who experience injury can find motivation in. Whether you are proving the doubters of making a comeback wrong or "proving yourself wrong if you have personal doubts," said Sierra. While all these SYNC athletes are at different stages of their careers, they share the commonality of a recovery process to get back to the sport they love. The drive to return to skiing can be shared among any athlete facing injury. As Sophia Tozzi said, "just knowing that it will get better and it does get better every day," and before you know it, you will be back on your skis.

We wish all of the SYNC Athletes currently facing injury an easy and fast recovery. We can't wait to see you on the race course again.