Monday, February 18, 2013

What defines you?

I wanted to write about Lindsey’s fans or to write about Lindsey victories; instead I am forced to write about her accident, her surgery, and her recovery. 


I left Lindsey’s bus like I always do, right on time and got to the finish area like I always do, five minutes early.  I waited in the finish like I never have, for hours and hours.  Delay after delay. Fifteen minutes upon fifteen minutes upon fifteen minutes.  All I could think about was how cold it was and that I couldn’t imagine how much worse it was for the racers waiting and preparing, then waiting again, at the start.

I was texting Lindsey. We were planning to meet back in the bus for lunch when the race would be announced cancelled.  I walked leisurely back.  It was 1:45 with the last possible time to race at 2:30.  At 2:17 Lindsey texts me:
“Ok it looks like we are going to race.  Get my bag and go back to the finish please.”
“Get your game face on,” I say.
“ I will” Lindsey writes.  “Oh, its on!”

I wasn’t surprised at Lindsey’s enthusiasm; but considering she had been up since six in the morning and waiting around for half of the day, her reaction put me more at ease.  Sometimes, like in St. Anton, I get nervous in the finish.  Sometimes, like in Cortina, I am completely relaxed and calm.  This time, I wasn’t even thinking.  I had no expectations whatsoever.  Of course, I always want to see that time in green saying that she is in the lead, but I never had a thought of what was to happen next. 

Racers went down one by one.  The course looked rough.  I prayed for the fog to keep away.  My praying didn’t do any good.  These weren’t ideal conditions.  This course was not acceptable or safe.  I watched racers go off course, hit ruts, and racers ski blindly through the fog.  I thought whatever the problems, Lindsey just had to ski her best and hang on.  Lindsey could do it. 

There were a lot of delays on the course, making Lindsey come down at 3:15.  After waiting at the start for 4 hours she pushed off with remarkable power and energy.  She was in the lead.  She was fast.  So fast, that she flew farther off of the jump than the racers before her.  She went into a track on the course no one had skied or slipped.  Her right ski sunk into a pile of snow, stopping her speed and causing her to summersault into a gate and crash going 70 miles per hour.  Sliding down the hill she finally stopped, her cries were agonizing. 

I was in shock of what to do, of where to go.  I stick to Lindsey’s side wherever she goes.  I am with Lindsey until she has to go to the start and I meet her at the finish after the race.  I am always there to help her.  This time, I didn’t know how. I was completely lost.
I sent her a hopeless message: “Please be okay.”

After talking to the US Ski Team press agent, Doug, who said he would give me any information about Lindsey once he knew, I left the finish without a word, and not a word was spoken to me.  I went to Lindsey’s Red Bull team hotel hoping to find out where to meet up with her.  I wanted to drive to the hospital myself.  I was sick of waiting around.  After 15 minutes or so we finally were taken to the hospital to see her.  I was shocked that while I was walking through the completely white and desolate corridors of the Austrian hospital, that through the windows were photographers snapping pictures.  I was near tears and felt completely disrespected on Lindsey’s behalf.

When I saw Lindsey I couldn’t stop my tears.  I hugged her for a long time.  She was crying too, she was scared.  In less then 10 minutes her mind had been turned from a perfect winning run, into a painful, heartbreaking, reality:  her season was over. 

As an omen or a stroke of luck, Lindsey’s long-time Doctor was right there beside her.  He and the Austrian doctors went over Lindsey’s x-rays together.  It wasn’t as bad as Lindsey thought.  It wasn’t the end of her career; Vancouver wouldn’t be her last Olympics; and this wouldn’t be her last World Championships, but it was going to be a long, and tiresome road to Sochi.

There were a lot of stages of emotions in the hospital: crying because of pain, crying because the season was over, learning this isn’t going to be the end.  Medicine induced curse words, medicine induced laughing, and medicine-or-not-defiant-Lindsey.  She refused to leave the hospital in a wheelchair and she refused to stay in a hotel the first night.  We finally got her to stay at the team hotel that night. 

She was nauseas the first night because of the pain medication and also because she hadn’t eaten since breakfast that day.  Everyone was coming and going, and there were phone calls, plans for the next days and weeks being made.  It was a blur.  It took a few days of solitude in the bus for the reality to really sink in.

On the morning we left, while I was packing up the car, Lindsey sat watching the women’s race on TV go on without her.  She cheered for her teammates and her friends, but I think that getting into the car and driving away from her life, going to Vail for surgery, took all of her strength. 

After a lot of talking and consulting, Lindsey and Dr. Sterett found the best plan for her surgery. Family members and friends were crowded around her hospital bed, there to support her.  She was nervous and having them there helped keep her mind at ease.  Everything went as well as could be expected and she woke up from surgery groggy but happy it was finally over.

It only took a day after the surgery for Lindsey to go to the gym.  You can’t keep her sitting still for long.  That’s Lindsey.  I told her this was karma telling her to relax finally, but she rolled her eyes at me.

Being an athlete is a very fragile profession.  You may not be good enough, you may not be strong enough, and the conditions may not be safe enough.  Athletes are tightrope walkers and there aren’t any nets.  Falling is part of the game, and getting up is what defines you.  Lindsey might not have two legs to walk on yet, but she has her fans, family, and friends to support her until she can. 

Thanks to all of you for your well wishes and support through Lindsey’s recovery.