Kelsey Serwa should be holding ski poles right now, not knitting needles and crutches. She should be preparing to go to the ski cross World Cup Finals in Sierra Nevada, Spain, next weekend with a shot at the overall title, not sitting on her couch in Kelowna, her season devastatingly cut short again by another ACL tear in her left knee.
“It sucks,” she said with succinct bluntness Sunday, two days after getting the diagnosis. “I didn’t think it would be this again.”
But the 23-year-old former world champion, injured March 10 at the 2013 worlds in Norway, isn’t about to wallow in self pity. That would just make for a longer road back. And it would distract her from a goal she still firmly believes she can accomplish, winning a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“I’ve still got time,” said Serwa, who has been knitting hats the past few days. “Thankfully, it’s not two weeks out from the Olympics. It’s a challenge, but it’s just adding to my story. I know I can come back. I’ve done it before, so there’s no reason why I can’t do it again.”
Clearly, she is focused on recovery, even before undergoing surgery.
But she also took the time Sunday to criticize World Cup race organizers and officials for some poorly designed and built courses and for not taking enough responsibility when things go wrong as they did a year ago in Switzerland when her teammate, Nik Zoricic, died. He died after crashing off a finish-area jump that several racers thought was poorly designed.
“Everyone is worried about protecting their own asses,” said Serwa. “No one wants to be liable.”
The dark-haired, soft-spoken Serwa is one tough customer. She won her world title in 2011, courageously racing just a week after injuring her back and ribs in a crash at the finish line when she claimed an X Games title.
She then won the first two World Cups of the 2011-12 season before tearing up her left knee at a 2012 race in Alpe d’Huez, France, in January. She made a strong comeback this season, winning World Cups in San Candido, Italy, and on the 2014 Olympic course in Sochi before re-injuring the knee in a relatively tame crash during a morning training run at the worlds.
It was her first spill since that one in France, 14 months earlier. She thought she had landed fine off a jump, with most of her weight on her right leg. But when her left leg “slapped down,” her ski caught an edge.
“It was a minor crash, I barely even fell.”
She knew, however, that she had injured something in the knee, although she did ski down to the lodge.
“When I crashed, I heard something pop, but I was totally in denial. I figured don’t tell anybody and maybe it will be like nothing happened.”
She sat out the race and eventually flew back home. Because the muscles in her knee were tighter after the ACL surgery in 2012, it was difficult to tell, initially, what was wrong.
“Two different people looked at it and said ‘Thank God, the ACL looks good.’ When I went into the MRI (on Friday), I was pretty optimistic. I thought, ‘oh it’s just going to be an MCL’ (sprain or tear) and I wasn’t worried.”
Then she was told it was a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament.
“I was totally in shock when I heard it. It’s obviously frustrating. But you can’t feel sorry for yourself. This is just another opportunity to show the world that I can work hard and get back to the top. What’s life without a few challenges along the way?”
Teammate Marielle Thompson of Whistler, who was second in Sunday’s World Cup race at Are, Sweden, said the team found out the extent of Serwa’s injury on Saturday.
“It was devastating,” said Thompson. “We were all pretty shocked. It wasn’t thought to be that bad.”
Serwa said she was puzzled that such a minor crash led to the ACL tear.
But she was critical of the course setup, noting that with the speed the racers were carrying and the short takeoff into the jump, “it was easy to get off balance. I wasn’t the only person to crash off that jump.
“Definitely organizers (on the entire World Cup circuit) can do a better job in terms of course building. There’s not enough time and effort put into course design and building. There’s miscommunication between what the athletes want and what organizers think we want.”
Canada has lost two top female ski cross racers — 2010 Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor and promising Julia Murray — to retirement in recent years, partly because of knee injuries.
“Every sport, you get injuries,” said Serwa. “But there are still steps that we can take to prevent things that are bigger from happening.
“But no one wants to take responsibility. Everyone’s worried about getting sued. How do you expect to have changes when you don’t acknowledge mistakes were made in the first place?”
Copyright The Vancouver Sun