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2:43 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

Skier Vies For A Spot On Team USA After Breaking Both Legs

Originally published on Fri January 3, 2014 6:43 pm

On a cold, cloudy day in Colorado, ski racer Alice McKennis suits up. She buckles her boots, puts on a back protector and dons a tightfitting speed suit.

She's training at the U.S. Ski Team's Speed Center at Copper Mountain near Vail, Colo. — and how she got here is exceptional.

The 24-year-old has been skiing since she was a toddler. Last January, she won the downhill Alpine Ski World Cup; in March, she broke her leg in 30 places. But now she's back and looking for a second shot at an Olympic medal on Team USA in Sochi, Russia. The team will be selected by late January.

After her injury, McKennis' doctors told her she probably wouldn't be able to ski the following season, let alone race. But the surgery and healing went much better than expected. Now, McKennis has a metal plate and 11 screws in her leg. She even says she has an edge on the competition because of her March injuries and earlier ones.

"I'd say I'm pretty tough," she says. "I've broken both of my legs, essentially, and come back from these injuries. I kinda feel like with that sort of situation, you have to be supertough to do it. And to make the Olympics is extremely hard, so it takes a certain kind of toughness to do that."

On this day, McKennis is focusing on technique. She's planning to ski the entire course from top to bottom, something she hasn't done since her most recent injury.

She takes several shorter runs leading up to the last one of the day, which will cover the entire length of the mountain — about 2 miles. She takes off and flies down the course dotted with gates that skiers zigzag around. McKennis flies by going upwards of 65 miles per hour.

McKennis is improving quickly because she has a goal, says Pascal Hasler, one of her coaches.

"With her injury, I mean, we saw the pictures, we know what's in there — plates and screws. And I think it's amazing how she's doing," Hasler says.

That is an inspiration for others, including younger skiers like 12-year-old Michal Hale, a budding ski racer who's also from Colorado and has been tracking McKennis' career for half her life.

"She's a big role model for me," Hale says. "Like, watching her skiing makes me feel like I could probably do that, too."

Back out on the snow, McKennis is getting ready to pack it in for the day.

"Today, I mean, I was definitely nervous to run the full length of the course," she says. "But once I do it, I'm like, all right, let's keep moving forward, and you know, skiing faster and better."

Copyright 2014 KAJX-FM. To see more, visit http://www.aspenpublicradio.org.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, athletes like Alice McKennis are training hard for a spot on Team USA. Her journey is exceptional. The ski racer from Colorado suffered a debilitating injury in March. She broke her leg in 30 places. From Aspen Public Radio, Marci Krivonen reports, McKennis is back on skis and looking for her second shot at an Olympic medal.

MARCI KRIVONEN, BYLINE: On a recent cold, cloudy day in Colorado, ski racer Alice McKennis suits up. She buckles her boots, puts on a back protector and dons a tight-fitting speed suit.

ALICE MCKENNIS: Which is not very warm, but it's good for the aerodynamics.

KRIVONEN: She's training at the U.S. Ski Team's Speed Center at Copper Mountain, near Vail. Today, McKennis is focusing on technique. It's a big day for another reason, she's planning to ski the entire course from top to bottom, something she hasn't done since her injury.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Going up?

MCKENNIS: Yeah.

PASCAL HASLER: And then (unintelligible) ski Super G?

MCKENNIS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.

KRIVONEN: The 24-year-old has been skiing since she was a toddler.

MCKENNIS: The snow's good today. It's better than I thought it was going to be.

KRIVONEN: She takes several shorter runs leading up to the last one of the day, which will cover the entire length of the mountain, about two miles. She takes off and flies down the course dotted with gates that skiers zigzag around. McKennis flies by, going upwards of 65 miles per hour. After McKennis' crash, the doctors doubted she'd be training at year's end.

MCKENNIS: I mean, initially, it was kind of like, you know, you're probably not going to even ski next season. Like, maybe you'd ski next January, but you're certainly not going to race.

KRIVONEN: But the surgery and healing went much better than expected. Now she has a metal plate and 11 screws in her leg. She says she has an edge on the competition because of her March injuries and earlier ones.

MCKENNIS: I'd say I'm pretty tough. I've broken both of my legs, essentially, and come back from these injuries. And I kind of feel like with that sort of situation, like, you have to be super tough to do it. And to make the Olympics is extremely hard, so it takes a certain kind of toughness to do that.

HASLER: With her injury, I mean, we saw the pictures, we know what's in there in the leg, plates and screws. And I think it's amazing, you know, how she's doing.

KRIVONEN: Pascal Hasler is one of McKennis' coaches. He says she's improving quickly because she has a goal in sight. And that goal is an inspiration for others, including younger skiers like twelve-year old Michal Hale.

MICHAL HALE: Yeah. She is a big role model for me.

KRIVONEN: Hale is also from Colorado and she's been tracking McKennis' career for half her life. She's a budding ski racer herself.

HALE: Like, watching her skiing makes me feel like I could probably do that, too.

KRIVONEN: Back out on the snow, McKennis is getting ready to pack it in for the day.

MCKENNIS: Today, I mean, I was definitely nervous to run the full length of the course, but once I do it, I'm like, all right, you know, just keep moving forward and, you know, ski faster and better.

KRIVONEN: It's that kind of perseverance that could get McKennis to Sochi. The Olympic team will be named by late January. For NPR News, I'm Marci Krivonen in Aspen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.