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The Rehab Race

By Elise Saarela
July, 31 2018
Tom Rowley is recovering from an ACL tear
Tom Rowley works out at U.S. Ski & Snowboard's Center of Excellence to recover from his ACL tear.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard's Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, is currently booming with athletes for summer strength and conditioning sessions. Rehabbing athletes are specifically making the Center of Excellence their home for the summer. With 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. sessions at least five days a week, these rehabbing athletes are working vigorously with our high performance staff to get back onto the snow.

“The gym essentially becomes your life,” says mogul skier Morgan Schild (Pittsford, N.Y.). Schild is recovering from her second ACL tear, which happened last March during the first World Cup event after the Olympics. The first time she tore her ACL, it took her 12 months to recover, which is double the time it typically takes athletes to reach a full recovery. This time around, she is working hard to get back on snow earlier. “I want to be that one story that comes back in six months, is on the snow in seven and is competing at nine. That would be my ideal plan.”

Mogul skier Tom Rowley (Long Beach, N.Y.) shares teammate Schild’s desire for getting back on snow. Rowley is also recovering from an ACL tear. “At this point I am ready to move on. I want to get back to how I was,” Rowley reflected.  

Rowley sustained his injury on his first run of his first event last season in Finland, crushing his 2018 Olympic Games dreams. However, it has also been a huge motivator for Rowley to get back into shape and get back on the snow. “It was definitely hard missing the Olympic season,” says Rowley, “I hopefully want to work my way back to where I was and be around for the next Olympic year. It’s hard to say - it’s four years away - but it’s pretty tough to miss that one and I feel like I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to go for it.”

After dislocating his shoulder at a snowboardcross event in Austria, Hagen Kearney (Telluride, Colo.) is also looking forward to his future and is more than ready to be healthy and strong again. Kearney has been on the team for six years, but has never experienced an injury of this magnitude until now. He explained that there have always been rehabbing athletes in the Center of Excellence, but he never truly understood what the process was like until just a few months ago.

“For me, it’s been a full circle experience,” says Kearney. “My awareness has been expanded. It’s cool to now experience what many other athletes have experienced in the past, it has given me a bigger awareness of what it means to be an athlete. I need better self control. I need to not get ahead of myself and to be more patient.”

Kearney is 11 weeks into his rehab and hopes to be fully recovered by six months. “I try to just accept being patient and believing that when I do come back, I am going to be reborn. I am looking forward to that moment.”

Rowley also spoke to the significance of being a part of the team as a U.S. Ski & Snowboard athlete - especially one recovering from injury; “It’s easier to motivate yourself when you have someone doing it with you,” said Rowley. “I was here [Center of Excellence] alone for the majority of the winter, so it was kind of hard to get myself out there. Going through a workout when you’re all alone isn’t the easiest thing to do when your pretty bummed anyway. I appreciate my team a lot more because of it.”

The takeaway from each athlete is a newfound appreciation for their abilities as an athlete. Schild, Rowley and Kearney now truly appreciate what they can do when they are healthy, and are thankful for the ability to be world-class athletes.

“This injury process really opens your eyes to why you love the sport in the first place,” said Schild. “To me, it’s laughing with my friends on powder days and just being able to ski in the first place, with no competition in mind. Going back to the root of it is always fun and always will be.”

With the finish line well in sight, U.S. Ski & Snowboard rehabbing athletes are pushing forward with the optimism and perseverance of a champion. There is no doubt they will come out stronger than they were, hungry for more snow and for more success.