After almost two full years plagued by surgeries, injuries and rehabs, mogul skier for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team Casey Andringa finally achieved liftoff at Timberline Lodge & Ski Area June 17, 2021.
The 2018 Olympian was sidelined for the past two World Cup seasons and hadn’t attempted an aerial maneuver since March 2019. His first back X at the jump site in June felt as worthy an accomplishment of making the Games three years ago. “There was a point in time where I thought I would never be doing this (training to compete in mogul skiing),” said Andringa. “I didn’t want to give myself hope in case I couldn’t get back to it. If my body had said ‘no,’ it would have been that much harder to handle.”
Andringa underwent surgery in 2019 to correct an old knee injury with the intention of returning to training in summer 2020. However, a COVID-19 positive test and a period of quarantine meant he returned later than hoped. And then five days into water ramping Andringa crashed his mountain bike, dislocating and shattering his wrist and hand, and his hopes of competing the 2020-21 World Cup season.
It took five surgeries over the course of eight months to put his hand and wrist back together and over the past year Andringa seriously considered calling it quits. “In October I was retired in my head. I had decided that I had been in so much pain for so long and I was thinking about how taxing competing in mogul skiing is on the body. I didn’t think I had any more space in my life left for more physical damage.”
Trying to get excited about what was next, Andringa realized if he left the sport, he would be leaving with an unanswered question. “If I had ended my career last October then I would have ended while I was in a headspace where I was always going to feel like my body was fragile and that I was kind of broken. It really messes with your head when you go from being able to do any activity, where you can trust your body because you’re strong and healthy and your body just does these things, to feeling like anything could mess you up. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy because the more you feel that way, the harder it is to stop feeling that way, so you kind of will [the hurt] upon yourself.”
Andringa recognized the parallel in trying to make PyeongChang 2018. During the last Olympic qualification process Andringa approached the season with a clear objective, and despite the odds, had been fired up to make it happen. “The realization of how far away I was from not even skiing at the 2022 Olympics, but just to get back to cork 7s and ski moguls, even that felt so far away. It just turned itself into a tangible goal, a goal I could pursue.”
Putting feet to boots and skis in the air marked a huge milestone for Andringa’s pursuit of another Olympic run. “I meant to jump in May at Snowbird, but my knee hurt so bad, I couldn’t even picture myself going off of the kicker, let alone doing a trick. To be able to go to Timberline and do a backflip was just…I was so scared, even though I’ve been doing them since I was 12, I’ve probably done thousands. My first cork 7 I was super nervous too, but I did it and got down to the side of the run and started crying a little bit. It just was a thing I didn’t let myself expect to get back to.”
It will be a day-by-day process for Andringa to make it in less than 200 days to Opening Ceremonies of the 2022 Games. Pushing through pain and figuring out what his body can, cannot and should not do are all part of his plan. “There’s still a chance there are things my body says no to. I’m scared I’ll show up at Zermatt and it will hurt too bad to ski. So I’m working hard when I feel good and taking each day for what it is, trying not to get too upset when things do hurt.”
While the Olympic Games provide an objective goal, what's most important to Andringa is knowing his body isn’t broken and to trust in its ability to perform. “I’m still working on that trust a lot. Every day.”
“It feels like I have had so much time to reflect and figure things out, but I think the only thing I feel like I actually learned was to just keep moving forward.”
With sights on Beijing (and the chance to represent the U.S. with his brother and teammate Jesse) Andringa also looks forward to surmounting at least one more challenge – the Road to Arcylon trail in Park City, Utah. “Yes, I still bike, it feels good to get back on the horse. And I do plan on getting revenge on the drop that took me out. I can’t let a little tiny mountain bike drop win. But I’m waiting until after ski season.”
Andringa would like to thank his parents, family and girlfriend Roma, who nursed him back to health (and is now in nursing school), as well as the countless physios and Dr. Randy Viola. Follow Casey’s journey on Instagram.