When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.
Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.
Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.
“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.
Mancuso went to the slopes instead.
In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.
The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.
The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.
She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.
Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.
“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”
Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.
The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.
The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.
Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.
She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.
Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.
In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.
In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.
In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.
Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.
Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.
“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”
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