U.S. Olympic Alpine skier Laurenne Ross is reminded every time she looks into a mirror. Of that crash 19 years ago.
“My cheek was basically torn off of my face, and I had a serious concussion,” Ross said. “I had over 100 stitches in my cheek.
“To see these scars as a positive part of who I am has taken my whole life, and I’m still working on it.”
Ross was introduced to skiing at 18 months old by her father, a former Canadian ski racer.
Since 2006, the Oregonian has shattered her pelvis and dislocated her shoulder ten times. She blew out her left ACL in 2008. She has broken a lot of bones in her hands and wrists. A labral tear in her hip. Concussions. A few bulging discs. Two severe ankle sprains. Add multiple severe facial lacerations, accumulating more than 200 stitches in her face.
Then came March 27. Another crash at the U.S. Championships in Sugarloaf, Maine. She blew out her right knee.
“This specific injury,” said Ross, on crutches four weeks later and overcome with emotion, “is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through.”
The 28-year-old Ross is the second-best speed racer on the U.S. team behind Lindsey Vonn.
Her last two seasons have been the best of her eight-year World Cup career.
Nine top-10 finishes in 2015-16. Another seven this past season. She was fifth in the world championships downhill and fourth in the downhill at the Olympic test event in South Korea.
Ross made her first Olympic team in Sochi, where she was 11th in the downhill. She was shaping up for medal contention in PyeongChang until that March 27 crash. A podium is still possible next February, but it will take an incredible climb.
Ross wrote that not being able to ski again is “a real possibility” in a passionate blog post titled “My First Steps,” published six weeks after the crash.
“With this injury (as with many) has come so many questions, concerns, doubts, considerations,” she wrote. “What if I can’t get strong enough to return to the level of skiing I was maintaining before my crash? What if I get back on skis and am stricken with doubt, crippled by fear? What if…what if I can’t even ski again? Though it’s unlikely, it is a real possibility. And then…what? Although I have deliberated on this before, never have I done so so thoroughly.”
Ross has the whole offseason to think deeply. The 2017-18 season’s first speed races will likely be in late November or early December.
“I want to be the one who decides when I’m done ski racing,” Ross wrote. “I don’t want my body to hold me back, or the [U.S.] Ski Team to make that decision for me. I want to leave on my own terms. And I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet….But what if I don’t have a choice? What if I’m forced to move on by the powers that be? How do I come to terms with that?”
Ross has interests outside of skiing. She journals daily, knits and can play the piano, guitar, violin and cello. She takes classes at the University of Oregon after each season, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She jokes her hope is to graduate within the next 10 years.
“I feel like I am my truest self when I’m on my skis,” Ross said last month, adding later on her blog, “This break from skiing is only going to make me miss it more, make me hungry, and make me fierce. But if it doesn’t work out, there is another endeavor waiting for me — waiting for all of us — when this one comes to an end.”
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