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Ashley Wagner’s pain not limited to Olympic years

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Ashley Wagner said she is prepared to face “demons” at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, given public nightmares at nationals in 2010 and 2014.

What the three-time U.S. champion kept more private were the struggles she endured at the last two world championships — mental and physical.

About a month before the 2016 World Championships in Boston, Wagner had what she called “a freak accident” after performing at an ice show in Canada.

“I caught my toe pick and just body slammed myself down onto the ice,” Wagner said recently while promoting Bridgestone, one of her sponsors. “Immediately, I knew that I had done something terrible.”

She partially tore the quad muscle in her landing leg. Wagner rated the initial pain as a seven out of 10. It lessened, but it would bother her for two months.

Wagner never considered withdrawing from the world championships team. A worlds in a skater’s home country is a rare opportunity.

“I was careful in training and knew that if I could get through a long program in training, competing wasn’t going to be an issue,” she said.

Wagner had the performance of her life at worlds, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver.

“You’re going into a jump, and you just know it’s going to hurt,” Wagner remembered. “There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with an injury like that, but you have to turn your head off at that point.”

Wagner chose not to discuss the injury in interviews before or right after worlds. She did reportedly mention it at Skate America six months later.

“I didn’t want that to be the story [at worlds],” Wagner said. “I was already mentally dealing with so much. The last thing that I wanted to see was a reminder of my injury left and right.”

Then came the 2016-17 season. On paper, it was Wagner’s least successful campaign in six years.

She recently disclosed that her boyfriend of three years, Olympic short track speed skater Eddy Alvarez, broke up with her right before worlds last March.

“It wasn’t just my relationship,” she said. “I was really struggling last season with finding the heart.”

She placed seventh at worlds, matching her lowest finish at the annual event in her last five starts.

“I feel like things are always crumbling down around me,” she said. “But as soon as that was done, I finally felt like I was working toward something [the Olympic year] and that conviction in what I wanted to accomplish in the sport.”

In Wagner’s 11 years at the senior international level, she also endured five or six concussions from her head hitting the ice in falls, according to reports earlier this year.

In 2009, Wagner was the best U.S. woman in the fall Grand Prix season. She placed third at nationals in January 2010, missing the two-woman Olympic team.

In January 2014, Wagner went to nationals as the two-time defending champion. She placed fourth and was put on the three-woman Olympic team, due to merit from previous years, the next day. But it was a stressful night’s wait, and many fans disagreed with U.S. Figure Skating’s decision.

Sochi didn’t go as planned either. She became a meme in the team event and was seventh individually, after making top five at worlds the previous two years.

Wagner opened this fall with a third-place finish at Skate Canada three weeks ago. Her score ranks 25th among all women among the four Grand Prix series events thus far, but it’s early. The Olympics are in three months.

“The only reason why I signed on for four more years in the sport is because I think I’m capable of getting an individual medal,” she said when asked to rate her medal chances after Skate Canada. “How I skated at Skate Canada isn’t going to get me a medal, but also Skate Canada isn’t the bar that I’m setting for myself at the Olympics. I will be better. I will be prepared.”

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Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

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SIENA, Italy (AP) — Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi underwent a five-hour surgery Monday to reconstruct his face following a crash on his handbike last month.

It was the third major operation that Zanardi has had since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19 during a relay event.

Dr. Paolo Gennaro of Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena said the operation required three-dimensional digital and computerized technology that was “made to measure” for Zanardi.

“The complexity of the case was fairly unique, although this is a type of fracture that we deal with routinely,” Gennaro said in a hospital statement.

After the surgery, Zanardi was returned to the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

“His condition remains stable in terms of his cardio-respiratory status and grave in terms of his neurological status,” the hospital medical bulletin read.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, has been on a ventilator since the crash.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Shawn Johnson East shares struggles with body image, prescription drugs

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Shawn Johnson East, a 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion, detailed past struggles with body image and prescription drugs and reflected on her eating disorder as an elite athlete, to show there is hope to others in difficult situations.

“It all started with pregnancy and having my daughter,” East, who had daughter Drew in October, said on TODAY on Monday. “I had so many people asking me questions about how did pregnancy affect you mentally and how did you get your body back after having your daughter. I couldn’t answer that without giving a greater and a larger story.”

East first went public about her undiagnosed teenage eating disorders in 2015, three years after retiring from the sport. She said she limited herself to 700 calories per day and didn’t tell her parents.

In a June YouTube video, Johnson said she also binged and purged, including while dating future husband Andrew in the mid-2010s. And that she had depression and anxiety in 2011, when she returned to competition for the first time since the Beijing Games.

“I thought it would fix all of my problems,” East said of returning to gymnastics for a 2012 Olympic bid.

When East won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, she “hit a very low spot” going through puberty on national TV. She said she gained 15 pounds after the 2008 Olympics and started taking medications and drugs “to look like I did at the Olympics.” It included fad diets, diuretics and a three-week stretch of eating nothing but raw vegetables.

“Most pain of my entire life because I couldn’t digest anything,” she said.

At some point in 2011, East began feeling burned out. She was back to eating too few calories and overtraining. An unnamed USA Gymnastics doctor prescribed her Adderall “to lose more weight, have more energy and be more successful in gymnastics.” She took “heavy doses.”

“It helped my performances, but there were massive consequences to it,” she said. “I continued to compete into 2012, where I just started to get depressed.

“I was overdosing on Adderall. I was overdosing on any medication that wouldn’t be caught by USADA.”

Adderall was a banned substance in competition without a therapeutic use exemption, but was legal outside of competition.

“I was so controlled by other people’s opinions that I wouldn’t live up to that Olympic standard that I did anything to get it back and I could never have it back,” East said. “I didn’t learn that until later on.”

East’s mental hurdles re-emerged when she had a miscarriage in 2017. She blamed herself, believing her unhealthy lifestyle in the past was a contributor.

“Our natural inclination is to say, what did I do? And what did I do wrong?” she said. “It haunted me. I felt like I had sacrificed everything for an Olympic medal to not actually get the dream I had wanted my entire life [to have a child].”

With the help of a nutritionist and therapist and her husband, she conquered the demons through her 2019 pregnancy and childbirth.

“Having gone through a whole pregnancy and knowing that I felt confident through the whole thing, I feel like I’ve climbed Everest,” she said.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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