For speed skater Denny Morrison, the long road back from injury seems never-ending, and for alpine skier Marie-Michèle Gagnon, the journey has just begun. The two world-class athletes have faced their share of setbacks throughout their careers, but they’re both determined to regain what they lost, and comeback even stronger.
Morrison, 32, is competing in his fourth Olympics, a feat that could be considered superhuman. After a motorcycle collision in 2015, Morrison suffered a litany of injuries that almost killed him. Then, shortly after he climbed his way back from that ordeal he suffered a stroke in 2016, just two days after completing a 1,000km bike-packing trip on the Arizona Trail.
That he even was on the starting line in PyeongChang in the 1500m was remarkable. And tomorrow morning, he will race alongside his teammates in the D Final of the Team Pursuit.
Gagnon, however, saw her 2018 Olympic dreams dashed in a heartbeat after a crash at the Lake Louise World Cup in November last year. The 28-year-old tore the ACL in her right knee and had it surgically repaired using a hamstring graft in December. She took the opportunity to simultaneously repair a long-time shoulder injury.
Given the severity and frequency of these injuries, how do athletes like Morrison and Gagnon get back on track? First, they rely on an infinite supply of grit, determination and hard work, and second, they rock the rehab with a whole lot of help from their friends. Friends like Canadian Sport Institute Calgary physiotherapist Jenny Delich, who is an expert in rehabilitation from injury.
In the early days, the focus for Morrison was basic walking mechanics. “A big part of rehab was just learning to walk without a limp,” he says, referring to his broken femur. “I used the underwater treadmill a lot.” He still has a torn ACL in his right knee that the medical team decided was better to repair after the Games. To keep that knee functioning until surgery, Delich has Morrison working extensively on glut muscle activation to stabilize the knee.
Gagnon is progressing well since her surgery and that is in part due to better testing methods during rehabilitation developed by CSI Calgary Director of Sport Science, Matt Jordan. He says that ACL recovery has historically been based on subjective measures like how the athlete is feeling, but now they are able to objectively measure deficits in the injured knee relative to the healthy knee, which helps in designing better training programs for the athlete.
Gagnon says the work can sometimes be tedious but she knows how important it is for her recovery. “I sometimes spend six hours a day in the clinic doing my rehab work and Jenny is there helping me on-and-off the whole time, that’s next level!”
She hopes to be back on snow within eight months of her surgery and although she feels on track for that, she knows she has to be patient. “You know you’re ready when your body tells you,” she says. “Sometimes my mind is ready but my body is not letting me do things yet.”
Both Morrison and Gagnon are examples of how a strong medical team combined with the right attitude towards rehab can ensure that major injury doesn’t have to be career-ending. In fact, it can be the catalyst to reach even higher.
“When I’ve had injuries in the past I always come back with extra fire,” says Gagnon. “People don’t expect you to be good again and I am motivated by that. I always come back stronger from injuries, bring more intensity and focus.”
While Morrison says he is incredibly grateful for the team of experts that helped him make a successful comeback, he’s not longing to stick around the clinic much longer. “Someday I hope to graduate out of rehab,” he jokes. “I’m really looking forward to that!”
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by: Dave Holland @csicalgaryphoto