Words and Photos by Elle Truax
I was 16 years old and attending Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah when I was hit by a fast moving car on my road bike during an afternoon workout session. It hit me from the side and I instantly was sent tumbling over the car. Thankfully, this wasn’t a hit on my head or back, but instead a grueling pain in my knee that sent so much adrenaline through my body that I stood up and walked off the road.
Surrounded by my teammates and coaches, it was obvious that I needed medical assistance immediately. My left patella was fractured into numerous pieces due to direct impact on the asphalt. Little did I know, this would be the beginning of a very challenging and long first recovery for me and my athletic career.
I was a sophomore in highschool and had been accepted into the ski academy only months prior to the injury. My sights were set high on meeting benchmarks to qualify for the US Ski Team and pursue my longtime ski racing goals. Rowmark had felt like a big jump for me and my ski racing aspirations so I was very driven to prove myself to the world of alpine ski racing. Unfortunately, the accident occured not more than a week before we were leaving for our first on-snow training block in Colorado before the race season started. When I got to the hospital and the nurse came to tell me I would be going into surgery quickly- I was not on board. I was determined to get out of the bed and continue with my day, not accepting the fact that my season was over before it began.
“This is the exact moment my mental recovery began- before I was even under the knife.”
Waking up from surgery was a whirlwind of emotions, but I never for a second thought my season was over- I was going to get back on snow that winter and nobody was going to convince me otherwise. This process started with weights in my post-op hospital bed which, let’s be honest, were not utilized to their full potential after coming right out of surgery, but it was something to get my head back in the right place and understand that it was only up from there!
And so it began, countless days in the gym after school, working on the tiniest little victories day after day. At first it was zero weight on my left leg, then I started to pedal a stationary bike forward and backward until my knee could handle a full pedal rotation. The full pedal rotation was a big day for me because I finally had a cardio option to do during my recovery.
Everything took so much longer to accomplish physically and when I did achieve something new in the gym, my doctors still were not convinced I would ski that season. I sat down with a doctor to see what my chances were of getting back on snow and the goals I needed to hit in order to be cleared for on-snow skiing. They said once I could do a box jump with a squat on top and have both knees bearing even weight, I could get on snow. With the responsible amount of training and physical therapy leading up to this point, you bet I was doing box jumps and squats as early as my coach would let me. I was able to get on-snow by early March of that season. By no means was the skiing pretty or intense, but the feeling of gliding on skis again was worth every minute of hard work and recovery.
My next challenge was getting back into a race course which I was able to achieve by the end of that season!
Knowing that I could achieve the mental and physical barriers of this injury have been a great reminder of what we as humans can overcome.
When you put your mind and heart towards something and see it through- there is no greater feeling. Once I recovered from this knee injury, I started exploring the greater areas of skiing and slowly started moving from ski racing to freeride competitions. To this day, this injury was something that helped me grow not only as a skier, but as an individual and showed me that there is a much greater existence to our passions and lives than one individual sport.
After growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Elle moved out to Crested Butte, Colorado to chase her passion in freeride skiing and open up a custom western hat shop. During the warmer months, Elle travels back to the Oregon Coast and her hometown of Hood River, OR to pursue kite surfing and surfing.