“Pain Couldn’t Stop Me—or My Mom”
Skiing legend Picabo Street shares how she overcame crushing knee and leg injuries to compete her final Olympic race. Equally amazing? Her mom, Dee, was right there to cheer her on—despite RA!
This time of year, you’d normally find Olympic Gold Medal skier Picabo Street on the slopes near her home in Park City, UT. But 2014 is another story. As a FOX Sports analyst and Liberty Mutual Team USA ambassador for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Picabo has probably spent more time talking about skiing than hitting the powder lately!
Not that she’s complaining. When Picabo retired from ski racing in 2002, the downhill dynamo was more than satisfied with her time on the mountain, which included winning two Olympic medals and back-to-back World Cup downhill season titles. Still, there was one thing missing that day she skied to Olympic gold in 1998. “The long plane trip combined with the hills in Nagano [Japan] would have been too hard on my mom to navigate,” says Picabo.
The problem? Dee was crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA). “We both wished she could have been there, but I knew she was cheering me on from afar.”
A devastating crash
Then fate stepped in and gave mother and daughter a common goal: making it to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. While racing in Switzerland just weeks after winning the gold, Picabo suffered a crash that snapped her thighbone and shredded the ligaments in her knee. After multiple surgeries, the then-26-year-old athlete was unsure if she could ever return to the world of competitive skiing.
But Picabo pushed through recovery, fueled by the desire to compete in one final Olympics. The next four years were a blur of surgeries, rehab and slowly testing her mettle on the race hill again. When she qualified for the 2002 Winter Games, Picabo’s mom was determined to attend what they knew would be the last competition of her daughter’s career.
Dee’s main hurdle: Not having the stamina to endure hours of painful sitting in the stadium while her daughter ran multiple races for her event. “Getting ready for the 2002 Olympics, for me, was more of a mental preparation than anything else,” Dee recalls. “I knew I was going to have to walk even though my knees were bone on bone.”
Getting back up
To prepare, Dee focused on building her leg muscles, which she’d have to rely on since her knee joints were shot: “I took a job where I had to walk up and down a narrow set of stairs about three times a day,” says Dee. “That helped me gain stability and strength in the back of my legs. Stairs are a good way to help your legs develop ‘brakes’ for going downhill.”