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La Plagne, France

 

Ouch… That’s what I remember as I exited corner 17 on the quick, abrupt, high g-force La Plagne track. More importantly what I COULDN’T remember was corner 17… As you know Skeleton sleds do not have brakes so when I came out of the finish corner (19) I started to drag my sled on the wall as I always do to prevent hitting the crash pads and potentially damaging my runners. But as I was heading up the steep braking stretch I came to an early stop and didn’t even make it up the outrun… I guess this means my hit on the exit of corner 16 was pretty hard…

 

I immediately told our manager Scott I don’t remember corner 17… and my head was feeling pretty fuzzy. Since Sidney Crosby’s concussion many athletes have been coming out about their head injuries. I actually can’t believe with all the technology we have in this world how little our medical advisors know about concussions. This is my 18th Skeleton season and I know for sure I have had 2 from direct blows to my head. What we are learning is a concussion doesn’t mean you have hit your head, it can be from whiplash or in our sport constant vibrations and your brain rattling around inside of your skull. Our national federation is extremely sensitive to this issue because 2 of my teammates Darla Deschamps-Montgomery and Amy Gough are sitting on the sidelines because of concussions. And neither of them had an incident where they were knocked out cold. In Skeleton we are on our own for supporting our neck and heads because the sleds only come to our shoulders. So that strength is an essential aspect of the sport.

 

When I got to the top of the track I told our physio Tyson Plesuk about my hit… our sleds are designed with bumpers that protrude just past our shoulders. Normally if you make a steering error and hit the wall you hit on the side of your sled and will ping pong off the wall. You usually know this hit is coming and you can be prepared to absorb the hit with your body. The speed trap is before corner 15, a very high g-force right hand 2 pressure corner. I was clocked just under 119km/hr on my entry; this corner never feels good, so you just have to keep form and trust the pressures. It actually was cut very easy this year, so it was more intimidating than dangerous as it throws you abruptly into the 180 degree corner 16 with 2 very long pressures. I was focusing on being relaxed and taking my time with my steers and I must have held my initial down steer too long because all of a sudden I felt myself dip below the pressure right onto the floor of the corner… I felt this once during training and I knew I was in trouble… I tried to counter the next pressure catching it and all of a sudden I was lost in the corner, not sure exactly where I was with my face being sucked to the ice. Because I was feeling this strong pressure I knew I was gonna have issues on the exit. I rarely have problems with holding my head up in the high g-forces, so I panicked and stuck a toe down which in hind sight was the worst thing I could have done because I pulled myself out of the corner too soon. Instead of having some height on the exit so I could swoop out of the corner to enter corner 17 with lots of time and with a mid left clean entry I would be on a very direct line to hit the right wall with the FRONT of my sled, instead of the side of my bumper… That’s what I remember… the hit then I don’t remember corner 17…

We spent the entire break between runs doing all the concussion tests and deciding whether I should do the 2nd run. Not my usual routine of meditating and relaxing and warming up with confidence… The weird thing is that I didn’t feel like I hit my head, my esophagus was sore like I got karate chopped across the neck… so I was confused with what happened. As we got dissecting my hit, we figured out that most likely what happened was with the angle of the hit and not being ready for that impact, my sled came up into my neck. The site where I was complaining of the pain is exactly where my artery is… so my sled must have pinched it off briefly hence the blackout in corner 17…

 

So yes I did a 2nd run… should I have? Who knows… I wasn’t afraid and similar to my 1st run I had an amazing top part of the track so I definitely had my wits about me. Just made time blowing mistakes in the bottom that landed me in a disappointing 7th finish; only a few hundredths from attaining my last Olympic qualifier(6th place). As the reigning La Plagne winner, this was really frustrating. But, this sport is measured in 1/100ths of a second and I find it completely respectable to watch a slider make a mistake and have the time reflect. There’s nothing more frustrating than to have clean, smooth runs that are dirt slow…

 

So after a couple of days of travel I made it home for about 18 hours…  just enough time to see my horses get laundry done and repack. I decided I needed to get a complete break from winter and I’m on a plane to San Francisco where my boyfriend and American bobsled pilot Nick Cunningham is picking me up so we can spend some much needed downtime California style!!

 

I’m back to Europe Dec 30 to Altenberg, Germany… Exactly a year after the traumatic Canadian bobsleigh crash of Team Spring. From what I know there won’t be many bobsleds competing at this world cup and I am respectfully envious of their decision. Our race is Friday Jan 4.

 

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year… I’m looking forward to turning things around in 2013 as we close in on Sochi!!!!

 


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2 Comments

  1. Dad
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Your cowgirl tough keep on having fun and going fast. We are looking forward to seeing you over Christmas love you take care.

  2. Simon
    Posted December 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Melissa, a quick note of thanks for your honest & insightful diaries. A great accompaniment to the TV coverage & an interesting athletes perspective.

    All the best for the holiday season and the remainder of the competitive season!!

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