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It is coming up to two years since I ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my right knee on the second day of a two-week family skiing holiday. While the injury itself is common among skiers, when it happened to me I felt my family snow adventure had turned to disaster.
While the physical pain eased, the accident had a massive impact mentally on my passion for skiing and on my confidence to be able to ski again.
Thankfully I can now say that I have returned successfully to the slopes without having reconstructive surgery, which for me was an important personal goal. I am pleased that I am living proof that you don’t necessarily need to go under the knife after damaging your ACL.
I have now skied twice since the accident. Once for two weeks in Spring conditions at Easter and more recently for one week at New Year. Of course I am delighted to still be able to ski with my two boys (although at aged 10 and 8 they are already showing signs of leaving me behind in the not too distant future). However, the three weeks on the snow has taught me there is still plenty of work for me to do to ensure I can ski for years to come.
My physio was clear about what I should do for the first few runs and days back skiing. It was all about small amounts to test my knee and other leg muscles. I didn’t look beyond the first hour initially and after this first milestone was met, I rested in a mountain restaurant. Small steps were what I kept telling myself. And so the process grew from there – hour after hour.
It is true that at the end of each day I could feel some pain in the knee and there was some slight swelling. This was predicted by my physio, who assured me that so long as both had gone when I woke up the next morning, it was to be expected post ACL injury.
Getting me back on the slopes has been a combination of kit and strengthening work. Since returning I have skied wearing Donjoy Fource Point braces on both knees. The right one provides support and stability to the weakened knee, while the left one is there as a preventative measure in case I put additional strain on my good knee.
There is no doubt that this bit of kit – which is a significant piece of extra equipment to have strapped to your legs when you ski– has helped boost my confidence. I have also been careful to choose the type of terrain I ski on – black moguls are off the agenda now.
After the most recent family ski trip – New Year 2013 – I felt determined to get in shape for my next ski adventure. My boys want to ski more difficult terrain and also want to ski faster so I don’t want to be left behind...too much!
However I am now keen to explore if I can get to a point where I perhaps only need to wear one brace, on my damaged knee, or even ski without a brace on at all.
With this as my motivation I have started using a ski fitness DVD produced by a professional female skier who returned to competition following a torn ACL.
Anja Blobjerg is from Denmark and has more than 10 years’ experience of conditioning exercises for skiing. She is a two time Olympic finalist and World Cup mogul skier.
Anja’s programme concentrates on simple leg exercises using an aerobics step and small hand weights. There are nine strength exercises which need to be repeated three times and nine balance exercises, also to be repeated three times.
These sessions can be alternated so that you do strength on day one and balance and core on day two. There are also two levels and Anja advises that you continue on Level One for a month at least before progressing onto Level Two.
While these exercises don’t appear tough to start off with, after the third repetition you can certainly begin to feel it and I am definitely feeling stronger already.
At first I felt a sense of relief just to be back on the snow and back skiing with my family again. Now, as my confidence grows, I am looking to taking every practical step to ensure my knee can take many more years on the slopes.