06/01/2010 03:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight to Win Olympic Gold--Part II

For all those fighting the good fight let me share my story of overcoming one of the greatest adversities I've ever endured: coming back from a spinal injury that very nearly ended my skiing career. Less than two years after this challenging injury, I went on to win America's first gold medal in the sport...

Continued from last week's blog:


...As the months progressed, none of the pain subsided. In fact, despite numerous doctors' visits and countless exercises and procedures, the only thing I was losing was hope. After months of lying on a mattress in my living room, I started to doubt if I would ever come back from this injury. In addition to my physical and mental state, my relationships were starting to crumble. I was snapping at my parents, my friends stopped coming by, and my boyfriend and I were constantly fighting. No one wanted to be around a depressed individual.

The truth was, no one was going to pry me out of my depression until I somehow faced it myself.

The man who forced me to face it was someone I didn't know, and who didn't know me. I was flipping through a magazine one day and saw a picture of Joe Frazier, a legendary boxer who won a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The caption under his picture revealed something many people don't know: that Joe had won his gold medal with a broken wrist. I figured this man needed his wrist for boxing as much as I needed my back for jumping. If he could come back from his injury, why couldn't I come back from mine?

Around the same time I came across the picture of Joe, I also stumbled upon an old, familiar poem. I was rifling through a draw and found a little orange card that I had wrapped Scotch tape around many years before. It was the poem "You Mustn't Quit," the one given to me by my role model, Cassandra Wheeler, when I was a young, struggling gymnast. I reread the poem, hoping it would offer me the same wisdom it had fifteen years earlier:


When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest! if you must-but never quit.

Life is queer, with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won if he'd stuck it out;
Stick to your task, though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with one more blow.

Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt--
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that YOU MUSN'T QUIT.
-Author Unknown

I realized that if I was going to get better, I had to take action myself. Doctors and cures weren't going to magically search me out; I had to find my own solution. The poem and picture gave me the fire to start seeking out new doctors. After a great deal of searching, I found an eleventh doctor who came highly recommended and seemed quite promising. Dr. J. Rainville was based in Boston, Massachusetts.

I knew I had found the right doctor when, after explaining my injury, my sport, my aspirations, and all I had been through, Dr. Rainville never questioned if I would get back to competing. Most doctors didn't want to come within fifty feet of an athlete who regularly tossed herself off a steep ramp. But Dr. Rainville was ready to tackle this obstacle with me.

He put himself on the line by suggesting that I push through the pain, lifting heavy weights to build up the muscles in my back that would help protect those injured discs. The real issue was that I risked blowing out my discs completely by lifting these heavy weights. Dr. Rainville told me it would be the biggest undertaking of my life and I was going to have to suffer through incredible pain in order to come back.

Injections and simple stabilization exercises just weren't working. I knew I would have to take drastic measures if I was ever going to return to aerial skiing. As sure as Dr. Rainville was that I could do so, I was just as certain that I could suffer through the pain. What did I have to lose? Things didn't seem like they could be much worse.

So I met with Dr. Rainville's physical therapist and learned my newest torture regimens. Dr. Rainville wasn't kidding when he told me the process was going to be incredibly painful. To be honest, I don't think incredibly was a strong enough word. I was on the verge of screaming through every dead lift, back extension and rotary torso. I think this may have been the time that my teeth grinding began, because I would clench my jaw and think about that Olympic gold medal every time I had to push through the agonizing pain.

Within five months, I had built up the muscles in my back and was ready to take to the slopes. The pain never really dissipated, but it was manageable, and my spine was now strong enough to withstand the continual pounding of multiple thirty-foot-high jumps. I was back, and no one was going to tell me my dreams were impossible!

Whether it's the economy, jobs, academics, family issues or health, absolutely everyone has adversities. We have the choice to be the victim or the challenger, be weak or strong, have a hard shell or soft exterior. Which do you choose? There is a way around every obstacle; we just have to be tough enough to keep searching for it.

Excerpt from When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out

Motivational Weight Management Tip

My experience of working with the Biggest Loser contestants and Symtrimics has inspired me to leave motivational diet, health, and wellness tips at the end of all of my blogs. These tools are driven from the actual advice shared in my weekly motivational Transformation Talks. This week's tip: Have you truly examined WHY you put on weight or stopped focusing on your fitness? Regardless of how much weight you lose or how fit you become, if you don't address the problems that originally caused the unhealthy behavior, they are bound to return. Changing your mind is just as important as changing your body!