After sustaining two knee injuries in eight months - an ACL tear in the same knee - Tommy Gogolen is gearing up to reach his top fitness before the international telemark World Cup circuit starts.
The Summit County resident has been named a member of the U.S. telemark team's "A" squad this year.
Last year, he competed on the "B" squad, which is a small distinction between already elite skiers.
Last year's competition wasn't easy, though. Not only was Gogolen up against top athletes worldwide, he'd just recovered from knee surgery - his first.
Two weeks after he made the U.S. team last July, he tore his ACL doing nothing more than playing soccer. A surgery and a whirlwind recovery later, he was in place in the lineup - fit to the point that he won his career-best 10th place at the World Cup.
"I was working extra hard - it was ridiculous," Gogolen said. "It's the fittest I've ever been."
At nationals, his performance hinted at his ability to compete with peers on the "A" team.
But, "I checked out after nationals," Gogolen said. "I didn't ski. I needed a break."
He took a break, and again, while playing soccer, the same ligament tore.
"It shouldn't have happened," Gogolen said, echoing what the surgeons told him. He'll never be sure of the reason, but he had to again go under the knife and is currently in the process of building back his strength for the winter season.
The first U.S. telemark camps are in December, so time is ticking down, but not as much as last year. The surgery and recovery also seem easier this time around, Gogolen said.
Still, he's expecting his biggest challenge this season to be the mind games he'll be playing with his body, building up the courage and confidence to perform his best despite fear of reinjuring the knee.
To complicate things more, a telemark course isn't a straightforward GS course. Instead, at the end of the race, skiers go head-to-head in a Nordic skate ski before entering the "wrap-a-lucia," a toilet-bowl style turn that flushes skiers out toward the finish line. The final bit of the race is meant to make the event more exciting - possibly to lure the International Olympic Committee into adding telemark skiing as a sport in the Winter Games.
"It was dangerous. It was exciting. We had a world class event under the lights. It was crazy," Gogolen said.
Gogolen's hopes for the season are high, but they're also a bit muted because he knows the Norwegians, Germans and Swedes have all grown up on Nordic skis, "like we grew up riding bikes," Gogolen said. They're full-time, paid athletes, and he's working for a living at the same time he trains.
Still, Gogolen looks forward to competing with his team, and is gunning for a top five finish in a European World Cup event to improve upon his top 10 finish last year. He'll be battling the other athletes as well as his own psyche to make that happen.
"Mentally, I have to keep pounding through this and remembering, this is a World Championship year and I want to do well," Gogolen said.