After a winding path of injury and illness, moguls skier Casey Andringa earns Olympic berth
January 27, 2018
Casey Andringa is growing a mustache for good luck.
Sitting in the Deer Valley Resort's Bald Eagle Room at Snow Park Lodge on Tuesday, his long hair swept back, he said it may not be the most full and luxurious mustache a man could have – "Some people have called it the creeper stache," he said — but it's certainly doing the job.
At 22, Andringa is easily having his best season yet as a moguls racer. He has had his first outright win at the U.S. Selections in Winter Park, Colorado, which meant he got his first nomination to the U.S. Ski Team. That win also meant he got to ski in his first World Cup competition, where he took seventh, then broke into the super finals (top six) for the first time at the Deer Valley World Cup. That result helped cement his place as one of the top three moguls racers on the U.S. Team, and led to his selection to the Olympic Team.
Hunter Bailey, Andringa's friend and teammate on the Vail Ski and Snowboard Club, said from an outside perspective, it's easy to call Andringa's nomination to the Olympic Team a wild and unpredictable turn of fate — a fluke. But Bailey has seen Andringa's rise firsthand, and said it's just as crazy that he has never made it this far before.
"It's one of those things where skills-wise, it's not that crazy — he's that good," Bailey said in a recent phone interview. "I knew if he had the chance he would get it. There was no question in my mind. But he's had the chance taken away from him so many times, I think everyone was starting to think it had passed him by."
Born in Wisconsin, Andringa's parents moved to Colorado when he was 3 and he promptly started skiing. At age 7, he saw Jonny Moseley drop the dinner roll and change the course of moguls skiing. Andringa joined the Winter Park freestyle team at 8.
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Ten years later, he was close to making the U.S. National Team, but tore his meniscus a week before the Freestyle World Junior Championships.
In the following year, he joined the Vail Ski and Snowboard Club and began learning his new team's process while performing physical therapy and nursing the persistent pain from his knee injury.
"I had this little pill bottle of anti-inflammatories that they called 'the magic bullet' because, if I wanted to ski that day, I had to take one, otherwise I was in too much pain," he said.
That year he also went to Switzerland with Vail for his first training camp abroad, which he thought for a while would be his last.
"It was a pretty scary situation," he said. "I basically had orbital cellulites. No one's ever heard of it, I'd never heard of it. It's one of those things when you ask a doctor about it they say, 'Ah, that never happens,' because it's so rare, but then it was turning into meningitis."
Bailey remembers Andringa complaining of a terrible headache, but he didn't know him well at the time, and didn't know how normal this was for Andringa.
"One day we were heading up the tram and he started freaking out," Bailey recalled.
Andringa said he couldn't see because his head hurt so badly, and Bailey condoned a trip to the doctor. Bailey said he had been to the same clinic in Zermatt and said he was not impressed with the level of care available.
"I got down and came back (to the hotel), and he was walking around with an IV hanging out of his vein. Just hanging out," Bailey said. "They said it was fine because they might have to do it again."
After a few hours, the situation took a dire turn. While sitting on the couch, Bailey noticed his new teammate's face was swelling wildly.
"I thought they were joking around with me because everyone gives each other (crap) all the time, but I looked in the mirror and the whole left side of my face was puffy and drooping," Andringa said.
Soon, his left eye had swollen shut.
"I had to sprint to the doctor's office because it was about to close and they were vacuuming up — all the lights were off and it was locked," Andringa said. "I knocked on the window and the doctor took one look at me and said, 'You need to get to the hospital, because there's none in Zermatt.'"
He was taken to a clinic in Visp, Switzerland, by ambulance — an hour's drive from the training camp.
"They did a CT scan, put me on a ton of antibiotics, and then for the next four days I literally didn't fall asleep."
He later revised that statement to an estimated four hours of sleep over four nights.
With no Wi-Fi and no book, Andringa lay awake counting the dimples in the ceiling.
"Then, finally on the fourth day I woke up with a 105.6-degree fever," he said.
Andringa's grandfather, a doctor, told him by phone to not get on another ambulance until they had given him a certain antibiotic. They did, and he was driven to Bern, Switzerland, another hour away.
In Bern, Andringa was isolated from his teammates.
"It was so weird," Bailey said. "We kept hearing little snippets. … In the afternoon they would say, 'Oh he's fine,' then the next morning he's got a 106-degree fever."
Andringa was also frustrated. His headache had not subsided, and he was struggling to glean information from the largely German-speaking staff.
"I was trying to speak with these neurosurgeons and they were debating doing emergency brain surgery, and the whole time I can't even open my eyes in a bright room because my head hurt so badly," he said. "At one point, I straight up asked a neurosurgeon, because I was so fed up with it and no one was telling me anything, 'Am I going to die?' And he told me that they didn't know. Which I feel like you shouldn't do that."
The infection that had started in his eye had not relented, and doctors were worried that, because of a 7-inch skull fracture he sustained at age 14 while skateboarding, it could slip through his skull and into his brain.
"So they waited to see if I needed emergency brain surgery, but because of that switched antibiotic, I started getting better and then was released like four days later," Andringa said. He was left largely intact, but his illness had compromised his fitness for that season.
Ironically, he said the healthy lifestyle he had adopted to overcome his knee injury might have saved him from meningitis.
The next season, he worked back to fitness but blew out the meniscus on his other leg.
He worked back to health yet again.
In the 2016-2017 season, he finished second in the U.S. Selections event and missed out on the team again.
"It would be like if we had Michael Jordan and he was still Michael Jordan but he couldn't make it into the NBA," Bailey said. "And I'm not saying Casey is as good as Michael Jordan, but everyone that saw him competing in the lower ranks was like, 'What is happening here?' It was such a weird thing to see."
In that season, he finished on the podium at every North American Cup competition but one.
Andringa spent last summer and fall in a in a pop-up camper in Routt National Forest outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to avoid paying rent money while training, then he finally finished first in the U.S. Selections event and made the U.S. Team. He then took on the World Cup circuit and earned his first top-six result in his second ever competition.
"After I was at Deer Valley and got to experience that whole thing, I sat down and felt like it could all be over right now, and I would just be so happy with how this all went," he said on Tuesday,
He finished 24th in the Tremblant World Cup in Canada on Jan. 20, but had built up enough points to maintain his position on the team and earn an Olympic berth.
"It's all happened so fast," Andringa said. "Literally a month ago I was skiing U.S. Selections — which I have skied tons of times — not knowing whether or not I was going to ski World Cups or go to college. That ended Dec. 21. Now it feels like it's been a year since then, but it's been like 32 days."
Bailey said after all his friend had been through, he had a hard time processing that Andringa was finally going to the Olympics, and Andringa himself could hardly believe it. Every once in a while, Andringa said he still looks around, takes in his situation and his mind balks. He considered his trip to the Olympics like winning the lottery.
"It was just so hypothetical," he said. "It just doesn't work out like that very often, so I'm just so honored to be a part of this team."
Sitting at Deer Valley Resort, he said he hadn't yet planned a bucket list for the Games. He would lay out some competitive and personal priorities that night, but at that point, it was already more than he could have asked for.