Bleiler takes first major snowboarding injury in stride
ASPEN – In the pensive hours that followed a painful “snap” in her right knee, Snowmass Village resident Gretchen Bleiler knew something was wrong.
“I’ve hurt my shoulders, I’ve hurt my knees, I’ve had a concussion, I get shin splints, but all of it is pretty minor and you just keep going,” Bleiler said this week in an interview with The Aspen Times.
“But I’d never had a serious, like put-you-out-for-the-season, injury.”
That changed for the world’s top woman halfpipe rider on Dec. 13 in Breckenridge, during the first Triple Crown event of the winter. For the rosy-cheeked Bleiler, 22, who won eight consecutive halfpipe contests last season including snowboarding’s Super Bowl – the ESPN Games – it was also her first competition of the season.
Strictly a halfpipe specialist in year’s past, Bleiler entered the Triple Crown slopestyle contest in hopes of qualifying for the Games at Buttermilk. As the defending Games champ in the pipe, she was automatically qualified in that event, but slopestyle was a way of broadening her horizons, which are often upside-down anyhow.
Bleiler qualified for the finals in third place and, attempting to further familiarize herself with the course, cruised through the course again that morning in blizzard-like conditions. She carried too much speed off one jump for a backside 3, overshot the landing and landed flat, and over-rotated.
“Some people say they hear a popping. I didn’t necessarily hear popping, but I felt a snap. It was something different. I’ve never felt that before. I’ve landed flat before – a little impact and you ride out – but this gave out. Completely,” she said.
Bleiler scooted over the side of the trail, took her snowboard off and “walked it off.” Then she rode down to the halfpipe and talked to a doctor.
“The doctor was very positive, saying I didn’t necessarily do it, and that an MRI was just a precaution. So he had me kind of thinking that I didn’t do it, even though I knew. I knew I did it. But it didn’t hurt and I was walking around fine, so I was very optimistic about the whole thing,” she said.
“Then they came back and said I completely tore my ACL and I had a tear in my miniscus. Right then and there, it was reality. My season was over.”
On Dec. 18, surgeons at the world-famous Steadman-Hawkin’s clinic in Vail went to work on Bleiler’s knee. And they found it in better condition than the MRI initially indicated. Instead of a complete tear of the ACL, Bleiler suffered only a partial tear, with minor damage to the miniscus. So instead of full reconstruction surgery, where ligaments are borrowed from elsewhere in the leg, Bleiler required only an ACL repair.
“Really, it’s not as bad as it could be,” she said.
Rather than traveling the globe following the snowboarding halfpipe circuit this winter, Bleiler expects to spend a lot more time in Aspen (at the the Aspen Club with trainer Bill Fabrocini). She’ll be on crutches until New Year’s Day, in a brace for about six weeks, and back on the slopes by late March, she hopes.
“It’s a really bad time of the season to blow your ACL, you know, first contest of the year,” she said, chuckling. “Not the best timing, but it never is. At the same time, if it had to happen, this is the best season I could’ve done it during. Next year is the year we start getting spots for our country for the Olympics, and the next year is when you get an individual spot. So it’s not a good thing, but I can get super strong … and just be really refreshed and ready to go for next season.”
Bleiler was featured in a recent Outside magazine piece and in two weeks time she will be making her cover-girl debut with FHM magazine. Wearing only body paint, Bleiler and two other Games personalities appear in all, er most, of their glory.
“That’s it. Body paint,” she confirmed, blushing slightly.
“The most frustrating part about the entire thing is that I was riding better than I ever have in the halfpipe,” she said. “I had learned a McTwist [inverted 540] this summer at [Mount] Hood and I was getting a Crippler [inverted 180] to McTwist combo, first and second hit.”
“No one really does that,” she said, referring to back-to-back inverted maneuvers in the halfpipe. “That was supposed to be me.”
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