Reigning ski cross world champion Kelsey Serwa has made a triumphant return to snow after recovering from a serious knee injury.
The 22-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., was one of the most dominant skiers on the World Cup circuit when she ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in January 2012. Earlier this week she celebrated a big step forward on the road to recovery when she took some turns at a national-team camp in Mount Hood, USA, alongside 2010 Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor, another Canadian star returning from a long-term injury.
"I was a little nervous at first because I didn't know what it was going to be like but once I got moving my knee felt so stable and strong," Serwa said of strapping on the boards for the first time on Monday. "I feel like all the training we've done (with strength and conditioning coach Craig Hill) in the spring and summer has helped me feel this stable.
"We were just getting back to the basics and going slow. But my knee felt great. It doesn't feel like anything happened to it.” At the time she suffered her injury, Serwa was at the top of her game. She had emerged from teammate McIvor's shadow to become a consistent podium threat on the World Cup circuit and looked like she had a legitimate shot at becoming the first Canadian to capture the Crystal Globe as the top female skier on the circuit-something her teammate Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., went on to achieve earlier this year. In 2011, over the course of a few memorable weeks, Serwa crash-landed her way to gold at the X Games - suffering a nasty back injury in the process - before showing incredible courage and determination to claim victory at the world championships in Deer Valley, USA, just a week later.
With Whistler native McIvor also back on snow after being out with a knee injury since 2011 and Danielle Sundquist – formerly Poleschuk – of Calgary, Alta., and Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C., working their way back, Canada's women's team should be a force to be reckoned with in 2012-13.
"We are all really strong skiers," Serwa said of the women's team. "That's why we are the best team in the world. "It's like it's always been with Ashleigh (and I). We are always pushing each other. It's nice because we were all at dryland camp together (in Whistler). Even for something simple like jumping a hurdle, everyone was so supportive. It's an easy thing for the average person but for me was a big deal."
Serwa and McIvor are both starting out slow, skiing one day and then doing dryland training the next. "We're building up. After we master one thing we move on to the next," Serwa said. "We are just going to be really patient with it. Honestly, that's going to be the hardest part for me."
Eric Archer, the head coach of Canada's ski cross team, said it's great to have such a strong group again. "We have six girls here, which is amazing," Archer said from Mount Hood. "Danie (Sundquist) is back, (prospect) Mariannick (Therer), Marielle is doing great and Georgia is back. They're all doing some bonding because they're staying in the same condo together and they've got plenty of support here.
"They were all pulling starts today and went through the entire program we put together. They're working really hard. Kelsey is ahead of expectations - she's doing great - but we will keep doing our return to snow steps and make sure we are not rushing anything." Serwa, who has worked extremely hard off the hill throughout the course of her comeback, admits being surprised at how good she felt when she made her first turns on Monday.
"I just got so much confidence from it. I thought it would feel awkward and different like everyone tells you it will feel, but it honestly feels like it did in December," she said. "There's definitely been more time to dedicate to building a foundation. There's no reason why I can't do that when I'm healthy . . . but there are so many athletes who come back and they feel stronger than they were before."
The women's camp continues this week. The men's team is due to arrive in Mount Hood this weekend for the start of its training block. ABOUT ALPINE CANADA ALPIN
Alpine Canada Alpin is the national governing body for alpine, para-alpine and ski cross racing in Canada. With the support of valued corporate partners along with the Government of Canada, Own The Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee, Alpine Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic, world championship and World Cup medallists to stimulate visibility, inspiration and growth in the ski community.
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