Editor’s note: Six weeks after Team USA alpine skier Nina O’Brien broke her left tibia and fibula in a high-speed accident during the women’s giant slalom event in Beijing, she returned to the Vail Valley to continue her recovery with NexGen Hyperbaric. at All Points North Lodge in the Cordillera at Edwards. The Vail Daily recently visited O’Brien to learn more about his path to recovery and redemption. All words were spoken by O’Brien in an interview and then transcribed for this story.
On the day of the GS race in Beijing, I woke up feeling confident and just trying to stay relaxed. I really believed that I was capable of having a great result. I felt all the emotions of being at the Olympics and the significance of that day—the first time I was at the Olympics. There were a lot of emotions there.
But I wanted to put aside any fear, pressure or expectation, and really go for it. And I think I was able to do it. I had a great first run, better than I even thought I was skiing. I was pleasantly surprised to see the result, but it even gave me even more confidence because I felt like I had made a few mistakes on my first run, so there was room for m ‘to improve.
I was sitting in sixth and then we had this long break between races, which lasted about five hours. It was abnormally long. But I felt very relaxed and just tried to stay loose and not think too much about the results.
My mentality was to go for the second run; at the very least, I can say that I did.
I’ve had races in the past where I felt like I wasn’t giving it my all, and it’s a pretty awful feeling when you have more than you don’t show. So, I wanted to put everything forward, and unfortunately, I wasn’t skiing well. I vividly remember that at the end of the class, I felt like I was a bit behind the line, but the pace was piling on me.
I don’t really remember what caused the accident. This part happened very quickly, but I remained quite lucid and aware of everything that was going on during the fall and after.
I went to a hospital in Beijing that was closed only for Olympic athletes, so it was very empty, it was part of our COVID bubble. I was allowed to have someone from the US Ski Team with me so I wasn’t there completely alone which was good. I had surgery the night of my fall to stabilize me. I had an open fracture, so they pretty much lined everything up, put me in an external fixator just to stabilize me, and from there, after I recovered in the hospital for two days.
I then went to a hotel in Beijing where I was with the US Ski Team coaches and staff, so it felt good to get out of the hospital and see my team again. And then I made the trip from Beijing to Tokyo to Dallas to Denver, which was a little uncomfortable. But I flew with teammates who carried all my luggage and they were great with me. Everyone on the airlines took great care of me and it was great to come home.
Editor’s Note: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a form of treatment in which a patient breathes 100% oxygen into a variable atmospheric pressure chamber to promote circulation and healing. Tech on site that day likened the feeling to “getting in and out of an airplane.” O’Brien is scheduled for 60 days of hyperbaric treatments at NexGen, in addition to months of physiotherapy.
There are a lot of in-room physiotherapy sessions here. I’m in the stages where I’m trying to regain mobility in my joints, and I still need my bones to heal. Before I can get back on the snow and do what I love, I really have to get strong again. So, it’s a long way to go, but I’m in good hands so I feel pretty confident about the team I have around me and my return to the snow.
Editor’s note: As O’Brien takes the time she needs to heal, she is aiming for an Olympic comeback.
My goals haven’t changed at all. Admittedly, it’s an obstacle in the road and a challenge that I have to overcome, but the end goal is always the same. Hopefully in four years or whatever (next Winter Olympics) I’ll be back in that starting gate, and I’ll be even better than I ever have been. I hope there is a good redemption story.
To see the full interview video, visit YouTube.com/vaildaily. To learn more about NexGen Hyperbaric, visit NexGenHyperbaric.com.
TELL US YOUR STORY
Injuries are a common topic in mountain communities. We tend to push ourselves to the point of having them. If you have a mountain or sports-related injury, we want you to share your injury, recovery, and redemption story (and if you’re currently injured, we want to hear your plans for the latter two).
To read more Fracture Friday stories and share your own, visit VailDaily.com/FractureFridays. And be sure to check the newspaper every Friday for the latest Break Friday.