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Rahlves’ rapid recuperation

Ski veteran rebounds from hip dislocation at Sugar Bowl Resort
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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NORDEN — A young fan on skis hollered across a crowded run at Sugar Bowl Resort Monday morning, expressing his admiration for U.S. Olympian Daron Rahlves. “You’re really cool,” the boy yelled. “Thanks, man,” Rahlves replied. “You too, for saying that.” The always-modest Rahlves then continued to the gate at the top of the Mt. Judah lift and dropped into the resort’s new skicross training course for another successful training run. “I’m feeling a lot better than I did two days ago on the physical therapy table,” Rahlves said. “It’s nice to be outside skiing. I feel like I’m ramping it up but there’s still that little extra push that’s not there. I know it’ll be there. I’m trying to be careful. There’s no reason to take any risk right now.” Two weeks ago, Rahlves’ presence on the Vancouver slopes looked doubtful. The 36-year-old Truckee resident dislocated his right hip – his fourth such injury in an illustrious career – in a crash at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo. on Jan. 31. Since the accident, Rahlves has undergone as many as six hours of daily physical therapy, multiple acupuncture sessions and platelet-rich plasma injections. “It’s been a grind just trying to get back on skis,” he said. “It’s usually like a two-month recovery and I’ve done it in two weeks. I’ve had a lot of help, getting the right care all the time. What I think really made a big difference are the PRP injections. They take your blood, spin it down to get the healing properties of your blood, which are the platelets, and inject them into the joint.” Rahlves hit the snow Sunday morning for the first time since the crash. After waking up in even less pain Monday, he returned to his home resort with teammate Casey Puckett and coach Tyler Shepherd for another morning of racing. “I’m just trying to get the flow back,” Rahlves said. “You’re never quite sure but I was just trying to be optimistic and heal as quick as possible here and just see how it goes. The Olympics are a good motivator. You have something hard to work toward.” Rahlves’ range of motion is still limited, particularly on turns, but he said he felt good after a half-dozen trips through the course Monday. “These skiers are incredible athletes and they really, truly do heal quicker than the average person who’s not in shape,” said Dr. James Rappaport, a Reno-based U.S. ski team physician. “There’s something to be said for that exercise. Daron is skiing hard and he’s skiing fast today. You can tell they’re having fun.” Puckett, the only other U.S. skicross competitor, separated his shoulder last month and has slowly but surely returned to form. Both men are searching for their first Olympic medals in nine combined appearances. “There is absolutely no reason in my mind that those two shouldn’t be on the podium,” said Shepherd, a former competitive skier who resides in Denver. “They’re super competitive. They’re going up there for a job and to get that job done. These guys have both skied banged up before, and pretty much every guy in the field at some point or another in their career has had to ski banged up.” An accomplished downhill skier who only recently switched gears to freestyle, Rahlves will line up next to Puckett for the Olympic debut of skicross next week. The sport, a longtime staple at X Games events, features freestyle terrain elements like jumps and banked turns packed into a timed racecourse. J.P. Martin, Sugar Bowl’s terrain park manager, built the training run to loosely mirror the Olympic course at Cypress Mountain after consulting Shepherd for specifications, according to John Monson, director of sales and marketing. “It’s not identical, because it’s not the same slope, but it has some of the same features and same berms for the guys to fabricate what they’re going to have up there,” Monson said. After attending the Opening Ceremony last week, Puckett and Shepherd joined Rahlves in Tahoe. “We decided to come down here because Sugar Bowl has been very supportive of skicross and is very excited about it,” Shepherd said. “We’re getting better training here than we could get anywhere else in the world right now, especially right before the Olympics.” Bad weather and poor conditions have already forced cancellation of several practices in Vancouver. “It was very good that we had this option to come down here,” Shepherd said. By midday Monday, the sun created a slushy surface at Sugar Bowl. “It’s getting so wet,” Rahlves said. “These are perfect conditions like what we’re going to have in Cypress. It’s going to be wet snow like this.” Sugar Bowl will detune the course after the Olympians depart Wednesday morning for Vancouver, where they plan to practice Friday and Saturday. The training course will be open for public skiing and riding on Thursday. “People are going to be sitting in their living rooms watching the Olympics, watching skicross and boardercross footage thinking, ‘that looks fun,’” Monson said. “They’re going to be able to come out here and give it a shot. That’s pretty special.”