After Plenty Of Rehab, Picabo Street All About Pre-HabPicabo Street speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the U.S. Ski Team speed center at Copper Mountain on Nov. 15, 2011 in Copper Mountain, Colo.
It’s been a dozen years since Picabo Street retired as an alpine skier, but that doesn’t mean the two-time Olympic medalist has unplugged from her sport.
At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Street, 42, is a television analyst of men’s and women’s alpine skiing events, and she’s excited to be back in the atmosphere she knew so well while participating at three Winter Games.
Street, now a married mother of four, says, “I’ll be leaving the kids and the husband at home, so I’m looking forward to going and watching as many events as I can.
“I’m really just excited to be there, be a part of it,” she added. “The Olympic Movement is so infectious. I hope I can get some sleep while I’m there, because I get so excited about my own experience at the Olympics."
All the memories, connecting with old friends and the chance to talk to the new Olympians — while “living vicariously” through them, she said — just might just keep her going 24/7.
But Street also continues to be a part of her sport and the Olympic movement in general through her participation in Citi’s Every Step of the Way program. That program, launched in 2012, supports U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes through fundraising. The program is led by nine athlete ambassadors who lead a variety of initiatives to help the next generation of American athletes.
Street, who was forced to recover from several injuries during her skiing career, has teamed up with the United States Olympic Committee’s Stay on the Slopes initiative that provides injury prevention technology to keep skiers and snowboarders injury-free, or assist in their recovery.
“Now I get so much pleasure out of helping the next generation to do pre-hab to keep them on the slopes, to also make sure their equipment is dialed in right, to make sure that they are comfortable with it and it’s working well for them,” she said. “And to make sure they’re doing all the cross training they need to do to be strong enough to be out there competing."
After winning a silver medal in the downhill at the Lillehammer Winter Games in 1994, Street tore the anterior cruicate ligament (ACL) in her left knee at a training run in Vail, Colo., in 1996. She couldn’t ski for more than a year as she put in an intense year of rehab — 11,000 hours by her count — to get ready for the Nagano Winter Games in 1998.
At Nagano, her work paid off with a gold medal in the super-G that was the highlight of her career.
“It was so amazing and so satisfying to finally hear the national anthem played in my honor and for my country,” she said. “It was the most pride I’ve ever felt in my life, and the most scared I felt, too, because I’d never let myself feel that satisfied before."
Just months later, however, Street suffered the worst injury of her career in a world cup downhill race in Switzerland.
She lost control, slammed into a fence at 70 mph and broke her femur in nine places while also tearing the ACL in her right knee.
This time she was sidelined two years while again doing extensive rehab, but earned a spot on the U.S. team for the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002.
“I went through so much throughout my career,” Street said. “I had several injuries, most of the soft tissue injuries just made me angry and pushed me harder. The structural injury, breaking my femur, scared me a lot and kind of put me back on my heels. But I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of and where my strengths really are inside."
Now, she says, working to help prevent injuries to other athletes, or help them recover, “is so near and dear to my heart."
Today, Street still exercises, but mostly swims and bikes because of her past knee injuries — though she said she does plenty of running around while keeping up with her four sons, ages 2 to 10.
When she reflects on her long career — that also included world cup downhill season championships in 1995 and 1996 and induction to the National Ski Hall of Fame in 2004 — Street knows she got every ounce out of her talent.
“I left nothing on the hill,” she said. “I took it all with me.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.