If they awarded Olympic medals for perseverance, Kaya Turski will be wearing gold around her neck at this winter's Sochi Games.
Of course, the IOC awards medals based only on performance -- but don't underestimate the slopestyle skier on that count even though she recently suffered a devastating knee injury that should have killed her chances of even going to Russia.
Kaya Turski doesn't just hope to be part of the Olympic debut of slopestyle, one of those X-Games sports that features skiers navigating a series of death-defying jumps and rails on a half-kilometre course. She intends to be there -- and to battle for a medal. “I can't guarantee a win," she says. “I can't guarantee a medal. But I can guarantee I'm going to give it my best shot going in. I think I've got a good shot to be in medal contention."
When she first heard the diagnosis of a torn ACL after a training incident in August, she was devastated. After all, the world's top-ranked slope styler had already undergone two reconstructions of her ACL.
But this was worse, way worse. After dominating the slope style world -- she's been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the last five years -- she thought her dreams had been realized when the IOC granted the maverick sport Olympic status. Sochi was to be the official coming-out party for her sport -- and for her. After winning the 2013 world championship and with three X-Games titles under her belt, she was the gold medal favourite.
But now she was being told that she was looking at a nine-month recovery and no hope of going to Sochi.
“I was pretty down when it first happened," says the 25-year-old athlete. “But I think I wrapped my head around it pretty quickly considering it's one of an athlete's worst nightmares."
Then came a ray of hope, provided by London, Ont., orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Litchfield. He proposed an alternative surgical approach to a graft -- using a synthetic ligament to speed up the process. The catch was that the surgery might not be permanent, but Turski was willing to take that chance.
“I'm very stubborn" she says. “If there was any hope of making it to the Olympics, you can bet I was going to go for it. I don't want to wait another four years for this opportunity if it's right front of me."
So she had the surgery in August and expects to be back on snow by mid-December, only a few weeks behind her usual schedule. She's been documenting everything, including the surgery, and posting it online.
While she expects the going to be a bit slow at first, Turski believes her ordeal could serve her well in Sochi.
“I'm stronger mentally," she says. “If that can't knock me down, then I don't know what can."
There may even be a side benefit in a sport she says is more mental than physical.
“I've always kind of struggled with my identity as this gold medal favourite," she says. “They pegged me the queen of slopestyle. It's a mental battle sometimes to try to keep up with that. When this happened, I feel like I lost that identity and it was one of the coolest things that's happened to me."
It's hard to count out somebody who takes that much positive out of tearing up a knee ligament.