Snowsport is renowned for the damage it can wreak on the human body. It is high speed and high octane. And when it goes wrong, it tends to be spectacular. British number one slalom skier Charlie Guest’s story has had more than a few twists and turns. Here, we document her journey back to fitness.
Charlie, British slalom skiing champion, was on the slopes in Sweden with her coach Stefan Moser in November 2014, when she crashed into a boulder. She was strapped to a board for over six hours as an ambulance drove 250km to the nearest hospital in Ostersund. In an instant, her excitement about pre-selection for the forthcoming World Championships in America was a very distant memory.
Charlie had fractured four transverse processes of her lumbar spine – the bits that stick out from the vertebrae. It is the sort of trauma you might expect to see from someone who had been in a motorbike or car crash.
The start of the journey back
The day after the accident, Head of Sports Medicine at the sportscotland institute of sport, Dr Niall Elliott, received a call about Charlie’s situation and began a collaborative approach with Stefan and Charlie to get her home and back to physical fitness.
Charlie said: “After the initial shock wore off, I was pretty scared about what exactly rehab and recovery consisted of, as well as anxious about how long it would take. I think mainly I was just gutted to come to terms with the fact that my season was on hold after such along and successful pre-season.”
A support team working in tandem
Niall rallied the support team at the SIS, which included Physiotherapist Kelly Horne and Physical Preparation Coach Scott Crawford. Together they created a collaborative plan for Charlie’s rehabilitation and she excelled at sticking to it.
Improving robustness and consistency
Scott explains: “Skiing forces an extreme amount of pressure through the athlete’s body. We have recorded as much as 16 G-force – and this has to be absorbed by the body as they fly down the slopes.
“Our ability to positively impact and support snowsport athletes often depends on how much we can improve their robustness and consistency when they compete. Charlie’s focus and positive attitude made the process go really smoothly.”
Back in the gym, three weeks on
The early stages of her rehab mostly consisted of medical check-ups and physiotherapy. Three weeks after the crash, Charlie had the green light to get back in the gym with Scott.
They worked initially on getting normal movement back through the spine before eventually loading and building the strength through the injured area. Scott’s approach in the gym matched the ethos of the work done with Kelly and Niall, putting the emphasis on helping Charlie to listen to her body and push herself whilst also, crucially, remaining pain-free.
“Using visual coaching technology and daily updates on her progress from Charlie and her coach Stefan Moser, the support team worked together to ensure her programme included a wide variety of ski specific drills, swimming, strength exercises and soft tissue rehabilitation for mobility,” Scott continued.
“The key was ensuring she had lots of choice and control over her own recovery which helped to build her confidence and speed up the recovery process.”
The right mentality, work and help
Another great little boost to her confidence was watching American alpine ski racer, Lindsey Vonn, come back from two years of injury to win the speed series in Canada whilst Charlie was working on her recovery.
Charlie explains: “It was a brilliant reminder that you can, with the right work and help, get back to where you left off. Obviously I’m not winning World Cups yet but I’m still aiming for the same goals that I set myself pre-injury.
“I also got some tips from cyclist Charline Joiner who suffered a similar injury in 2013 but made it back in time for the Commonwealth Games.”
Competing again, dreaming again
Reports from Stefan and Charlie at 12 weeks post-crash put her estimated level of performance at only five per cent off her pre-crash target, which was no mean feat. Her commitment and perseverance paid off and she recovered well enough to head to Colorado with the British squad for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
On the support from sportscotland, Charlie said: “The expertise from the team at the SIS was just incredible. There is absolutely no way that I would have got back to racing and training in 10 weeks without their help. To know that they were there for me, helping me through the injury with only the best intentions for my career was a great confidence boost.”
Charlie had to overcome the biggest challenge of her skiing career to date, before even setting foot on the snow.
Since then she’s battled back to competition and although she suffered further injury in the 15/16 season from a herniated disc in her back, she still went on to re-enter the top 100 rankings in the world, finished within the top ten at the Europa Cup and is looking forward to tackling the 16/17 season which will include the small matter of the World Championships and the start of qualifications for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
If you would like to find out more about the sportscotland institute of sport visit: sportscotland.org.uk/performance
And to learn more about snowsport in Scotland visit: snowsportscotland.org