Vail, Colo. (USSA)--U.S. downhiller Chad Fleischer (Vail, CO) said he's not giving in to a major knee injury that will keep him from his third Olympics next month. "I'll be at Snowbasin cheering on my teammates," he said, and he plans to make his third Olympics in Italy in 2006.
Fleischer, who turned 30 a week before his accident, tore ligaments and the patellar tendon in his right knee and broke his kneecap Jan. 10 in a training crash before the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland. He underwent surgery by longtime U.S. Ski Team surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman to repair his knee Jan. 16 and was released several days ago from Vail Valley Medical Center in Colorado.
"I'll be non-weight-bearing, on crutches, for a while. I can't use my leg for six weeks, the doctor said," according to Fleischer. "Because of the trauma and swelling, Dr. Steadman couldn't get to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). I can't move my knee, so until I can--probably six weeks--he can't repair the knee."
Knocked off his third Olympic Team by the injury, Fleischer said he and his wife Renee would be in Utah, watching the men's downhill Feb. 10 and participating in other activities, as his leg allows.
"I sat down with my coaches before this season and said my plan going into this season as to keep skiing through 2006, and I definitely plan on keeping with that program, keeping through '06. I'd resolved all my health issues--my back, my hip, my shoulder--and I felt I was coming on," he said. "I felt good...I mean, the sad truth is I'd dedicated myself to being 100 percent ready to win a medal two weeks from now and that's not gonna happen."
"I had a feeling and what I felt was the best flow of my career. Since Sierra Nevada (Spain, when he was second in DH at World Cup Finals in March 1999), I finally felt good and healthy."
He undergoes four hours of physical therapy daily--roughly 9-11 a.m., 3-5 p.m.--at the Howard Head Clinic at the Steadman-Hawkins Medical Clinic in Vail, Colo. And he has a variety of projects, including helping to organize a spring fundraiser for the Colorado Ski Museum, to keep him busy.
"There are a lot of things, but the No. 1 is seeing how I feel on the 4th or 5th of February. Today was the first day I was able to lift my leg onto the rehab table on its own. I just did it," he said.
He's already re-focused his goals to being ready as soon as possible so he starts building a head of steam toward the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. "This is disappointing," Fleischer said, "but it just makes me that much madder and it sparks my fire to come back even better." "I'd always thought that if something like this were to happen, that would be it. But this isn't it. It's not over. I look at guys like (ex-Olympic and World Cup champion) Luc Alphand, who had three or four knee operations and he didn't win his first World Cup until he was 31, and he won five globes in two years. (Luxembourg's Marc) Girardelli came back--Steadman and I were talking about him--and I met Ernie Conwell at Steadman's, the (St. Louis) Rams' tight end who had such a dislocation to his knee, and now he's going to the Super Bowl."
He's bummed but not beaten, Fleischer said. "I wondered, 'Is this the end of my career?' But from what Dr. Steadman's been able to do with athletes to get 'em back to a world class level and with my mental attitude to definitely keep charging and attacking, I know I'll be back. I'll keep going even better."