February 19

Legally blind skier from Benton to tackle Sochi slopes

Lindsay Ball will compete, even though she has a leg injury, in the Paralympics as the highest-ranked U.S. competitor in the giant slalom.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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BLIND SKIER: Lindsay Ball, left, of Benton, trains with ski guide Diane Barras recently while preparing to compete in the Paralympics in Sochi in March.

Contributed photo

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THERAPY: Lindsay Ball of Benton performs physical therapy to prepare for ski racing in Sochi in March. In January, Ball fell down while skiing and tore her ACL, requiring four weeks of intense physical therapy to give her a chance to compete.

Contributed photo

Paralympic support

Lindsay Ball of Benton is traveling to Sochi in March to compete in a Paralympics alpine skiing competition. Her trip has been funded by a combination of support from the U.S. Paralympic team, fundraising and donations received through her website, www.lindsayballb1.com.

The event is just right for Ball. Over the past five years, she has climbed in the world rankings, which are weighted to balance the differences between B1, B2 and B3 skiers.

She won the 2012 Paralympics U.S. Championship.

When Ball went to Winter Park, Colo., in December for a few months of intense pre-Sochi training, she was ranked seventh in the world, the only U.S. skier to be in the top eight. She is also the only B1 skier to be ranked in the top 20, meaning she will be the only woman hurtling down the slopes with no visual signals at all to help her navigate.

Sochi dreams

When she arrived in Colorado on Dec. 27 to begin her final season of training, Ball had big plans. According to her schedule, she was to leave Colorado on Feb. 28, headed to Munich for processing. On March 2, she was scheduled to travel to Sochi in advance of the Paralympic opening ceremonies on March 7. Continued training in Sochi would take her to the big day of competition, March 16.

But all those plans came crashing down two days after she arrived. During her first day of training on the slopes, she fell and felt her knee pop.

“It was kind of a freak thing,” she said. “I’ve fallen the way I fell thousands of times before.”

In the blink of an eye, she saw five years of training taken from her.

Rescue workers loaded her into a toboggan and took her to a medical center, where an X-ray showed a leg fracture, common in cases in which a certain knee ligament has torn.

The tears she shed were not from the physical pain. “When the ER doctor told me that she didn’t think that Sochi was realistic, I got really cranky at that time because I’d just worked five years to get it. And I wanted it,” she said.

A few days later, an orthopedic surgeon at the Steadman Clinic in nearby Vail confirmed the diagnosis after an MRI scan showed Ball had completely torn her ACL.

Typically, doctors recommend athletes stop competing until they’ve undergone surgery to repair their damaged ligament.

But Ball begged.

“The doctor agreed that I was coming up on the race of a lifetime,” she said. “He basically gave me the shot to try to ski without it.”

The doctor’s permission led to four weeks of intense physical therapy, during which Ball said she tried to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee, so that she would have more support.

A month later, on Jan. 29, she tentatively went back out on the slopes and said her training has gone well since then, considering her injury.

Still, when Ball competes in Sochi, in addition to being the only woman wearing blackout goggles, she may also be the only woman skiing with a knee brace on.

The setbacks are physical but Ball said the solution to overcoming them is mental. Just as she has learned to trust her guide, she now has to learn to trust her own physical abilities as well.

“I have to have confidence in my strength. Confidence in my knee. Confidence in my brace,” she said. “I have to be putting myself in a good place when I’m on the hill.”

“If I can get my skiing back to where it was in December,” she said, “I think I can compete for a medal.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 mhhetling@centralmaine.com Twitter: @hh_matt
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