Monday, December 9, 2013
By Mike Lowe firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND -- Five months after surgery to reconstruct his left knee, and just under five months from the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Seth Wescott is confident that he'll be ready to compete for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team.
READY TO GO: Seth Wescott is just five months removed from surgery to reconstruct his left knee, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist is confident he’ll be ready to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Portland Press Herald file photo by John Patriquin
Wescott, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in snowboardcross from Carrabassett Valley, will head to New Zealand with the rest of the U.S. ski team next week to get back on the snow for the first time since his accident last April. Joining him will be Alex Tuttle, a 22-year-old from Stratton who also has a strong chance at representing Maine in the Sochi Games.
Four racers will be selected to compete for the snowboardcross in the Olympics. Selections will be based on the results of four World Cup events in December and January, beginning Dec. 7 in Austria.
"All I can do right now is take it one day at a time," said Wescott, in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "I'm just trying to be as patient as I can and I know my healing is ongoing and will be ongoing for 16 months at the cellular level."
Wescott will be limited in New Zealand as he returns to the snow for the first time since injuring his left knee when he fell into a crevice in Alaska while working with filmmaker Warren Miller. For now, he simply wants to get the feel of the snow under his board as he goes down the hill and makes turns.
"No jumping or stuff," said Wescott. "We made a plan early on with the head of physical therapy (for Team USA) and she thought I would be ready (to get back on the snow now). For me, it's better for my head to have gone and made turns at this time of the year and to come back and have two more months in the gym than to have waited until December and have it a total unknown when I go over to the first training camp in Austria."
Tuttle, who has trained with Wescott since he graduated from Carrabassett Valley Academy, is certain Wescott will be ready.
"He knows his limits and is going to make the smart decisions along the way and do what he needs to do to be as ready as he possibly can," said Tuttle, who returned from his own knee injury to finish third in last year's national championships. "There's only so much you can do. It's a day-by-day process that a lot of us are used to."
Wescott and Tuttle have been trying to concentrate solely on their training this summer, but world events are also on their minds.
The ongoing situation in Syria is of a concern, but they don't think the U.S. would boycott the Sochi Games as it did in 1980, boycotting the Summer Olympics in Moscow after the Russians invaded Afghanistan.
"I think the experience we learned from not going to Moscow the last time is something the U.S. Olympic Committee does not want to repeat," Wescott said.
Of more concern, however, is Russia's recently passed anti-gay legislation. Russian president Vladimir Putin in June signed into law legislation that would outlaw the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors. Its ambiguity has prompted several countries to ask what exactly the law means and how it would be enforced at the Olympics.
Wescott and Tuttle have strong feelings about it.
"I have friends on the female side of snowboarding from the gay and lesbian community," Wescott said. "And as a civil rights thing, as a human rights thing, people should not be discriminated against. If you look at the spirit of the Olympic Games and what it's about ... I have learned so much from my two Olympic experiences. I've been fortunate to have had pinnacle experiences and to have won. But it's really not about winning.
"It's about participation. It's about the spirit of the entire world taking three weeks off to celebrate the transcendent ability of sport to influence people in a positive way. It's sad to me that with all the progress we can make in the world that athletes are going to have to deal with this discrimination that should never be brought to light because it's their personal life."
Tuttle added, "It's just a negative energy that we try to not let affect us. But it's unfortunate that it's a reality, that there are still people out there who feel that way."
For now they continue to train. And for Wescott, that means total concentration on his rehab. "I'm just picking at it every day," he said. "I'm hoping when I get home from (New Zealand) that I can really start to go at it."
If Wescott isn't ready to compete in the World Cup events, he could receive a coach's discretionary spot on the team. And given that he is the only winner in the event's Olympic history, that's entirely possible. But, Wescott said, "If I'm not ready then the next generation needs to carry that torch."
He believes Tuttle is at the head of that next generation.
"He went to the team summer camp this summer and dominated every other member of the U.S. team," said Wescott. "He definitely has the riding skills, not just to make the team, but Alex could also be a medal contender this time."