Top level racing is not without risks and our resident British racing blogger, Reece Bell, knows the dangers all too well after a crash in Canada tore her ACL...

Sorry it’s been a while, but on January 4th I crashed during a dual slalom in Ontario, Canada. I tore my ACL and meniscus in my left leg. On January 14th I  flew back to Vail for surgery and started my road to recovery thanks to Dr. Hackett at the Steadman Clinic. The experience made me reflect on my experience in racing so far. 

Since I began racing FIS, I have yet to complete a full season due to two major injuries (the ACL, torn labrum and shoulder dislocation) and one minor injury (broken thumb). However, I am happy to report that I am on the road to recovery. 

Traditionally, the return to snow for ACL has been six months but new research shows that 40% of athletes re-injure themselves if they head back to snow too quickly. My father Martin and Uncle Graham also tore their ACLs during their ski race careers. Many ACL repairs these days include platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP). Dr. Hackett told me that this procedure would be painful and indeed it was. I had a nerve block for a few days post-op. 

Technology has changed since Martin and Graham's day. When they were healing, they each had to be in a straight leg plaster for six weeks with no movement whatsoever. The night after my surgery, while still in the hospital, I was put in a hinged brace for a few hours and my leg was in a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. As the name suggests, the machine moves your knee for you. However, you cannot keep your leg in it all the time. When I was not on the CPM, I was in a straight leg brace or icing my knee with a cold therapy unit. Within a week I was able to get my leg to 90 degrees in the CPM.

Continuous passive motion (CPM)machine with hinged sleeve. This keeps your leg active after surgery.

Jess Horton at the Howard Head Clinic has been instrumental in my recovery. The clinic sees athletes from around the world and I am lucky that the closest clinic branch to me is in walking distance. I’m currently doing physical therapy four times a week, mainly focussing on rebuilding the muscles in my left leg as they lost a lot of mass after surgery. It was challenging to do cardio workouts during the first few months post-op. I did a variety of workouts using medicine balls, battle ropes, an arm bike and one-legged rowing on an erg machine. I also swim once a week and after two months I was able to ride a stationary bike. I’m looking forward to impact progression as well as hiking outdoors, which I should be able to do five months post op. Right now, I am four months out.

I’ve missed racing with my teammates both in Vail and on the British Ski Team so I want to send congratulations to all of them on a successful season! Although I will not be back on snow until October, some exciting things have happened in the past few months.

First, I was accepted to the University of Denver and will be racing for their ski team, one of the best in the United States. My coach Andy Leroy actually once beat Alain Baxter in slalom! He holds the British National Slalom Championship from 1998, so I am very excited to be coached by him. The University of Denver is a Division 1 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) University. The NCAA governs all college sport and they have very strict guidelines which state that students are not allowed to accept any funding for sport that exceeds basic expenses such as equipment, travel, etc.

I am very excited to start University of Denver in the fall and be on their alpine team, which has the best record in the United States NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).

My mom made my hospital room festive with Christmas lights and a colorful blanket. She is holding my frog who is wearing a jersey from one of my races with my lucky number, 27.

When I was 10 racing in Montana, the ski resort did not have a lot of gates, so they used old ones from University of Denver. Little did I know this would be the university I would attend almost eight years later.

I go to local schools to talk about the importance of bees

Another bright moment was when I was promoted to the British Europa Cup Squad. This is an honour and I am proud to represent Great Britain at this level. I don’t know how many Europa Cups I will be participating in next season, as I will not return to racing until sometime in 2020 and I will be based in Colorado. 

The US education system varies greatly from the UK. Here we finish high school (secondary school) at the age of 17 or 18. When I enter the University of Denver in the autumn, I plan on majoring in Environmental Science.

A few years ago I started a local organisation Eagle County Bees. I help people with hives relocate rather than exterminate. I also go to local schools and talk about the importance of bees.

As a ski racer I am committed to helping save not just the bees but also the environment (hence my major). When I go to the elementary (primary) schools, I use recycled items to help the students make bee hotels. Hopefully they will be more environmentally conscious and help protect our mountains. I am proud that my home mountain, Vail, is the first certified green mountain in the world and I hope that others will follow. There is something special about standing on top of a mountain, which is one of the greatest joys of skiing no matter what your ability level. I can’t wait to get back on the slopes. 

Read Reece's previous blogs about racing and season activity here.