GB Snowsport Alpine racer Reece Bell tells us in her latest Ski Club blog how she recovered from her ACL injury and her recent College experiences 

After a long nine months, I have finally started skiing again! In the last blog I wrote, I had talked about beginning my undergraduate degree at Denver University  (DU) in Environmental Science.

I recently finished my first quarter of three per year. College has been an amazing experience for me so far, in terms of school, skiing and meeting new people. I am currently living in one of the freshman dorms with athletes from two different teams- women’s golf and tennis.

A lot of people at DU come from places outside of Colorado so it has been really interesting to see how much people from outside Colorado enjoy Denver and the mountains. I have been taking credits that directly relate to my major in Environmental Science, and although the classes are much harder than high school, they have also been very rewarding. 

I had about a month and a half of strength training at DU with the team of athletic trainers before I actually got back on snow. While I have been doing a variety of workouts, the most memorable (and challenging) one is the Magness arena stair-run, where we run up and down every flight of stairs in the hockey stadium. Many students go to the ice hockey games as they are a large part of the DU school culture.  Denver University is a Division 1 school in the National Collegiate Athletic Association,, which governs national university/college sports. There are three divisions in the NCAA.

The NCAA has very strict guidelines regarding sponsorship and social media. For instance, if I make a podium, I am allowed to take my gear (ski, poles, etc) on the podium with me for a photograph. However, I am not allowed to tag the sponsors on social media nor can they tag me or use my photo. At first, I was nervous to tell my UK sponsors as they have been very generous in the past, but as it turns out they are familiar with NCAA rules.

I was cleared to start my return to ski on October 5th at the Steadman Clinic in Vail. Besides waiting 9 months for the tendon to fully assimilate into my knee as a new ACL, I also had to pass a variety of strength and power tests. In most of the tests, my left (surgical) leg was compared to the strength of my right leg, and needed to produce at least 90% of the strength and power of the non-surgical side. I also rechecked my carbon fibre brace, as I have to ski with it a full year after getting back on snow. 

After reaching out (very politely) to my teachers, my dad and I headed to Austria for a week of skiing. We spent the first three days at Stubai Gletscher, (glacier) which I took very carefully. I slid and steered all of my turns, focusing only on my body position and putting equal pressure through both of my skis. I was trying not to favour the left side at all. I did a variety of drills that related to body position such as holding my poles in front, placing my hands on my hips and lifting up my inside ski. Although the skiing was pretty slow, I didn’t find it boring at all. I was just happy to be out in the mountains again. After the first block of skiing, we took a rest day to visit Innsbruck, then drove up the scenic route to Hintertux Glacier. 

The next three days on snow I began to increase the speed when I felt comfortable. I started to make carved railroad turns on the flatter areas and progressively made larger edge angles. The drills I did during this session were more centred on carving. By the end of the camp, I felt ready to start normal free skiing turns. 

It wasn’t long after I arrived back in Colorado that I began training with the DU team. Our home training resort is Loveland, so every morning our coaches would drive a van from campus up to the mountain, and back in time to make our afternoon classes. The first few weeks or so at Loveland, I just made freeskiing turns and didn’t go through gates. When I felt ready, I would run through short open, stubbie and brushie courses or section GS courses. I only very recently have run a full length slalom and GS course. Because I had a patella tendon graft, I get inflammation in the front of my knee when I am in a forward position in my boots and putting pressure on the ski. I usually don’t feel this while I am skiing because of adrenaline and general muscle soreness but after I take my boots and knee-brace off it becomes far more noticeable. 

To try and reduce this pain, I always warmup and stretch before skiing, and ice afterwards. Soft tissue treatments can also be effective such as dry needling. The main thing I would recommend to other skiers coming back from a knee injury, is to only do what feels comfortable out on the hill, and even after you are cleared to ski, focus on rebuilding muscle strength. 

The DU team has already gone to a few races this season, and I have been lucky enough to train with my former club, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. In exchange for early season training, I coached and skied with the U12 boys group at SSCV, after my training. It was interesting to see ski racing from a different perspective and try to simplify certain aspects so that 10 or 11-year-olds would be able to understand them. 

I’m not sure when my first race is going to be. I am still taking the process of return to ski one day at a time, not looking too far ahead or making plans. I think that I ski and race my best when I am just enjoying skiing in the present moment without expectations. Therefore, I am ok if things don’t fall into place quickly this season. I want to remain healthy so that I can continue to progress a little bit each day. I am so thankful for all of the people who have helped me get to this point, including my physical therapists, coaches and especially my parents.

While I was off snow I did have some memorable experiences. My mom is a flight attendant so although we travel standby we only have to pay taxes and sometimes a small fee if going international. In the spring I visited my friends at my former school in Big Sky, Montana. I also went to Mexico as a combination 18th birthday and high school graduation present. In September we were invited to family friends’ Kym and George Rapiers’ villa for a concert with Queen and Adam Lambert and the Beach Boys as the opening act, which was surreal.

Thanks so much for following along and hope to update you on my progress and first races in 2020 soon!

Reece Bell

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