Downhill ski racer Breezy Johnson is out for the season with a torn ACL
There was never a pop, any searing pain or signs of swelling in U.S. downhill ski racer Breezy Johnson’s right knee. She even took a few more runs after her recent crash while training in Chile.
That’s what made the diagnosis so difficult to process: Torn ACL.
Johnson had a list of goals this season, too. Among them on the heels of finishing seventh in the downhill at the Pyeongchang Olympics last February: Earn her first World Cup win. A top-five finish at the world championships in Are, Sweden. Relish hanging out with Lindsey Vonn as the winningest female World Cup ski racer (82 victories) chases after Ingemar Stenmark’s record (86) in what figures to be Vonn’s final season. Maybe even share a podium with Vonn.
After receiving the news, Johnson spent nearly an hour in the doctor’s office by herself — just thinking. The racer who grew up in Idaho doesn’t have a date for surgery just yet.
“There’s the emotional part of me where I’m like, ‘(Forget) it, I’m going to be fine. I’m going to put on my boots and just go,’” Johnson said in a phone interview. “But the rational thinking of my brain is like, ‘That’ a terrible idea. Don’t do that.’ But it’s Lindsey’s last season. So it’s going to be really sad to not be able to race with her in her final season.”
Johnson was practicing her super-G turns on Sept. 3 at El Colorado in Chile when she hooked an edge on the side of a hill and awkwardly tumbled, landing on her face. She felt a twinge in her knee but nothing more and no swelling.
“It’s almost like my body wanted to shield me from the news,” Johnson said.
Checked out in Chile, the medical staff thought maybe a partial tear. She returned home to get more tests.
Checked out again in Utah, the doctors saw the tear on an MRI. It’s the second big injury of her career. In March 2017, she suffered a tibial plateau fracture in her left leg during a crash at the World Cup finals in Aspen.
“That one, it swelled up and I was in pain,” said Johnson, who stepped into her skis at 3 years old to whisk down her driveway. “This one, it was just a little bit of instability.”
At 22, Johnson is part of the next wave of Americans following in the footsteps of racers such as Vonn. Johnson’s had five top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit, including fourth in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany last February — a race won by Vonn.
Two weeks after that race, Johnson took seventh at the Pyeongchang Games — 1.12 seconds behind winner Sofia Goggia of Italy. It was a solid showing that day by the Americans with Vonn taking third and Alice McKennis fifth.
“That one race was amazing in part because I knew that I had skied my absolute best,” said Johnson, who also finished 14th in the super-G at the Olympics. “I prepared for that moment, gave it everything I had and I did the best run I possibly could physically and mentally. When you can leave it all out on the hill, there’s no better feeling.”
She had grand visions this season, like sharing a World Cup podium with Vonn, who may not be around when Johnson returns from the knee injury.
“If this was the last season of my career or an Olympic year, I might consider just skiing on it,” said Johnson, who’s walking around with no real pain. “It doesn’t seem that unstable. But at 22 years old, I don’t want to ruin my knee now. I know I’ll be fine long-term and will be back and I will just have to keep working. But it’s just hard right now: Watching your teammates go on without you.”
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