New Zealand skier Rose Battersby was the first alternate for Women's Ski Slopestyle at X Games Aspen in January. The day of the contest, Australian skier Anna Segal pulled out of the competition due to injury, meaning Battersby was in. But then, during the very last practice run just before the start of the contest, Battersby caught an edge and careened off course, landing flat on her back and breaking vertebra in her spine. We caught up with Battersby at home in Taupo, New Zealand, to see how she is doing now.
What was it like to go from being an alternate to being a competitor so suddenly?
I went to Aspen as an alternate, thinking it would be a fun week to chill, hang out and get some good training on the big jumps. I got the call the day of competition that I was in. It gave me a rush of adrenaline and I was so nervous. It was pretty crazy to have to suddenly change my mindset from chilling out to throwing down. I was so ridiculously excited that I was able to compete, maybe a bit too excited.
What exactly went wrong on that last practice run?
In the transition between landing and take-off, my ski got caught in some other tracks and made me a bit unbalanced, so I decided to stop and not hit the next jump. As I was coming around to stop, I didn't realize how fast and close I was to the take off so I slammed the breaks even harder. I think I was half a meter away from the lip when my edges hooked in the snow and catapulted me off to the left. There was absolutely nothing I could have done -- I wasn't going to make the landing, I wasn't going to land on my feet, I was going to land flat on my back on the deck of the jump.
What was the extent of your injury?
I had a T12-L1 fracture dislocation. I had fully broken one vertebra so that there was a bit of bone hanging out in my back and then I had dislocated one. I was extremely lucky because the dislocated vertebra was touching my spinal cord and they didn't know if it had done any permanent damage. My legs were numb as soon as I hit the ground. I could move my toes but I couldn't move my legs so I was pretty scared.
How are you doing now?
I am doing super well. I am pretty much back to normal, just wearing a back brace for about five more weeks to stop me from bending over too far and rotating. I am up and walking and going to physio and doing pilates and sitting on stationary bikes. I have days where I don't even feel like I had a broken back, but then I try and pick something up off the floor and instantly feel 80 years old. I would just like to say a huge thank you to the ski patrol at the X Games, Aspen medical center, Swedish medical center, Dr. West, Craig Hospital, my sponsors, Pete Legnavky and most of all mum and dad.
When do you anticipate you'll be back on skis?
I will be back on skis as soon as the snow falls again here in NZ, so about June. I will be skiing all season here, but no jumps or anything until I get the all clear from my surgeon in Denver, which will hopefully be in September or October.
Is it hard to stay positive through all of the recovery time?
It's definitely frustrating, but I would much rather not be able to ski for a while then to never be able to ski again so I really can't complain. It's easy to stay positive when I am so lucky to be standing and walking around every day and to have the thought of being able to ski soon in my mind.
Ski slopestyle's Olympic debut is less than a year out. Do you hope to compete in Sochi?
I am still aiming to compete at the Olympics next year. It's going to be full-on doing all the last chance qualifiers but it's still possible. I need to figure out exactly what I need to do to get there, but I'm sure I can make it happen.
You're the only female skier currently in the X Games from New Zealand. You must have some serious national pride.
I love being a Kiwi and when I compete at events like X Games, I feel so proud when I say I'm from New Zealand because only a handful of Kiwis can say they have competed at the X Games. I love it.