Fractured bones, busted knees and concussions are just a few of the job hazards for professional ski racers. Olympians Tommy Ford and Laurenne Ross of Bend, Oregon, have had their share of spectacular crashes.
They've each bounced back from potentially career-ending injuries to compete this winter for spots on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
Nine months ago, Ross, an alpine ski racer, woke up in a Colorado hospital in excruciating pain. She'd just come out of the operating room after blowing out a knee in a crash at the 2017 U.S. national championships.
"There were many moments like that where I had a hard time thinking about anything but the pain that I was in,” Ross said.
Ross grew up skiing from the age of two. She learned to race with the Mount Bachelor ski team and has been on the U.S. National Team for eight years. Ross said she's been hurt many times before, but this latest injury was the most severe. The recovery taxed her emotionally as well as physically.
"I was battling some demons and some questions that I had,” Ross said. “You know, all the uncertainties about am I going to be able to ride a bike again? Am I going walk normally again? I wasn't thinking too much about skiing at that point."
But she would work hard to get back on skis and remarkably is already back doing well on the top-level race circuit. The 29-year-old said it’s scary to think about crashing again, but the rewards of skiing are worth the risk.
"If I were to retire from skiing and say, 'I don't want to take that risk, I'm done,' I would still feel the fear and the doubt in myself and I would also feel regret on top of that,” Ross said. “I just knew I had to give myself this chance."
Ross got advice and encouragement from her boyfriend, Tommy Ford, who’s also an alpine ski racer from Bend. Ford suffered a gruesome injury in 2013 that took several years to recover from. He broke his femur in a crash against a tree while free skiing in the French Alps.
"I couldn't help but share how I came back to skiing,” Ford said. “I did it at a different pace than a lot of people. I continued to share, 'It's OK to take your time. It's OK.' Go at your own pace because there is a lot of pressure to come back quick, especially during an Olympic year."
"Deep down I had this just burning desire to keep ski racing," Ford said to explain his own perseverance. "I love the feeling of an arc, the turn from left to right. And I wanted to keep doing that."
Both Ford and Ross had top-10 finishes at World Cup races in December. More good, consistent results in January races in Europe should secure their spots on the U.S. Olympic Team bound for PyeongChang. They'd join other likely Olympians there including Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety and Jacqueline Wiles, who calls suburban Portland home.
"I'm excited to get to the Olympics and enjoy the moment,” Ford said. "The last Olympics was very rushed. It was kind of chaotic and pretty stressful, honestly. It was really cool to see a lot of friends and family, but the whole event was really intense. I want to be able to enjoy Korea."
The 28-year-old Ford anticipates specializing in giant slalom in PyeongChang, which he raced at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Ross said she would ideally like to race in downhill, Super G and super combined in Korea, which are the events she contested at the Sochi Games in 2014.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Olympic Team will be named in late January, shortly before the Olympic Opening Ceremony on February 9.
Bend could be called a cradle for Winter Olympians this year. Besides the two alpine skiers, three snowboarders who also honed their skills at nearby Mount Bachelor are gunning for the Olympics. Snowboard halfpipe competitor Ben Ferguson, 22, has nearly secured a mathematical lock on the U.S. team bound for Korea after podium finishes in the first two of four Olympic team qualifying events. Ben's younger brother Gabe, 18, has heavy competition for one of the other men's halfpipe slots.
A third snowboarder raised in Bend, Kent Callister, is on track to return to the Winter Games for a second time representing Australia. Callister, 22, has dual nationality because his father is Australian.
So what is it about Bend?
"Bend sits at the base of the Cascades. There are rivers and trails all around. It's just a playground. It's hard not to get out and enjoy the woods or the mountain and river," Tommy Ford said with a hint of wistfulness from training camp in Austria. "It's a good place for a young person to excel athletically."