By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – Considering his once mangled lower left leg has been put back together with 13 screws, bone cement and a hip bone taken from a cadaver, downhiller Manuel Osborne-Paradis’ return to the piste could rank among the great ski racing comebacks of all time.
Even his trauma surgeon Stephen French, who had the task of reconstructing the shattered leg, would not disagree.
A year after suffering what many thought would be a career-ending crash, Osborne-Paradis hopes to join the Canadian national team in China in February for a World Cup, if for no other reason than to get a look at the venue for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in which he plans to race.
“These injuries are pretty rare, this is more like a motor vehicle collision, two cars hitting head on kind of injury,” French, who has worked with Alpine Canada since 2005, told Reuters.
“He has a lot of friends in ski racing, who happen to be doctors, who assumed from the outset that this is it, this is a career ender with that kind of injury.”
Osborne-Paradis is now back on his feet but weeks away from running, months away from skiing and more than two years out from his ultimate goal of competing for Canada at a fifth Winter Olympics.
Brian Stemmle’s return to win Pan Am Winter Games gold after a horrific 1989 crash during a competition in Kitzbuehel that almost cost the Canadian his life is viewed as the ultimate comeback.
Others can also can make an argument.
Austrian great Hermann Maier, who nearly had is leg amputated in a motorcycle accident, returned to win the overall World Cup title.
It was exactly a year ago that Osborne-Paradis pushed out of the Lake Louise start hut for the first training run for the season opening World Cup downhill.
It was a generally quiet training session until Osborne-Paradis lost control coming into the ‘Fishnet’ section of the layout, a crash he blamed on a combination of bad luck and “driver error”.
Osborne-Paradis’s leg was jammed under the protective fencing, leaving the limb twisted and shattered.
When medical staff arrived on the scene, Osborne-Paradis was given a Fentanyl lollipop to dull the excruciating pain while they waited for a helicopter to come and airlift the skier.
Once at the hospital Osborne-Paradis would undergo nine operations in 12 days.
“The severity is very uncommon, generally it is just not fixed that often. Usually it is a fatality,” said Osborne-Paradis. “To me it didn’t feel that devastating, you take your drugs and go off into La-la land.
“It was the fear in the doctors eyes that scared me.”
A member of Canada’s Alpine team since 2004, Osborne-Paradis has climbed the World Cup podium 11 times, including three wins. He is a four-time Olympian and a super-G world championship bronze medallist.
But over the last eight years he has spent almost half of them recovering from knee injuries.
He missed most of the 2011 and all of the 2012 campaign after tearing ligaments in the same left knee and is now sitting out a second successive season due to the shattered leg.
In the high-speed world of downhill, slow and steady is not a concept racers easily grasp.
Skiing this year is likely to be limited to enjoying a few runs with his daughter.
If the recovery continues on course there will be late season training camps and the national championships.
Now 35-years-old with a wife and daughter and another child on the way, Osborne-Paradis insists he will know when it is time to quit.
That time has not arrived.
“I didn’t just join this sport at 30 thinking this seems like a good idea,” explained Osborne-Paradis. “This is just because it is who you are.
“I believe in myself and my medical team. We believe I have a chance to have a full recovery.
“When your only job is to get better and there’s a real chance to get back on the podium, everybody would do that.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)