Kaya Turski’s Mental Olympics
No pro athlete strives to be the best at being hurt. Yet sometimes a little expertise in the worst side of the sport goes a long way, something Canadian Kaya Turski, the most decorated female slopestyle skier in X Games history, has learned one surgery at a time.
In August, while training at Mount Hood, Ore., Turski suffered her third torn ACL. She was just over six months away from her sport's Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia, but Turski didn't hit the panic button. Instead, she's turning the experience into her biggest ally.
"It's definitely not hurting me to have gone through this before," says Turski, 25. "Dealing with something like this for the first time is a big mental game -- you're not sure what's going on, what you're feeling in the knee and what to expect. But I've done it twice already, so it's not going to freak me out."
Kaya Turski has won seven X Games gold medals in Women's Ski Slopestyle. In February, she'll be a top contender from Canada for a gold medal in slopestyle's Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia.
If anything, the setback has pushed her into overdrive. She underwent an experimental ACL surgery that uses a synthetic ligament to cut recovery time in half, with hopes of getting back on snow in time for Sochi.
But Turski is the first to admit that surgery and training are only half of the rehabilitation process. When the body goes down, the mind and psyche go with it. In the end, physical recovery is only as good as one's mental recovery, she says.
"You're battling a lot of pressure from yourself," she says. "Dealing with that pressure, the fear of reinjury, timelines, deadlines -- it's quite a bit to wrap your head around."
She knows a successful rehab is never a solo effort. So she's linked up with physical trainers and a sports psychologist provided by her sponsor Red Bull to ease anxiety during the recovery process. "Being able to talk to somebody about what you're going through is really important," she says. "There are a lot more mental and emotional aspects to the whole elite athlete life than people know and recognize."
The Canadian skier has built a career on performing under pressure without showing much emotion, or, as she puts it, "skiing behind a black mask."
But now, she's opening up. She recently linked up with The Huffington Post for a series of detailed blog entries that explore the cracks underneath Turski's smooth exterior. Entries are raw and provide an honest look at Turski's insecurities.
"Why was I doing all of this? To return to a sport that had torn me apart, body and soul, over and over again," a recent entry on her blog reads. "Skiing was the last thing I wanted to think about, yet it felt like that was all there was to concentrate on."
Despite the struggles, Turski has found an inner strength in sharing her ordeal. "I'm getting a lot of great feedback and there are a lot of positive things coming out of it, so that's rewarding," she says.
Most of all, she says, despite her injury -- or perhaps because of it -- her focus on her sport has never been stronger.
"The hope is still there, and I truly believe I have it in me to continue on and do what I do best. I'm all-in … with not much else to lose."