Invermere’s local alpine ski star Manny Osborne-Paradise is back on the slopes, making turns with his daughter Sloane on the bunny hill at Panorama Mountain Resort.
Sure, he’s just lapping the carpet and poma runs with three-year-old Sloane, steering clear of the chair lift for now, but these are the first turns the 11-time World Cup skier and four-time Olympian has made on snow since a devastating crash into hillside safety nets during a World Cup training run in Lake Louise in November 2018.
That crash shattered Manny’s tibia and fibula dramatically enough that many assumed it was a career-ending crash. Some thought he’d never ski again, that indeed he might even lose his leg. The tibia fracture was a 5 out of 6 on the Schatzker scale (a six is typically associated with quite literally being run over by a vehicle) and there were complications from compartment syndrome, which saw Manny’s leg swell grotesquely due to the trauma of the crash and which doctors had to constantly cut to let it bleed out, lest the pressure get too much. “It (compartment syndrome) is actually one of the easiest ways to lose a limb,” Manny told the Pioneer.
But just 15 months, 10 surgeries (three major and seven minor), more than a dozen screws, a few titanium plates, part of a new hip hone, and a bit of bone cement later, Manny has set his sights on skiing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, his fifth Olympics, a comeback that some commentators say would be among the greatest ever in the sport, on par with Herman Maier’s return from a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2001 and Brian Stemmle’s recovery from a horrific and almost-life ending crash during a 1989 race.
The last of Manny’s 10 surgeries, in December, was supposed to just involve removing a screw, but the doctors realized that Manny’s meniscus was not attached to the knee they had constructed for him and began to work on that immediately.
“It was a bit of shock,” said Manny, adding it definitely set his recovery back. Frustrating to be certain, since he felt he was moving forward with the healing process well in the fall, but Manny is taking it in stride and keeping a positive attitude.
“It was back to being on crutches for most of January. You have to roll with it and adapt. With any injury, there are often a couple steps forward and then a couple steps back. Obviously I wish it (getting back on skis) had gone a bit faster, but you always wish that,” he said. “It’s all part of the process. I’m in much less pain now.”
With his bones now mostly healed, Manny is working on getting his muscle mass and strength back up to within 10 per cent left-to-right, sticking vigilantly to his workout routine, and even doing some cross-training on skates. (“Edges are edges, whether they’re on skates or skis, and it’s nice to finally be doing some edge work, even if it’s on skates instead of skis,” he said of the cross-training.)
And for the time being, skiing in any shape or form is fantastic, according to Manny.
“It’s been a long time since the injury. It’s really great to be on the snow, taking it easy and enjoying the time with family,” he said. “A lot of people around me, who are medical professionals, thought that (crash) might be it for me for racing. But at no point did my Alpine Canada surgeon second guess that I would be able to get back on the snow. And that belief helps, him knowing what is possible in terms of recovery. He’s like the general that led the medical troops. You kind of feed on that.”
Even with that, recovery from an injury like Manny’s crash is not easy, and it’s an effort Manny takes very seriously.
“It’s my job to come back. It’s been a year and a half of doing everything I can, working, grinding, and pushing to come back,” he said.
In the not-too-distant future Manny and his wife Lana will be following two little skiers down the slopes; Lana is pregnant and they are expecting their second child to arrive in about a month’s time.
“I’m glad to be part of Sloane learning to ski. Skiing is my life, and it’s great to be able to share that with your kids. Of course I am happy to support my kids in whatever they pursue, no matter what it is. As a parent, you want to open your kids’ eyes to every sport and activity that their heart desires and then let them pick their own path,” said Manny, before adding with a chuckle that “well yes, if they do grow up to ski that opens up the possibility of family ski trip vacations in the future. And that would be really fun.”