Kelsey Serwa accepted the risks to reap the Olympic reward
Olympic champion in ski cross endured plenty of injuries en route to the top of the podium
By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports
If real-life experience as a patient counts for anything, Kelsey Serwa will no doubt make a stellar physiotherapist in her life after sport.
With three knee surgeries documented on a massive medical chart, Serwa fully accepts the risks that come with ripping down an Olympic ski cross course.
On Friday, the bionic woman – already dealing with arthritis at age 28 – rocketed over the finish line in first to seize Canada's 10th gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
"It is very cool," the proud Kelowna, B.C. product told reporters at Phoenix Snow Park . "It is very surreal to be the best in the world at something you put your heart into.
"I have an amazing support team around me who, from my head to my body, made sure everything was good. Our skis were rockets today."
Riding those rockets behind her in second was Britt Phelan, Serwa's protege, roommate and best friend.
"We woke up this morning at 5 a.m.," Serwa said. "Britt and I are morning people. So the alarm goes off and we're like, 'Good morning, let's go, we're at the Olympics, we're here to race.'"
And race they did in what is best described as roller derby on skis, with four competitors scrapping for position over bumps, jumps and rollers all the way down the mountain.
In the big final, Serwa shot out of the gate into first place. Phelan trailed the pack in fourth.
Showing incredible patience, Phelan waited until Switzerland's Fanny Smith and Sweden's Sandra Naeslund tangled in a sea of elbows and aggressively passed on the inside about halfway through the 90-second race.
"It couldn't have worked out any better: to finish second behind my best friend," said Phelan, who switched over from ski cross after competing in alpine ski racing at the 2014 Sochi Games. "It's like a dream come true."
As the youngest of three kids, Serwa grew up chasing her older siblings on the cragged slopes of Big White Ski Resort. The big kids repeatedly tried, and often failed, to give her the shake.
In Sochi, that scene repeated itself as she crossed the line in second behind Marielle Thompson for a Canada one-two finish.
This time around, victory belonged to her.
'Best moment of my life'
"Literally every step through that track I was like, 'All right, be present, be here, focus on the trail, on how I need to ski, be aerodynamic, stay low, make the backside of all the features,'" Serwa said. "Then it was just like, 'OK, I've done everything I can, get through this finish stretch' and that was it.
"I looked back and I saw Britt there and it was the best moment of my life."
The victory means Canada retains its dominance in women's ski cross, which first became an Olympic sport at the Vancouver Games. Ashleigh McIvor won gold on home snow in 2010, followed by Thompson in 2014 and now Serwa in 2018.
"You'd think they'd be feeling ecstatic coming across that finish line, but I see a sense of relief in their body language," McIvor said while providing commentary for Friday's race for CBC Sports. "It's just an incredible relief that comes with knowing you didn't let your support team down, your fans down, your country down, yourself down…
"This is a memory to be cherished for a lifetime."
For many, carnage will be the lasting memory of ski cross at these Olympics, especially with Canadians Chris Del Bosco and India Sherret both leaving the course via stretcher.
Del Bosco, 35, suffered a broken pelvis, four broken ribs and a bruised lung in the men's competition. Sherret, 21, is listed in stable condition in hospital with suspected back and hip injuries.
"It sucks when people go down, especially when they are your teammates," Serwa said. "I didn't see India's crash. It's nice we have such a wonderful medical team here.
"It's part of all sports, but that's partly why it's so exhilarating."
After Sochi, Serwa took a year off to heal her body and study human kinetics at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan in hopes of becoming a physiotherapist. She has toyed with the idea of one day attending the Olympic Summer Games as a member of the medical team.
Should that happen, Serwa will speak from personal experience when she tells her clients that injury, sometimes catastrophic, is almost inevitable in search of the Olympic podium.
"It's been a long four years for me," she said. "Definitely a lot of ups and downs, had to take some time off, went back to school, had another surgery….
"It's been a tedious process a bit, but everyone believed in me the whole way."
Most importantly, she believed in herself.
"I put everything into this," she said. "And I couldn't do any better."