When Canadian freestyle skier Kaya Turski first learned she had torn the ACL in her left knee two weeks ago, the initial sick feeling running through her body was understandable.
The normal recovery time facing an elite athlete from such a serious injury takes about six to nine months.
That would’ve meant no Olympics for Turski, the 2013 world ski slopestyle champion and three-time X-Games title holder.
"It was obviously devastating when it happened," the 25-year-old Montreal native told CBCSports.ca. "A lot crossed my mind at that point, definitely. I thought about my career, [missing] the Olympics, my sponsors."
Turski, considered to be the gold medal favourite for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February, suffered the injury while training with the national team in Mt. Hood, Ore.
The Canadian was working on a new move, an unnatural switch 720.
"It’s the way that I don’t usually spin and it’s two full rotations while taking off backwards," she said. "You just kind of lose your air sense because it’s a very foreign trick. That’s what happened. I came around, I wasn’t expecting to land at that point. I was just pretty lost in the air, so when I came around and hit the snow, my legs just weren’t ready to catch me. And there was some torque involved so [my knee] let go."
But all is not lost.
While a regular ACL operation would likely have wiped out her Olympic dream, Turski underwent an alternative surgery on Monday and is expected back on the snow by November — or December at the very latest.
The procedure was performed in London, Ont., by the renowned Dr. Bob Litchfield, the surgeon for Canada’s Alpine ski team.
Instead of taking a graft from the hamstring, patella tendon or a cadaver, Litchfield used a synthetic implant to repair the ACL, thus cutting the recovery time in half.
"A regular graft typically takes so long because it's a foreign tissue [and] it still needs to adapt to being in the body. It loses a lot of its mass, and then it kind of gains strength again throughout the rehab process months later," said Turski, who went public with her injury on Monday via Twitter.
"The graft that I got is completely synthetic. It’s not a real graft, it’s in my body and the only thing that really needs to heal now is the bone, which only takes a couple of months. And the [synthetic] graft doesn’t need to conform to the body, it doesn’t need to adjust, it doesn’t lose any blood flow."
The plan is for Turski to be on crutches for about a week, and then hopefully start an aggressive rehab. She also believes that the two previous ACL tears she suffered in 2006 (right knee) and 2010 (left knee) will play in her favour during this recovery period.
"I know exactly what to expect," Turski said. "The first time around was a little scary but you learn quickly that the road isn’t straight. I know what the roadblocks might be and how to overcome them. The team of therapists and trainers I’m working with during this rehab…I’ve done two rehabs with already. Everyone is very familiar with my body, how I work, and so we definitely have an advantage in that regard."
Competitors doubting Turski’s ability to be a major force come Sochi may be in for a rude awakening. Nothing has changed for the Canadian, who believes she’s still the woman to beat when the sport debuts at the Winter Olympics in less than six months.
"Gold is by far still the focus," Turski said emphatically. "I fully believe that it’s possible. I’m going to do everything I can to make it on top of the podium. The goals haven’t changed. I’m no stranger to taking months off at a time and coming back strong.
"I feel like I got a huge advantage when it comes to the mental side of things. I do a lot of mental training already so I know it’s just going to be about working that side of things until I can get on the snow and do it physically. And then I don’t feel like it will take me long to catch up at all."
Look no further than Canadian coach Toben Sutherland to echo Turski’s resolve.
"I am very confident that Kaya can still challenge for the gold," he told CBCSports.ca in an email. "We, the team, will be supporting her and getting/giving her the tools and support she needs to be ready in the start gate in Sochi. She has the skiing skills to get the job done, no one and nothing can take that away from her.
"At this point it's a matter of staying focused on the recovery and continuing to trust that she is already a champion and has overcome similar challenges like this in the past to find herself on top of the podium."