Sports

Concussions end Mullen's career

Wiping tears, Canadian downhill skier Cary Mullen told teammates and family Thursday his racing days are over after suffering a series of concussions.

"Sorry, I'm a little emotional," Mullen told about 70 people. "I'm here with sad news.

"I have to hang up my race skies due to sustaining three concussions."

Mullen, 31, is the last Canadian to win a World Cup downhill -- his only world cup victory -- in Aspen, Colo., in 1994.

In 1997, Mullen suffered a concussion in a spectacular crash at the season-opening World Cup downhill race in Beaver Creek, Colo., shattering his dreams of competing in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

The double-vision and headaches from that spill finally subsided in August of 1998.

Mullen returned to the slopes that November only to suffer another concussion in a bad fall during a Super-G race at Aspen.

The final blow came, ironically enough, on Friday, Dec. 13, 1999, when Mullen fell while skiing at Val d'Isere, France, following a World Cup race.

His racing career was in limbo -- until recently, when his doctors recommended he stop.

"I had to live my life like a 95-year-old man," he said of his frail, battered body.

"Looking back, was it worth it? All the blood, sweat and tears, three concussions. I thought about that a lot," he said lowering his head.

But it didn't take long for Mullen to answer his own nagging question.

"Absolutely -- worth it all the way."

Mullen, from Calgary, officially announced his retirement while his teammates prepare for this weekend's men's World Cup event in Lake Louise, Alta.

Max Gartner, former Canadian Alpine Ski Team coach, said Mullen was driven to race, that it was in his blood.

"You never had to motivate him," Gartner said. "You just had to hold him back to make sure he never hurt himself."

Edi Podivinsky, one of Canada's top male ski racers, said he had skied with Mullen since 14.

"I can honestly say every good result I've had is from chasing Cary Mullen," the native of Edmonton said.

"I'm proud to say he is going out in a right way -- in real Crazy Canuck fashion -- not getting bumped out of the top 30 and retiring, but going out with a head injury."

Podivinsky described his friend as being extremely motivated, driven -- not just by ski racing -- but also by gymnastics, rodeo and public speaking.

As for new aspirations, Mullen said he wants to coach -- not only skiing but also motivational Dale Carnegie courses.

"I'm turning one passion over for another," he said.

The Mullen name is synonymous with ski racing in Alberta.

Born in Calgary and raised in Banff, Mullen's cousin, Chad Mullen, 26, is known for his lightning speed.

Chad's sister, Megan Mullen, is the technical skier in the family, tackling slaloms and Super Giant slaloms.

Megan has also had her struggles recovering from painful accidents.

A few days after Cary's Colorado crash, Megan, 21, was almost killed in a minivan accident in Italy.

She was left with a broken nose, jaw, cheekbones and hand.

With dozens of screws and eight plates holding her jaw and cheekbones in place, she slowly recovered and is skiing competitively again.

Saturday's downhill race at Lake Louise is Chad's first world competition since he dropped from the circuit two years ago.

Watching his relatives get injured skiing put a damper on his motivation, Chad said.

"I wasn't able to perform to the best of my ability," he said.

The two cousins talked several times about whether Cary should retire.

"I think it's the right decision for him," Chad said. "One more head injury could be the end of his life."

By Carol Harrington