Triumph and pain: 2 years following major leg injury, Manuel Osborne-Paradis retires
'I just don't have any more fight,' 36-year-old says of laborious comeback process
It was while training one day in August that Manuel Osborne-Paradis suddenly decided he was done being a ski racer.
After spending almost two years battling back from a horrific fall that left his leg so badly mangled there were fears it might not be saved, Osborne-Paradis realized he no longer had the fight left in him to be a downhill racer.
"Not the personal fight of becoming a good skier, but to fight the systemic structure of what it takes to be good," the 36-year-old explained in an interview from his home in Invermere, B.C. "I just don't have any more fight to try and have the team on my side for this comeback and have everybody believe in me as much as I believe in myself. The fight of making sure that all my coaches believe in me and that there is going to be enough money in my budget. That my trainers and I are doing the right thing.
"It was just the amount of energy that it takes every year. I just didn't have any more energy for that."
During 13 years of World Cup racing Osborne-Paradis had 11 podium finishes, including downhill victories in Kvitfjell, Norway, and Val Gardena, Italy, and one in super-giant slalom at Lake Louise, Alta. He also won a bronze medal in super-G at the 2017 World Ski Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
WATCH | Osborne-Paradis discusses his decision to retire:
Osborne-Paradis grabbed the ski world's attention in November 2006 when as a 22-year-old he finished second in the downhill at Lake Louise. His career would come to an agonizing end 12 years later on the same course.
During his first training run for the opening of the 2018 season he hit some soft snow and catapulted head over heels into a safety net, snapping his tibia and fibula. He underwent two major and seven minor surgeries. His leg was left a jigsaw puzzle of bone cement, titanium plates and 13 screws.
As late as this spring, Osborne-Paradis was determined to return to skiing, but the effects of COVID-19 on the World Cup season, and being the father of two young children, contributed to his decision to retire.
Looking at his career, Osborne-Paradis said his win at Val Gardena in 2009, his second career podium in Val d'Isere, France, in 2007, and his world championship medal are all highlights.
Prior to the Val Gardena race Osborne-Paradis told Austrian media he could win even though he was skiing against superstars like Austria's Michael Walchhofer and American Bode Miller.
"Having that confidence to say it before, not being scared of those guys," he said. "That was pretty cool."
His third-place in the Val d'Isere downhill was important because it proved his first podium at Lake Louise a few weeks earlier wasn't a fluke.
"I didn't want to be a one-hit wonder," he said.
Osborne-Paradis missed most of the 2011 season and all of 2012 after suffering a broken leg and torn knee ligaments in a crash at Chamonix, France. He battled back to celebrate his 33rd birthday by winning the super-G bronze at the world championships, sharing the podium with teammate Erik Guay, the gold medallist.
"It was a team effort," said Osborne-Paradis.
Phil McNichol became Alpine Canada's high performance director in March but became friends with Osborne-Paradis during his pervious job working with the U.S. Men's Alpine team.
WATCH | Osborne-Paradis on what it's like to speed down the hill:
He remembers Osborne-Paradis' "gregarious, happy personality" being matched by a fierce competitiveness.
"Manny's career was quite impressive," said McNichol. "You could never over-analyze what the race outcome would be through training because Manny was a such a competitor when the race bell went off."
McNichol thinks Osborne-Paradis can play a role with Alpine Canada.
"I would be willing to have him come in and help coach and mentor and interact with the athletes," he said.
Over the years, Osborne-Paradis has basked in the triumph of standing on the podium and suffered the pain of being carted off a mountain by stretcher. It's all been a learning experience.
"There's no boundaries," he said. "There's dead ends, and blockades and things that are tougher than others.
"I entered ski racing as a child, and I leave it as man. It taught me persistence and grit and kindness go a long ways to building up people around you, not just yourself."