CATCHING UP WITH MICHELLE PARKER – Tahoe Native Talks Recovery, Driving Fast Cars, and Filming
In March 2009, while filming with MSP Films in British Columbia, Michelle Parker endured a season-ending crash. Again. The resulting knee injury required two surgeries and a three-month stint on crutches, all of this followed by a torn ACL the previous year. And that marked just the beginning of a lengthy recovery. While an injury of this magnitude might take another skier off the map entirely, it has hardly thwarted Parker’s spirit or perspective. Catching up with Michelle off the slopes lends insight into why the talented rider’s determination, hard work and personal reflection will aid her return to the mountains as a stronger and better skier than before.
Powder: Let’s talk about your 2009 season. You had just finished second in slopestyle at the Northstar Dew Tour and you were one of two women filming with Matchstick when an injury took you out for the season. Where were you when the injury occurred and what happened?
MP: I was on an Orage team trip up at Retallack, B.C. filming with MSP. It was the last day of our shoot and I hit a small cliff—maybe only 10-15 feet—and landed on a shark fin-shaped rock under the snow. It had been snowing a ton. So landing on a rock wasn’t really a concern. I noticed right away that my right kneecap was dislocated. I felt a couple of misplaced bumps on my leg and the pain was pretty intense. We were cat skiing so they opted out of driving me down in the bumpy cat and called in a heli. Three and a half hours later, I arrived at the hospital and they put my kneecap back into place. I knew right away that my knee was messed up, more than just the dislocation. When the doc put the kneecap in place, it slowly started to droop to the outside of my leg.
When the MRI came back, I was expecting the worse. That way, I wasn’t too bummed when I got the results, and they told me I needed two surgeries. All in all, I needed ACL reconstruction, medial patellofemoral reconstruction, micro fracture for the cartilage damage, and a fixed up meniscus. My surgery was booked for three days later. The surgery lasted about five hours and I ended up staying the night in the hospital. By then, you’ve already reached your deductable, so the night in the hospital almost makes sense. It helped a lot with the initial pain and nausea from the anesthesia.
Powder: So what has your recovery been like so far? I hear you have been hitting the gym with Scott Gaffney (MSP cinematographer/editor), who is also recovering from a knee injury.
MP: After my first surgery, I was laid up for a while. They replaced everything except my ACL, and, because of the micro fracture, I was on crutches for three months. Once I ditched the crutches I was able to do a lot more in the gym. My physical therapist, Ladd, is amazing. He’s the same therapist that helped C.R. [Johnson] come back from his head injury, and he also helped a Truckee local, Roy Tuscany, walk after being paralyzed. He’s been super supportive and motivating.
I’m one of those people who builds scar tissue super fast and strong, that’s been my biggest battle. Every other day I’ve been in P.T. working on my range and the pain is like nothing I’ve experienced. I’m that patient that’s screaming, gripping the table white knuckled, and shaking while getting worked on.
My first surgery was on March 26th; the second on July 2nd. It’s been a long process and I’m still working on my range, but my motivation is as strong as ever. Ladd pushes me in a really productive way. When I don’t think I can take the pain anymore, he’s there coaxing me on along with Scott Gaffney. Scott’s been amazing to have around. Since we’re going through a super similar injury, we’ve been teammates throughout this whole process. He pins me down to the table during the stretches so I don’t move and try to get out of the pain. It goes both ways. It’s always fun at P.T. with Scott there too. The other day, Ladd and I came up with this silly exercise for Scott. He had to do lunges on his tippy toes. I laughed so hard I cried.
This is my second major injury, but I almost wouldn’t consider a blown ACL a major injury anymore. This one has been so much more difficult than the ACL. I’ve come to realize that it can always be worse.
Powder: So what have you been up to since you can’t ski? I hear you’ve gone to a couple of car racing camps? Do you have any Danica Patrick aspirations?
MP: Yeah, I’ve been to a couple of race and driving academies this summer. I went to the Mercedes AMG driving academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, with a bunch of other action sport athletes. That opened up my eyes to a whole other sport for sure. We’ll see where that goes. Right when I came home from that, I went to an off road driving school with Emily Miller and Rod Hall as our coaches. The two schools were completely different but both valuable to handling a car in different situations. I thoroughly enjoyed both.
Powder: I’ve also noticed that you have been hitting the books? How important is school to you?
MP: When I got hurt, I thought it was a great opportunity for me to go to school. I’ve always wanted to take classes and I love to learn, so it seemed like a great way to occupy my mind and energy. So far I’ve been working in the GEDs, but all of the classes have been super interesting and valuable. If there were anything that I am working towards with school it would be in the environmental science direction. That’s a very broad subject. I haven’t figured out what part of the environmental sciences I am interested in as a career yet, but I could see myself doing something with architecture and design or even with food and farming.
I’m constantly working towards becoming a more “green” human being and my environment and human impact class has taught me a lot in this aspect of my life. I’m currently building a worm compost set up for my house and am really excited about it. It might sound weird that I’m really excited to have a compost in my house, but that’s the type of stuff that interests me. We live in such a wasteful society! I’m constantly giving my roommates and parents talks about being more “green.” I hope I don’t get on their nerves, but I’m the type of person that cringes when I see a can in the trash or when people wash dishes with the water running full blast.
I have yet to figure out a good balance between these moral issues and my skiing career. It’s tough and I know a lot of people are probably reading this thinking, ‘So you say you are environmentally aware, but you went to two driving schools,’ but it’s more of something that I am working towards. I actually brought up this issue when I was in Florida, and they had a super good point to make that it’s the car racers that have been working and developing most of the gas efficient cars, hybrids, and electric cars.
Powder: So what are your plans for the upcoming season? How important is it for you to compete in events like the Dew Tour and Winter X Games in addition to filming? Do your sponsors expect it? Do you count on the prize money in terms of making a living?
MP: I’m skiing for the love of it. If I’m not enjoying myself then it isn’t really worth it. I don’t ski for money. I don’t ski to win competitions. That’s not what I love about skiing. Skiing is my biggest passion and I will do it until the day I die or my knees fall apart. As far as this upcoming year, I’m taking things one step at a time with no expectations. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
Powder: Will you be given the chance to film with Matchstick again? What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about filming this far in your career? What is harder for you—the pressure of competing or filming?
MP: I am planning on working with MSP for sure. They’ve been nothing but supportive throughout this injury and have been motivating me to get back on my skis, especially having Scott there to remind me of my future in skiing and filming.
I’ve been trying to get a full segment together for a while now and so far I don’t feel like I’ve done that. I think a lot of what I’ve learned about filming has been to put in a ton of hard work. It’s been an uphill battle for females in this industry to get film segments. My biggest lesson yet was going up to Haines, Alaska, and taking the guide school course. I felt like I needed a solid knowledge base to feel comfortable in the backcountry. This was super important to me, and I am so glad that I completed the course.
When I am competing, I don’t put any pressure on myself; I just ski my best. When I’m filming, I’m super competitive with myself. I’m always trying to improve. It’s tough in filming though because I don’t see my shots until they are ready to be edited, so it’s not instant gratification like winning a competition. It keeps me working hard all year, but I feel the most pressure when there are three cameras, one on a dolly that took thirty minutes to set up, one still camera, and a bunch of other athletes waiting for their turn. You’ve got to be on point in that moment. You’ve got to stomp the landing, get your grab, whatever…the pressure is on. At the end of the day, all that matters to me is that I’m having fun. So I would say that the pressure is minimal and pretty easy to deal with. I’d say that the most pressure I put on myself is to not let other people down. I hate being late, getting my sled stuck, or forgetting my boots….stuff like that disappoints me a bit, but it’s all a big learning process.
Powder: What are your goals with skiing?
MP: My goal is to have a really well rounded part one day; park shots, backcountry jumps, big mountain lines, the whole shebang. Whenever I learn a new trick in the park, my first thoughts are to get it down perfect so that I can do it into powder off a natural hit or jump. The only other girl right now that I can think of who is doing this would be Grete [Eliassen]. The girl can ski, hit jumps, and all of that. That’s what I like to see.
Powder: And finally, when can we expect to see you on skis again?
MP: Right now, I’ll just say that I’ll be skiing when I feel like I am ready for it.
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