Gretchen Bleiler returns to competition after accident
The first time back in the halfpipe, Gretchen Bleiler felt the pressure on herself. The double vision she’d been battling as the result of a training accident was gone. The snowboarder and Olympic medalist figured she’d build her confidence back quickly.
But coming off the worst injury of her career, Bleiler learned this wouldn’t be like recovering from an ACL tear.
“Getting back on the snow, that actually ended up being a little bit more complicated than I thought it was going to be,” said Bleiler, 31.
She makes her competitive return this week for the first time in nine months as she competes in a test event in Sochi, host of the 2014 Olympics.
A five-time X Games medalist, Bleiler has had to build back her confidence slowly as she’s returned to snow. She was practicing double backflips on a trampoline in June and over-rotated going for a back and quarter flip.
“When I threw the trick, I knew I had thrown it too hard,” she said this week.
Bleiler’s knee hit her right eye socket, fracturing it and her nose as well as giving her a concussion. After undergoing surgery, Bleiler struggled with double vision. Daily exercises have helped break up the scar tissue that holds her eye in one place and causes the double vision.
Bleiler can adjust her head in the halfpipe to avoid having double vision, which she only suffers from when she makes extreme upward or downward glances.
“At this point, my vision is great,” she said. “It’s not exactly what it was before the accident, but at this point it’s good.”
Now, the two-time Olympian sets her sights on a return to that stage. She’ll have tough competition just making the team.
In January at the X Games in Aspen, Bleiler’s hometown, Kelly Clark took gold, while Elena Hight won silver and 16-year-old Arielle Gold received bronze to give the United States a podium sweep.
Six Americans were in the final, and that didn’t include Bleiler after she opted not to compete.
Bleiler, Clark, Hight and Hannah Teter have been on the past two Olympic teams. But Gold is having a breakout year, winning the FIS Snowboard World Championships in early January before taking gold in the Burton European Open in Laax, Switzerland, last week.
For Bleiler, who won silver in the 2006 Olympics, making the team means returning to the success she had in medaling at the World Snowboarding Championship and the Burton European Open in 2012. Last season was “really great,” Bleiler said, and she’s been working on the way she spins.
Slower than she planned, she’s finding her confidence again.
“I’m feeling good right now,” she said. “At this point, I feel like I’m close to getting back to that point where I was last season.”
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