I was feeling like a caged animal. My training and my focus had come together for a dominating day on the Olympic trails in Whistler. I was skiing in the lead pack and then… we started skating… and I could not move. Every step and every push I made felt wrong. I couldn’t relax and I was almost falling on every downhill corner. My heart rate was low but I just couldn’t make my legs function the way I had trained them too. I lost twelve places and a massive three minutes at the finish to the group I had been skiing with. I crossed the finish line disillusioned and in shock. My coach, Zach, was so confused about my performance that he had just puked in the woods. What was going on?
The next day was a sprint relay. I skied the first lap of my race with no effort at all. The next lap my legs seized and the same helpless feeling came over me again. The harder I tried to fight what was grasping them the more they hurt and would not respond. Once again I crossed the line completely dumbfounded. I felt like I was in the shape of my life but I couldn’t ski. Once again Zach had no answers until his wife said that it looked like I was skiing with compartment syndrome again. Compartment syndrome is a condition in the shins where the fascia, or protective covering of the muscles, restricts circulation, causing pressure, swelling and numbness in the the muscle. Basically the muscle outgrows its protective sheath and the blood has nowhere to go. I had a compartment release on these muscles in 2001 after experiencing very similar symptoms to what occurred in Whistler. Zach asked me if I thought I might have compartment syndrome again and after thinking about it on a short cool down ski I realized that it felt exactly like I did.
I went home and three surgical consultations later, my anterior compartment, or the muscle right on top of the shin, was found to have twice the pressure in it than it should. My legs have relapsed. All of my planning for the remainder of this season had been derailed. Before I knew it I had schedule a surgery in Vail Colorado on the 3rd of March. I could still classic ski without much discomfort so Zach and I decided that I would still compete at the World Championships in the classical events. After WCs I will waste no more time. The Olympics are next season and I need all the recovery time I can get. I have no choice but to skip the last month of the season.
This had been an extremely difficult month for me. I have a serious injury/condition. It will make it difficult to perform at my full potential in my remaining races and the surgery will put me out of serious training for three months. On top of this my doctors have advised me not to skate at all in my preparation for WCs. New England is having its best winter in decades, my home ski area Waterville Valley has corduroy trails coming out of their ears and I am restricted to the tracks. I really do love skiing. Not being able to do something I love is the hardest part.
Kris Freeman is a longtime member of the US Ski Team and the top-ranked distance skier in the United States.