The Tour de Ski has moved on from Germany to Italy, and along with it, American Holly Brooks has gone from being eine zähe dame to una signora dura.
An MRI on Monday morning revealed that the tough lady has been racing with non-displaced fractures at the end of her radius—one of the bones in her forearm—as well as a “big bone bruise.”
After her 53rd place finish in Stage 5 of the Tour, a 3 k classic race, Brooks said that she would continue despite the injury.
“Even though I’m not racing like I wish I was, I still feel like I’m learning and taking stuff away, maybe for later,” she said. “I know there are a lot of other people who would have wanted to be here, so I feel like it’s up to me to make the most of it, learn what I can, and get some more starts under my belt.”
After a sparkling opening to the season, in which she finished as high as 13th on the World Cup, Brooks’s results have suffered since the start of the Tour last week.
She said she wasn’t sure how much of the downturn to attribute to her wrist injury, which she suffered in a fall during a jog over the Christmas break, but she added that the wrist has definitely been causing her “shooting pain” when she’s racing.
“Who’s to say? Maybe my body isn’t there, either,” she said. “I don’t really know why I’m slowing down so much. I don’t know if it’s all the wrist, or just some of the wrist and some body. It’s hard to say, but it’s frustrating, for sure.”
One potential solution to Brooks’s wrist problems was a custom-fit cast, which she obtained before the Americans left Germany on Monday. After her MRI, she and her teammates Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen followed a cast-maker some 15 kilometers from the hospital to his studio.
Brooks said she traded one of her World Cup bibs for the cast, which has a hard shell on the outside and a soft lining on the inside, to allow her to hold her ski pole.
She’d planned to use it during Tuesday’s race, but she said it didn’t give her the range of movement she needed.
For now, Brooks says she’s planning to finish out the Tour, despite what she said was a risk of aggravating her injury if she falls on her bad arm.
“As long as it’s not a complete, complete disaster, I’m just going to keep going as best I can, and see what happens,” she said. “After the Tour, I’m kind of going to have to re-evaluate. In order for my wrist to really heal, I may just have to stay off of it—I’m not really sure that racing is the best thing right now.”
If Liz Stephen wanted to know just how far she has to go to get to the top of women’s cross-country skiing, she got a firsthand look during her race on Tuesday, in which she finished 56th.
Stephen started in a Norwegian sandwich: one place behind Therese Johaug, and one place ahead of Marit Bjoergen, the eventual winner.
On what it was like to start in that part of the field: “Last night, [teammate] Holly [Brooks] goes, ‘Oh, Liz, you’re in a Johaug-Bjoergen sandwich! And I was like, ‘Oh no!’ I was trying to see Johaug for some of the race, but she was way ahead—I think she had a good one—and Bjoergen had an awesome one. She passed me a lot earlier than I was hoping today. I was kind of hoping I would be able to stay in front of her until the top of [the] second hill, and then be
able to just kind of hang with her through that double hill. She glided up the hill and I lost a lot of speed [out of the track], but it doesn’t help to complain about it. It’s just where it happened. But it was interesting, for sure—I’ve never started between such fast people like that. That was cool, for sure. It’s better to be put right in there with them than to just not have a chance at all, so I had more chance than I usually have, so that was cool.”
“It’s funny—the cameras definitely love the end of the pack. That’s where the fast girls are. So I’m sure I got some TV time today, just because of that, which is fun.”
On how she felt: “The body was awful today. I felt weak, and no good…. We had kind of a long travel day. We wanted to ski yesterday, and we were going to do some intervals and pickups and try to keep the body awake…[but] we got here at like 6 p.m. Little things like that. First day off in four days.”
On whether that hurt her: “I think so…The body definitely didn’t feel like it usually does. No juice in the tank. Gotta fuel up tonight.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.