Holly Brooks’ 2012 season was off to a magical start. Building on strong World Cup results at the end of the 2011 season, Brooks took advantage of the start rights provided by her SuperTour title the season before, quickly establishing herself as a consistent points threat in all formats and distances.
Heading into the Christmas break, she had placed in the top-30 five times in nine individual starts, putting herself in good position in the quest for Red Group status, and the associated funding.
But a literal, and momentary misstep, brought about a dramatic reversal of fortunes, not only slowing the Alaska Pacific University (APU) skier, but potentially ending her season.
While out for a run over Christmas in Ramsau, Austria, she slipped on ice, falling hard on an outstretched hand. With the start of the Tour de Ski just days away, Brooks had no time to rest, or even wait for a full diagnosis of the injury.
During the Tour, in which the painful wrist limited her ability to drive on her poles, Brooks discovered she had broken a bone, an injury that usually requires six weeks in a full cast to heal.
She completed the Tour, but was only able to make it into the points once in the nine-stage event. By this time an MRI had been sent to the US, the nature of her injury fully realized. Brooks was faced with a choice—return home to the US to work with her own doctors and physical therapists, or remain in Europe and hopefully salvage the season.
Ultimately Brooks opted for the later, writing on her blog “There were some people that encouraged me to return to Alaska to rehab my wrist, but when it came down to it, the 30+ hours of travel each way, and the 10-hour time difference make it nearly impossible to do.”
Instead she returned to Ramsau, where the US Tour de Ski athletes spent Christmas training.
APU Head Coach Erik Flora told FasterSkier that Brooks’ strong racing earlier in the season was the main factor in remaining in Europe.
“It made all the difference,” Flora said. “Her good results in period one made for a hard decision whether she should return to the states or stay in Europe. With good results the best option was to stay in Europe, let her wrist rest, then resume racing as soon as reasonable.”
Brooks is not a member of the US Ski Team (USST) and is responsible for all her own travel costs. A strong finish to the season could gain her Red Group funding and automatic inclusion on the USST.
Had she returned to Alaska, ending her European campaign, she would have been back to square one in 2013, potentially without even the Continental Cup leader start rights that jumpstarted this season.
Alone in Ramsau she began a period of both recovery for the wrist, and training to maintain fitness.
Immediately following the conclusion of the Tour, she rested and spent time running, biking, and swimming before resuming skiing.
“She has skied for two weeks with only one pole, only skiing the last few days with two poles,” Flora said earlier in the week, adding that “her fitness is as high as in period one before she broke her wrist,” and that he believes her form should allow her to jump back into the points.
“The idea is to reintroduce poles at distance, then at threshold intervals, VO2 intervals, speed, and finally, in racing,” Brooks told FasterSkier. “When I’m not skiing, I rest the wrist in a brace and ice after workouts.”
It has been just five weeks since the intial injury, so had she followed the conservative path, she would have another week in a cast. Instead she will be putting Flora’s belief in her points-scoring ability to test in Rybinsk, Russia.
Assuming temperatures rise above legal International Ski Federation (FIS) limits, Brooks will rejoin the World Cup, contesting the 10km skate mass start on Saturday and the 15km skiathlon on Sunday.
Flora is confident in the decision to resume racing so quickly.
“My first concern is for Holly’s safety and long term health,” he told FasterSkier. “Our medical consultation indicated it is safe to return to competition.”
Brooks said she is “really excited to start racing again,” and that the predicted “Alaska-like” temperatures could suit her well.
She was somewhat more reserved than Flora when asked to evaluate her current fitness level however.
“It’s really hard to tell exactly where my fitness stands,” she said noting that she has lost strength in the one arm and possibly her core as well.
But she is hoping she has made up for that with gains in her legs.
Flora is currently in Europe with the USST and Brooks’ APU teammates Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen, both USST members.
“We’re both hopeful that I can pick up near where I left off in December, but only time will tell,” Brooks said.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.