When Noah Hoffman broke his fibula in November there was much uncertainty surrounding his return – his coaches, loved ones, and fans wondered whether he could overcome the injury’s serious consequences to race in the year’s World Championships, let alone the 2015 season. However, one person was certain America’s leading distance skier would be back at a start line by mid-February: Hoffman himself.
“Things were looking really good all along and I always was really convinced that I was going to be here and ready to go,” Hoffman said in a phone interview from Östersund, Sweden, where he is preparing for Sunday’s World Cup 15 k freestyle.
Hoffman’s certainty of return stemmed from a variety of factors that aided his speedy recovery, including his medical care. The Colorado native credited much his quick return to skiing to Dr. Thomas Clanton of the Steadman Clinic in Vail, who had Hoffman in surgery within four days of the fracture.
“The medical team I worked with was world class. Dr. Thomas Clanton is maybe the best ankle guy in the world, certainly one of the best in the U.S.,” Hoffman said. “Within four days he was operating on me. The timeline of that was crucial.”
Hoffman explained he had no idea what to expect when he flew back to the U.S. following the accident, but that once he was examined, Clanton gave him hope for the year ahead. After studying the year’s World Cup schedule Clanton said there was a chance Hoffman could race at the Östersund World Cup and the following week’s World Championships in Falun, Sweden.
Hoffman originally explored returning to the World Cup by late January and was ready to obtain his Russian visa, even if there was a “two-percent chance” he would be able to compete. In the end, however, Clanton told Hoffman to focus on returning in time for competition in Sweden.
“He said ‘I think we can get you back to World Championships and Östersund,’ and here I am,” Hoffman said of his doctor. “He knew what he was talking about. He set the timeline and I did everything to make that happen.”
Hoffman said that one he heard Clanton’s plan, he never questioned whether he’d go to Sweden despite the doctor’s warnings it was a “remote possibility.”
Hoffman also credited much of his recovery to the work of physical therapist Ana Jeronimus-Robinson, a foot and ankle specialist who has worked with the U.S. Ski Team in the past and will be in Falun, Sweden for Worlds.
To maintain his fitness, Hoffman spent many long hours on the hand bike, skierg, and in the pool, which he described as being “like torture.” He slowly introduced skiing – only double-poling at first and then progressing to striding and skating.
Hoffman said that the most challenging part of his recovery wasn’t the primary effects of the injury, but rather the hectic lifestyle in the U.S. Between physical therapy, training, leading community ski clinics, and working with local juniors Hoffman was wary of his energy levels.
“It was just a lot to manage,” Hoffman explained of the recovery process. “That was the most challenging part – managing my time, trying to keep good energy without overdoing it.”
Heading into Sunday’s 15 k freestyle in Östersund, Hoffman said he doesn’t know what to expect. He explained that his main objective will be to execute a well planned-race, including relaxed skiing and smart pacing. With no result-based goals for the World Cup or World Championships, his focus will be on skiing to the best of his abilities – whatever they may be.
“There’s no real reason to think that I won’t be good, but there’s no real reason to think I will be good, having not finished a World Cup since last March. I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’m looking forward to racing and just going out there to ski the way I know I need to ski. I’m as curious as everyone else is.”
For now, Hoffman is taking it “day by day” and is focusing on the Östersund 15 k before shifting his attention to Worlds. He said that he hopes to see improvement in each of his races, so that his best skiing comes by the last World Cup the season March 14 – the 50 k freestyle in Oslo, Norway.
The Östersund World Cup begins Saturday with a classic sprint and concludes with Sunday’s 15 k freestyle. The 2015 World Championships begin in Falun, Sweden Feb. 18 and continue until March 1.
For a detailed account of Hoffman’s recovery, visit his blog.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.