Good things come to those who wait. That is something that ski jumper Cara Larson had to keep reminding herself during a 15-month break from ski jumping.
Larson tore her ACL in March of 2018 at the Junior National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. “That was tough, especially because I didn’t think the recovery process would be 15 months.” The plan was to jump last winter. In February, Larson flew to Park City, Utah in order to test her knee strength- with the hopes of competing in the last few competitions of the season.
Instead, she left that testing session feeling completely lost. In her own words, “I didn’t even know what to do with myself in that moment.” Larson had scored an 83% on the test which meant her knee wasn’t ready. She labeled this as the single hardest moment in her recovery process.
What Larson did next was get on a plane and fly home to Barrington, Illinois- all hopes of winter jumping were over. “That was just frustrating. I obviously understood why I couldn’t be back, but it was annoying having to fly back home without jumping.” The next few months were dedicated to steering away from a traditional ACL recovery process and focus on ski jumping specific strength.
Almost four months later, on June 25th, right after graduating from high school, Larson arrived back to Park City to test her knee again. This was the same process she went through back in February- a déjà vu of sorts. Obviously, she was nervous, though that emotion increased after the results of this June test seemed off. “I had just driven 24 hours by myself, so we decided to wait a few days and try again,” says Larson.
Two days later, Larson returned to the gym for hopefully her final test. She couldn’t imagine going through those February emotions again. Luckily, she passed and was given the go-ahead to fly again. She would do so in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the annual Fourth of July camp.
When asked how it felt to be hiking up Howelsen Hill with skis in hand, Larson replies, “My mind almost shut off, I don’t remember feeling a certain kind of way.” Her demeanor was surely different after such a long break. “Usually I’m chatty at the top of the jump. I don’t even remember who was up there or who I talked to.”
Simple routines which are played out over and over again before a ski jump were things she hadn’t done in almost a year and a half. “I was shaking and could barely tie my boots,” Larson remembers. Once she pushed out onto the bar and looked down the jump, there was no turning back. She saw her coach wave his flag and let go of the bar.
On that first jump, she didn’t even think about her knee. She was so focused on the movements required, that all the nerves crumbled away. After 15 long months, she was right back where she belonged- ski jumping amongst her teammates. “Us girls have always been so close, it feels so good to be back,” says Larson.
She competed in Steamboat Springs that week and notched an 8th place finish. A few weeks later in Park City, Utah she found herself on the podium in the Springer Tournee Competition and followed that up with a 6th place at US National Championships last weekend. It’s fair to say that Larson has picked up possibly even ahead of where she left off, which is fairly uncommon after such an injury.
Larson is now heading off to Europe with her coaches and teammates for a training camp. She will spend time in Slovenia and Poland before flying home on August 11th to start school at the University of Utah.
When asked about her goals for the upcoming winter, Larson says, “To keep the knee healthy, keep myself happy, and get back to competing in Europe.” If this summer is any indication of what’s to come, great things are ahead.