VANCOUVER 2010 / FULLY FOCUSED
It was a tough choice for one of Canada's top lugers: undergo surgery less than a year away from the Games. But her tough decision is slowly paying off and her recuperation has taught her patience in a sport of speed
CALGARY -- She's as pliable as silly putty, as bendable as a pipe cleaner and for a time that was a good thing for Regan Lauscher. She could find the perfect form as she slid feet-first down an icy canyon; body flat to the sled, head slightly raised to see where she was going.
Lauscher's Canadian teammates used to marvel at her elasticity and call her Gumby.
But that was before Lauscher's hyper-flexibility became a problem, one so serious that her shoulders refused to stay in place and required surgery less than two years before the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympics. And we're not talking quick and easy Minit-Lube operations, either.
Lauscher had her left shoulder done first. The doctor worked on the front and shortened the ligaments to tighten things up. That left the 29-year-old luger in a special sling, dubbed an immobilizer, for weeks on end.
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"There was a pad between my forearm and ribs," Lauscher said. "I had to wear it 24 hours a day. I told the doctor, 'The shoulder's fine but now you have to fix my ribs.' "
Then there was the surgery on the right shoulder three months later. Both the front and back required fixing. Plus, being right-handed and having her right arm incapacitated meant she had to adjust to doing even the simplest of things.
"I had to learn how to be very creative with my left hand when I was brushing my teeth, pouring milk on cereal. I learned to slow down but it was tough," Lauscher said. "Being a competitor is in my blood. You want to get out there and do more."
Doing the right amount and doing it smarter is now Lauscher's lot in life as she prepares for what may be her final Winter Games. If she trains too little, her chances of winning a medal go out the window. If she over-trains she could re-injure herself, badly. The only certainty was that she needed the surgeries to have any chance at winning in a sport where getting a good start is essential.
In luge, athletes push off at the top of the track then use their arms to paddle on the ice before lying horizontal. All that pushing and paddling - multiplied over a 10-year span - strained the hyper-mobility in Lauscher's shoulders to the point where they'd pop out of their sockets to excruciating pain followed by hours of relentless aching. Something had to be done. But there was no guarantee that, even with the surgeries, the seven-time national champion - and Canada's first luger to win a World Cup medal - would be ready for 2010.
"She was training as hard as she could and the more she did, the more it hurt," said Canadian Luge Association executive director Tim Farstad. "She made the decision that I admire - she decided to deal with it right away and put herself through that recovery. It was a step back to gain a step forward."
"I wasn't planning on having both shoulders operated on," Lauscher added. "By far, this is my biggest challenge, especially since the Games are so close. I have the potential to be in the top six."
The twin surgeries in 2008 went well but came with complications. Lauscher has had to re-learn how to train. She's had to listen to her body and know when to stop pushing.
So every day, ever mindful of the strains and tweaks and the damage they could cause, this is what she puts herself through: 2½ hours of circuit training or weights along with two hours of flexibility workouts. On Wednesdays, she and her teammates play floor hockey for 1½ hours then swim for another hour followed by two to three hours of aerobic training. Also included are regular 90-minute "technical training blocks" for working on race starts and paddling. Then there's some cross-training - gymnastics, yoga and Muya Thai boxing and the occasional round of golf.
That's the physical side. Mentally, Lauscher has been dealing with the nagging fact this is the first time she's had a serious injury. Her only other scare came in February, 2007, when she crashed during a race in Altenberg, Germany. Unable to hold her line, Lauscher slammed her head on the third-last corner and crossed the finish line unconscious on her sled. She still wound up with a sixth-place showing.
Her hope is that what she has accomplished in the past, and everything she is doing now, will have her physically ready and emotionally sound to slide all-out in Vancouver.
"In 2002, my first Olympics, you're walking around on cloud nine. I felt the only direction was up," she said. "From 2002 to 2006, I experienced my biggest successes. It was a time when you're realizing you have the potential, and once you're in the top 10, your goals are shifting. You want to do better. Now it's the shoulder woes.
"There are so many variables in our sport that you need patience. It's ironic - in a sport of speed, you have to have patience."
Enough to know when to go, when to slow and what it will mean just getting to Vancouver - in working order, no less.
Luger makes history
Born Feb. 21, 1980, Saskatoon
Residence Red Deer, Alta.
Years on Senior National Team 11
Notables First Canadian luger to win a World Cup medal (bronze, 2004 at Lake Placid, N.Y.). Teamed with Jeff Christie, Chris and Mike Moffat to finish second overall in the 2007 World Cup team competition.
Olympics 10th in 2006, 12th in 2002.
Quote "I'm part of a competition with the best in the world. If you're a competitor [at the Olympics] then you're pretty good already. You know that as soon as the gun goes, everyone's going for it. But in the end, it's about who has the best day."