“Staying strong has allowed me more amazing experiences on snow that I would have ever imagined – even to the point of starting a second ski career at the age 39! After having been told that my skiing days were over – not just once! I hope the following will inspire you to put that little effort in to preparing your body for the adventures you would like to take on…” Anja Bolbjerg, your dedicated trainer.
Back in 2011 I competed on the Freeride World Tour. I finished 7th overall with 2 victories in the 3 and 4 star categories. This qualified me for the special tour in 2012 where only the top10 women could compete and gave more spectacular experiences on snow at a point in my life where I had believed that my competitive days were over a long time ago.
Actually before getting to this point, I was told several times that I would never be able to ski again, so I am quite proud of this accomplishment! I have had some pretty bad injuries along my career which fortunately also counts ten fun years and 25 top10 finishes on the FIS Moguls World Cup and 2 Olympics.
People come to me now for advice on how to get
- A stronger back
- A better posture
- Better working shoulders
- Control of knee pain
- Return to some level of activity after an injury
That has become my field of expertise.
I’ve been through most of these pain patterns myself – and I’ve have learnt what seems to work best both by studying the mechanics at university and on my own body
But here is my story…
You see, I was a skier at Olympic level. I have been to 6 world championships in moguls skiing and I have been carrying the yellow world cup leader bib. Moguls skiing is a physically demanding sport. Your balance is constantly challenged and sometimes you have bad crashes. To get to world class level, being from a country with no mountains and starting fairly late in life, I had to push it.
I was strong and I really wanted this. And I was great at pushing my limits and loved. In the name of progress, I would ignore the pains and aches that inevitably occurred along the way and keep moving forward. Until one day.
Leading the world cup
I was in Mont Tremblant at the first world cup after the Christmas break. I had just won my first world cup before Christmas and I had conquered the yellow bib (leader of the world cup). With one month to go to the 1998 Olympics I was now one of the favorites to win the Olympic gold medal.That would make me the first Danish athlete in history to have ever taken a medal at the Winter Olympic Games.I was really excited and ready to give it everything. My back was not feeling great, but I tried to ignore that. I felt like I had more important things to concentrate on. It wasn’t time for a break, I thought. I had to keep at it.
Well, that was an expensive mistake of inexperience! Going on Christmas break leading the world cup, I for sure didn’t want to just sunbathe in the glory of my accomplishments. My coach and I had decided to work even harder – I wanted this medal and so did he. So I trained even harder. That recipe had seemed to work till then and had helped me catch up with my competition even though I had started the sport late in life and wasn’t from a country with skiing traditions. I hurt my back in training a little. But like bullies not sensing the danger, we just kept pushing it…
Immobilized 1 month before the Olympics
This freezing cold January day in Mont Tremblant, the moguls were icy and hard like concrete and I just couldn’t stay warm. I sure had received all the warnings, yet I didn’t see it coming. All of a sudden my body told me in the most explicit manner: I have had enough! My body now told me in a way that I couldn’t ignore anymore by getting stuck so I simply couldn’t move! Discs in the lower back were bulging out and touching the nerve.
I did get ready to stand up and ski on pain killers for the Olympics – but my reflexes were rusty after one month of complete inactivity – besides training in the pool. I didn’t recover so well from a small mistake et the very bottom but I placed 13 which was somewhat of an achievement under the circumstances. I was so disappointed with the whole thing though. I had believed in it. I took the rest of the season of to recover but over the summer the bulging disc herniated with a sneeze! And there I was, immobilized again. I was prescribed ten visits to a local physio. Like that was going to help me down icy moguls again…!
How smart is that?
You probably think – well how smart are you? Everyone knows that the body needs rest and that you have to listen to the alarms and act on the red flags! Yes, I know too – and I even knew then. But what I didn’t know was the connection between events. I didn’t understand that I was in a high risk group for this injury. Nor what I could have done to prevent it from happening. My approach to training was focused on gaining strength – not on injury prevention. But with the repetitive movements and little traumas here and there that were never properly assessed, muscular imbalances had developed in many significant places. I didn’t have a conditioning coach who understood moguls skiing.
(In Denmark skiing was more associated with “after skiing” than with sports and we had never had any athletes aspiring to win medals). I struggled with back pain for a full year after this, making it impossible to get a good flow in the training. It was really frustrating. I managed to get a 7th place at 1999 World Championships – helped by the warm weather and very soft snow, but I couldn’t reach the top level from before the injury.
Enough is enough
After this I decided with my coach, that enough was enough. I had to find some people who could help me with this, who understood the demands of the sport. I also decided that I needed to know and understand for myself why my back didn’t get better.
I didn’t have a team doctor since I was a one-person team. So I consulted with some of the doctors from the other teams at World Championships. The Canadian Team doctor, Dr Galea, told me that if I came to Toronto, he would fix me. -Isn’t that exactly what anybody in pain wants to hear! Going there almost cost me my funding even though I paid for everything myself in Canada. (Political stuff. Some people didn’t appreciate me choosing my own solution, but with that 10x physio stunt I had lost faith in their ability to help me in this situation). Moguls skiing is amateur sports, so funding means a lot. But I knew it was the right thing to do if I wanted to get back to the top of the world cup. In Canada I was introduced to some very competent people and to words like biomechanics, muscle recruitment patterns, muscular imbalances and to treatments like Active Release Techniques®.
Understanding difference between conditioning and training
This was when I started understanding how you can actually influence a lot more than just the absolute strength of a given muscle. How you can teach your body to be pretty much the weapon or vehicle that you want it to be (-unless of course you have something more serious, like an incurable degenerative disease.)
If I had known what I know today about biomechanics and movement patterns, I could have anticipated and made the changes ahead of time. I would have changed my conditioning, so that it would have never become an issue. I would have rebalanced myself with the proper training. As I did later. Once I knew. I can’t say that I would have won the gold medal, but I’m convinced that I could have avoided the herniated discs.
From great comeback to blown ACL in less than one week
I came back with good, balanced mechanics to season start and finished 2 at the first world cup. At the second world cup I tore my ACL in a crash…! Back to the clinics, hospitals, rehab, treatments etc. Now I had to regain good mechanics of the knee and make sure I didn’t mess up at the lumbar level again in the mean time. I did all my rehab training 4-5 hours a day.10 months later, as I was just getting ready to hit the moguls again, I had to go back on the table and have most my meniscus removed. The surgeon had tried to repair my meniscal tear, but it didn’t work. This meant that I was no longer on time for season start. The prequalifying season for the 2002 Olympics.The knee got most of the attention and I slowly slipped into my bad compensation habits, that had caused me the back injury. At World Championships in Whistler 2001 I was in immense back pain again.I cried on the lift between training runs. From pain and from fear. Was this going to be the end of my skiing career?
My coach and I didn’t want to repeat the ignorance of the past. We bet our last chances of pre-qualifying, by ending the season right after worlds, so that I could refocus on getting the mechanics right again rather than just focusing on the next competition.The bet was that with a healthy body, I would qualify for the Olympics at the first world cups of the Olympic season.
That bet did cost me my funding. But again, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Comeback for 2nd Olympics
This time I went to Vermont to train with Bill Knowles. I had heard he was a good trainer
and that he understood moguls skiing. At the same time I tried to instruct my boyfriend back then to the best of my knowledge in a few moves of a specific type of treatment that I had tried: Active Release Techniques®. It is by far the most efficient type of manual therapy I know of. He clearly had talent for it and it really helped me a lot. He later got his certifications and he works with all kinds of athletes today using this technique. The training and the treatments were a great cocktail and we managed to get me ready for season start.I qualified in the first two world cups, and I was back in the game and fully funded again with top ten results. Together we had broken the viscous circle and I was pain free. But I had lost terrain during these injury years. I finished 15 at the 2002 Olympics.
Back to basics for 3rd try
After the Olympics I had to go back to basics and change some fundamental things in my skiing. Both the moguls courses and the skis had changed and the technique needed to follow. As for the jumps, the rules were changing and I had to learn new tricks.I had gone from one of the better jumpers to one of the worst during the 4 years of injuries. Fortunately I had already tried being at the bottom of the field, so I knew about the humility it was going to take to climb up the ladder. It took me two years to get to a level where I could ski and jump at level with the top 10 of the field. This time I felt certain it would be the right time. In 2004 I had taken a year off from the world cup to just train and concentrate on the changes I still needed to make to catch up and ski with flow and confidence (and I also finished the last bit of university that year…).
2005 is the season where I have to put it all together and pre-qualify for the 2006 Olympics in Turin. I was so ready when it was finally time for the first world cup of the season 2005.
This is a video from one of the last training sessions leading up to the season:
I felt really ready. I knew, I was on the right path to my third Olympics in 2006 and right on schedule. This time with a good, strong, healthy body. Finally!
This feeling was broken in a split second about one hour into training. I landed a jump with one foot on an ice chunk, the size of a football. The ice chunk started rolling under my right foot and I couldn’t get off of it. It pulled my leg all the way out to the side until I heard the infamous “pop” of an ACL tear. In one instant the whole season is gone. Before it even started.
That’s when you start getting fatalistic – at least for a little while. I guess it just isn’t meant to be. But I decided to give it one last chance. I did the surgery and the rehab to the best of my knowledge and experience (of which I had quite a bit by now). Things went well and I made good progress. By the time I got back on snow, my knee was strong and stable and I could ski. But it just wouldn’t accept the many hours of training that you need to be able to ski at world cup level. I had to accept I had come to the end of that adventure. A great one that I don’t regret one bit. I stopped skiing for two years and among other things enjoyed time in Mexico creating a video with fitness training on the outdoor trampoline and being on the Danish Survivor show with Danish athletes from all different kinds of sports as well as creating the Get Fit To Hit The Slopes ski fitness video.
I always kept on top of my conditioning because I knew I had to if I didn’t want to feel limited. Years later, I recycled my skiing skills in to a second career in freeride skiing. I can thank training for being able to grab this opportunity. It gave me a chance to finish some unfinished business on the snow.
In the season of 2010 I managed to win the Roeldal Freeride Challenge in Norway on a wild card earned by the winning the Danish Nationals and including the drop on the picture to the right.
Winning in Roeldal qualified me to compete on the Freeride World Tour in 2011. You cannot believe how good that made me feel!
I think it’s fascinating how much we can influence our bodies through training, and that’s why I work with this today.I love helping dedicated people get tuned for the sport or lifestyle they want to excel at and see the results and satisfaction it brings.
Today, I’m doing really well thanks to proper rehab and training. I can do pretty much anything at the level I want to – at least in moderate portion sizes. I keep taking care of my body because that’s the only way I can continue the lifestyle I like.
To me that’s the essence of training. Training is how we help destiny decide what we are capable of doing physically. Training is what allowed me to get to this mountain top as a pro skier despite my nationality and upbringing in a country where the highest peak is 200 meters!
Come ski with me!
Two time Olympian in moguls skiing and winner
of a FIS Moguls Skiing World Cup
2 years in the top 10 on the Freeride World Tour
Ski coach with more than fifteen years experience in ski conditioning
M.Sc. and Certified Personal Trainer
Producer of the ski fitness training dvd “Fit Skiing”
© and ™ Anja Bolbjerg.
All Rights Reserved.