It was not a big jump, just 10-15 feet popping over a small cement wall in the backyard of a hotel in Austria. Kaitlyn, a 2014 gold medalist in Sochi, dropped in. At the lip, she twisted her body to set up for a frontside 360, but she caught her heelside edge and lost control, landing hard on her back and neck.
As a professional snowboarder, Kaitlyn had experienced many bad crashes, and this one hardly made the top ten. But when she tried to get up, nothing happened -- her body simply wouldn’t respond. Just as the reality of being paralyzed began to sink in, a burning pins and needles sensation began to slowly spread across her body.
It wasn’t until two weeks later that a doctor, pointing to an X-ray pinned to a light table, revealed to Kaitlyn how she’d been born with too little space between her vertebrae and spinal cord. She would have to retire from competition, he said, but if she stayed out of the pipe there was no reason she couldn't continue snowboarding. Kaitlyn vowed to never let this setback crush her spirit.
Instead of dreaming about icy half pipes and further Olympic glory, Kaitlyn had used her world-class snowboarding skills to reinvent herself as a big mountain rider. Just a few short months ago, it seemed that all was lost, but an obstacle that had at first appeared insurmountable, had instead opened a door.