Tommy Ford doesn’t remember the terrible accident that ended the World Cup ski season on January 9.
He remembers waking up in a Bern hospital, Switzerland, and studying injuries to his head, right knee and left wrist.
“I don’t remember the accident at all or the next hour,” Ford said in an interview with The Bulletin last week. “I don’t remember the helicopter ride I looked like going through.”
Ford, who can get around on crutches but can’t stand for long, has been returning home in Bend over the past few weeks, getting help and support from his parents and older brother.
“You learn what support systems are, or become more aware of them, when you are less capable,” Ford said.
31-year-old Ford – a two-time Olympic athlete born and raised in Bend – is in the middle of the 2020-21 season banner, posting four World Cup top 10 results in the giant slalom, including taking the podium in Santa Caterina, Italy.
He has qualified for the world alpine skiing championships, currently being performed in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
One of the top-ranked riders at the World Cup giant slalom race in Adelboden, Switzerland, Ford crashed three gates from the finish line after spreading into rough snow beside the track, according to the Associated Press.
His skin touched and he fell forward, sliding first down the hill on his neck and left shoulder.
Ford hit a worker on the side of the track before stopping by the safety net beside the finish.
He initially lay still with his face facing the snow despite immediately regaining his senses and talking to the medical staff, whom he doesn’t remember.
A helicopter lands in the field 20 minutes later to transport Ford to Bern.
Ford’s long-time girlfriend Laurenne Ross, also a World Cup skier and two-time Olympian from Bend, is watching Ford’s race on television as she prepares to race her first World Cup in two years after overcoming multiple knee injuries.
“It totally baffles me,” Ross wrote in an email last week from Cortina d’Ampezzo, where she finished 26th on Saturday in a world championship decline. “Obviously I am very concerned about his head injury, because obviously he is passed out. I’m usually pretty comfortable watching Tommy ski – he’s a solid, smooth skier – but he’s definitely over the top, and pushes the skis… and sometimes you crash when you’re skiing over the edge. Needless to say, I am very sad for him. “
After several days in Bern following the accident, Ford traveled to Vail, Colorado, where doctors at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute repaired torn ligaments in his knee and wrist. He is scheduled to return to Vail later this month for additional surgery on his knee. Ford said he tore two ligaments in his right knee and also fractured a plateau and tibial meniscus.
He also continues to recover from the concussion he suffered.
“I don’t have a headache or anything, but I have limited capacity for stimulation,” he said.
Ford said he was happy to be at his parents’ home in Bend, where he was getting plenty of sleep and rest, and was “starting to recover.” He wears a detachable splint on his left wrist and his right knee is in a brace, which he can remove as often as possible.
He added that it was too early to discuss a time frame for a possible return to ski racing or to bid for his third US Olympic Team. The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are only one year away.
“There is no time frame that is overly detailed at the moment because I will have to have another operation,” Ford said. “I have to bear more weight in March. That’s all I really know. It’s still very early days. I haven’t gotten too far with the emotional side of things and all of that. “
Although Ross continues to race in Europe and Ford has returned home to Bend, the two are able to discuss Ford’s injury and his approach to rehabilitation. Ross, 32, has had 10 surgeries during his skiing career, three of which were major knee operations.
“Unfortunately Laurenne has a lot of experience with knee injuries, and she’s been very helpful with some advice,” said Ford. “I just don’t want to burden him because he also tries to perform at a high level and you don’t want to talk about injuries all the time. But he’s very helpful. He’s really entertaining. “
Ross said he was sure Ford would take the time and get back into the snow when he was “really ready.”
“Hopefully it will be race time next season, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Ross. “I’m here for him, every step of the way, whatever it is. I do have the insights I have shared, but everyone is very different when it comes to healing and processing. So I just try to support Tommy in whatever way he needs me to be there, in whatever way he wants to approach his recovery. It’s been the ride, and although I can offer advice, I know we are very different people, very different skiers, and often have different perspectives on injury and recovery. “
Ross added that the most important thing on which Ford is currently focused is “rest, recovery and reflection”.
“It’s important to consider if you want to get another injury (like the one he’s recovering from now), because that’s always the chance you take when you push out the starting gate in a ski race,” said Ross. “But first, he needs to focus on healing.”