Ellie Meyrowitz plied the World Cup skier’s swollen, scarred knee with her trained hands, and Laurenne Ross reacted to the resulting pain with a subdued groan.
“An average Joe wouldn’t be able to handle what we put her through,” said Meyrowitz, a physical therapist at Rebound Physical Therapy in west Bend, where she was working with Ross this week. “She’s here four hours a day working her butt off.”
Ross, 28 and a longtime Bend resident, spends another two hours at home and two hours in a swimming pool each day rehabilitating her right knee.
Less than six weeks after suffering a devastating injury on the last day of the 2016-17 racing season, Ross is on an ambitious mission to get back to ski racing possibly by December of this year or January 2018, in time to qualify for her second Olympics. The 2018 Winter Games are Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Ross has been the second-most accomplished American speed racer behind Lindsey Vonn the past two years, and she was finishing up another solid season in late March when she crashed during the U.S. championships at Sugarloaf in Maine.
She posted seven World Cup top-10 finishes in 2016-17, placed fifth in the world championships downhill, and finished fourth in the Olympic test event downhill in South Korea.
“I felt really good on that hill,” Ross said of the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, which will host the Olympic speed events of downhill and super-G. “I really like that terrain. I really connected with it. I felt confident on my skis and I found some speed toward the end of the season.”
Two days after winning the national title in super-G, Ross competed in giant slalom at the national championships in Maine. She recalled that the day was foggy, with sleet falling and a significant tail wind. As she was speeding down the hill, Ross slipped out on a right turn on the icy track and fell onto her hip. As she began to stand up on her skis while still sliding, she hit a pile of snow and caught the outside edge of her right ski the “perfectly wrong way,” she said.
She heard a loud pop in her right knee — and then came the pain.
“I was in extreme pain,” Ross recalled. “I think I scared some people with my screaming and wailing. It was just a freak thing. I’ve had so many insane crashes in speed events. This was in a strange, slow manner.”
She tore the ACL and meniscus in her right knee. Shortly after, she underwent surgery in Vail, Colorado, to repair the knee.
Ross has returned successfully from injury before — a fractured pelvis in December 2006, a torn left ACL in 2008, and multiple shoulder dislocations and broken fingers.
But this one is different.
“This is the worst injury I’ve ever had to deal with,” she said. “I basically destroyed my knee.”
Ross has been using crutches and wears a long brace on her leg that keeps her mending knee from bending.
She said she is unsure about the time frame of her recovery, but she is attacking her rehabilitation with abandon, as evidenced by her workout at Rebound on Wednesday.
“I’m not sure how my recovery is going to go,” Ross said. “I’m hoping to be able to be skiing and be as strong as I can be to race in December. But even if I miss the first couple World Cups I think I’ll be back in January to race before the Olympics. But I don’t want to rush in. I want to be confident and strong. I just can’t say right now. It’s just too far out. I’m just pleased to be here and working with all the staff at Rebound — they’ve been awesome.”
At Rebound, Ross lay on a therapy table as Meyrowitz worked over her knee to help reduce swelling and improve flexibility. With her long, curly brown hair, nose ring and easy smile, Ross was upbeat and jovial even as the pain coursed through her knee.
Ross said that, while the pain has started to subside over the last week or so, the first couple of weeks after the surgery were almost unbearable.
“The first three weeks after this type of surgery … there’s no good way to put it,” Meyrowitz said. “Athletes are on a different time frame. We want to push the limits to get them there (ready to return to action) as quick as we can.”
After working with Meyrowitz, Ross moved on to circuit training that included a series of 10 exercises performed three times. Among the exercises were plank, hip thrusters, pushups, one-legged squats, and pullups.
Ross executed an impressive total of 10 pullups, seemingly unimpeded by her immobile, braced knee.
In about a week, she said, doctors will allow her to start putting weight on her right leg and try to walk.
“I’m already starting to feel a lot better,” she said. “It’ll be a lot of work and it’ll suck, but I just know that it’ll be fine.”
This weekend Ross is hosting her annual Shred Camp, a race camp that she has conducted for skiers ages 7 to 18 for the past several years at Mt. Bachelor ski area. She obviously will not be able to ski with the kids this year, but she plans to be present during portions of the camp and for the dryland session at Boss Sports Performance Center in Bend.
Ross’ friend and fellow World Cup skier from Bend, Tommy Ford, is helping her run the camp this weekend, as are U.S. teammates Resi Stiegler (Jackson, Wyoming) and Jacqueline Wiles (Aurora).
On May 12, Ross plans to return to Vail to check in with her doctor and another physical therapist, then head to Park City, Utah, for six weeks with her conditioning coach. She said she will be bouncing back and forth between Park City and Bend for much of the summer.
“I’ll be spending more time here than I ever have,” Ross said. “I haven’t had to sit out much over the last eight years, but after I do I get really motivated.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,