Sports reporter Kerry Gillespie from the Toronto Sun spent a day at the Athlete Factory in mid November interviewing Olympic medalist and Alpine Skier Jan Hudec and his conditioning coaches, Founder & Director of Athlete Performance & Coach Development Paul Balsom and Sr Strength & Conditioning Coach Robin Bauer.
The subsequent article touched on the trials and tribulations of Jan’s sports careers and success he’s had since coming to the Athlete Factory 2 years ago.
At the Athlete Factory in Calgary, Hudec jumps, repeatedly, across the gym floor in massive single and double leg hops and does a series of speedy side-to-side hops through agility cones. It must be said that watching a 220-pound man, who can tell the weather is changing by the feeling in his cartilage-free right knee, leap around the gym is terrifying.
But this gym, across the city from the national training centre at Canada Olympic Park, is where Hudec came two years ago at the urging of a friend and at the very time when he thought the state of his knees would force an early end to his career.
Now, when Hudec leaps around the gym, he doesn’t exactly look light on his feet — as strength and conditioning coach Paul Balsom keeps exhorting him to be — but he does look stable and comfortable.
He’s also relatively pain free. Not totally pain free: such a thing isn’t possible for a body that’s been put through as much punishment as this one, on and off the hill. What Hudec means when he says pain free is that it isn’t severe enough to affect his skiing. “I can put full power into whatever movement I’m doing without worrying about (my knee) collapsing, and I haven’t had that since my first surgery,” Hudec says.
He’s had six surgeries on his right knee, including three ACL reconstructions and one reconstruction on his left knee.
“The actual structure of his knees hasn’t changed,” says Balsom. “An injury for an athlete never goes away.”
When Balsom first told Hudec to jump, he was horrified by the very idea of it. “I can’t jump,” Hudec said. “He looked at me with this look of half disgust and half disbelief and just sadness and said ‘are you kidding me?’ ”
For most of Hudec’s career on the national alpine team, his workouts have been designed, above all, to not risk injuring him more. “The doctor told me not to run anymore so I spent seven years of my life on a stationary bike staring at the wall,” Hudec said. “You can’t squat, so do thousands of little exercises with rubber bands,” he adds, groaning at the memory of it.
Now, he does far less in the gym, about 21/2 hours to his old seven, but he understands the purpose of it all, sees the benefit and proudly says “I can jump.” But better knees — his last surgery on them was in 2012 — hasn’t meant an injury-free existence.
Hudec is starting this ski season in his best shape ever, says Balsom. That’s a testament to Hudec’s penchant for injuries and his ability to rebound from them.
There’s always been an assumed asterisk beside Hudec’s name on World Cup start list. “Hudec could win . . . do well . . . be great,” fill in the blank here. But the sentence, by ski coaches or commentators, always ends with “if he’s healthy.”
He’s ready to find out what feeling good and strong means for him.