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Sterett to Operate on Vonn Next Week

Lauren Glendenning | The Vail Daily

Within an hour after a roughly 70 mile per hour crash that caused Lindsey Vonn to tear two knee ligaments and fracture part of her tibia the reigning alpine skiing World Cup champion wanted to know how long it would be before she could get back on her skis.

U.S. Ski Team physician Dr. Bill Sterett was by Vonn's side after her super-G crash at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Schladming Austria. He told the Vail Daily Wednesday that journalists aren't the only ones who want to know when the champion will race again.

“She's asking the same thing” Sterett said adding that Vonn's spirits are “really really good.”

“Everyone's been happy to see how upbeat she is through all this” Sterett said. “The best way to describe it is that she's determined — she's extremely determined and very focused.”

Sterett a surgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics plans to fly back to the United States with Vonn and said he will operate on her knee next week in Vail. Sterett the head team physician for the U.S. Women's Alpine Team has been treating Vonn since she was a child according to a statement released by Vail-Summit Orthopaedics.

Vonn tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in her right knee both of which require surgery and she also suffered an impaction fracture of the tibial plateau which Sterett said should not require surgery.

The fracture however means Vonn will not be able to bear weight on that leg until the fracture heals.

Vonn's right leg apparently buckled as she landed a jump in Tuesday's race. She was airlifted to a nearby hospital and was released later in the day.

In a statement released through her publicist Wednesday morning Vonn was already talking about training for the Olympics.

“First off I want to say thank you to the amazing medical staff that cared for me. I plan on returning to Vail as soon as I can to have the necessary surgeries. I am also grateful to my fans for the outpouring of support which has really helped me stay positive” Vonn said. “I can assure you that I will work as hard as humanly possible to be ready to represent my country next year in Sochi.”

Vonn's injuries mean she'll be out for the remainder of the World Cup season but is expected to return for the 2013-14 World Cup season which begins in October and 2014 Olympics according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Sterett said Vonn is focused on her recovery and is already looking toward next season.

“Absolutely that's her focus at this point” Sterett said.

Focus has never been a weakness for Vonn. Her former coach John Cole the human performance director at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail calls Vonn's determination and athletic ability “freakish.”

Cole worked with Vonn when he was the on-hill coach at Ski Club Vail and he also directly coached Vonn when she was a J2 and J3-level athlete. Vonn has continued to occasionally work out with Ski Club Vail and has remained in touch with Cole.

Cole a strength and conditioning specialist knows as well as anyone what kind of mindset Vonn has when she trains. As media reports since the crash have questioned whether Vonn will be ready for the Winter Olympics in Sochi Cole has little doubt.

“I wouldn't count her out at all” he said. “I think she'll be an excellent patient and she's certainly in good hands with Bill (Sterett).”

Cole said recovery comes down to two things: How fast the human body can heal and a patient's ability to suffer.

As for the body's ability to heal everyone's different. But a patient's ability to suffer comes down to work ethic and desire Cole said something he said Vonn has in spades.

“She already works out like an animal” Cole said. “It's freakish in a good way. This is her world — this is her life.”

When Vonn crashed during the World Championships in 2011 and suffered a concussion she rested for just 10 days before she raced again. She did say watching the World Championships on TV was awful though.

“I trained one day in slalom to see if the concentration was still there and it was right back where it was just like before” she told the Vail Daily in April 2011. “Then I went to Sweden for the races and it was no problem.”

Bouncing back from her current injuries will take hard work and a lot of physical therapy — therapy that's often excruciating Cole said.

“It's a painful process — it's certainly not what I would consider fun” Cole said.

Cole has a feeling he knows what the outcome of this story will be: Vonn will be back and she'll be as strong if not stronger than ever.

All the media reports questioning whether this could be it for Vonn's career — that kind of talk is only going to fuel the fire for Vonn Cole said.

“She'll prove the doubters wrong” he said.