By Michael Schiavetta (M.A. '07)
Many athletes who train for the Olympics can’t wait for their big break. For speed skater Allison Baver (M.B.A. ’07), the moment was not what she expected.
On Feb. 8, 2009, in the third lap of the short-track Ladies 1,500-meter A final in Sofia, Bulgaria, the two-time Olympian slammed into the boards and fractured her right leg when a teammate collided with her. Her dreams of skating in the 2010 Winter Olympics seemingly gone, she remained motionless on the ice.
“I tried to get up and couldn’t,” says Baver. As the other skaters sped by, her mind raced through a harrowing set of questions. Why can’t I get up? Can I race in the Olympics? What about the trials? “This all happens in a split second,” she says. “I kept saying, ‘I’m going to be OK, I’m going to be OK.’”
Though she had suffered injuries before, including one that resulted in 50 stitches to her face, the skater had never fractured a bone. “I asked my trainer if it’s bad,” says Baver. “She didn’t say a thing, and it was obvious.”
Olympian speed skater Allison Baver (M.B.A. '07) deals with a potentially career-ending injury. Just 12 months later, she is ready to skate for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Her right leg suffered not one but multiple fractures—a potentially career-ending injury for an Olympic speed skater. Along with a tibia broken in four places, Baver suffered cartilage damage. During surgery, doctors also inserted screws to straighten her ankle, damaged by a spiral fracture.
After the shock and disbelief wore off, Baver channeled her emotions and her strength into making a full recovery. “I told myself, ‘This can’t happen. My goal is to win a medal at the Olympics.’”
From that moment, every aspect of Baver’s life focused on maximizing her time and setting small goals that would gradually allow her to return to Olympic ice. But for a speed skater whose career is literally defined by being on the move, waiting around months for her leg to heal was its own torment.
“It was horrendous,” says Baver, who spent those long days in her hometown of Reading, Pa., where, as a child, she got her start on Fisher-Price roller skates. “Everyone is gearing up for the Olympics and here I am—I can’t move my leg.” Whenever she did try to move, waves of pain shot through her. “I couldn’t even put my toe on the ground for two months.”
Months of rehabilitation passed, and Baver found that just lacing up her skate was an excruciating experience. Her doctors said it could take a year to recover. She refused to let that get in the way of her one goal: skating in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
But in a sport where Baver was once considered the one to beat, she found herself battling to just qualify for a chance to be on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. In her first competition after her leg fracture, she finished fifth in a nine-lap trial and ninth in a four-lap trial. The skater kept things in perspective and knew it was just another step to achieving her goal.
Today that goal is nearly complete. In December 2009, nearly 10 months to the day she broke her leg in Bulgaria, Baver officially qualified for the U.S. team, and she is now set to skate in the women’s short-track events at the Olympics in Vancouver.
The speed skater now finds herself the veteran among a U.S. team filled with young hopefuls. “I’m the role model now,” she says, having skated in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics. In addition, the athlete signed a four-year international contract with Proctor & Gamble for its line of beauty products.
Her incredible comeback is no surprise to fans—at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, she suffered a debilitating bone bruise only to return months later and win the 2007 Short Track U.S. Championship. For Baver, it’s always about remaining positive, whether it’s flat on the ice dealing with injury or racing alongside the world’s top speed skaters.
In Vancouver, she’ll have another shot at her dreams, simply because “I never thought I wouldn’t be able to.”
To read more about Allison Baver, check out the Spring 2009 issue of NYIT Magazine.
Update: Allison Baver’s lifelong goal of earning an Olympic medal finally came true at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. She and her teammates earned the bronze in the 3,000-meter women’s relay speed skating event on Feb. 24. Congratulations, Allison!