US skier Nyman fully healed from torn Achilles
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By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
With the first pick in his fantasy draft, Steven Nyman went with, well, himself.
This was a fantasy ski league, after all, so he couldn't very well take Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And he did help create the site that's become popular among race fans and World Cup skiers, so he didn't feel right selecting Bode Miller or Ted Ligety.
Nyman knows better than anyone that he's a risky No. 1 pick. He's coming off a torn left Achilles tendon that sidelined him last season. Not only that, he hasn't been on a World Cup podium in nearly five years.
At 30 and having gone through an array of injuries, many believe Nyman's best years are behind him. He disagrees and thinks he's primed for a big year, especially after finishing on the podium in two races in South America this fall.
"Sometimes, I think that people have written me off," said Nyman, who's racing this weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. "But I don't try to prove it to other people. I only try to prove it to myself. I think people feel I have a lot of potential, but haven't tapped into it. There's a lot there."
Always has been, really.
Nyman once had three World Cup podium finishes in a 12-month stretch, including a downhill win in Val Gardena, Italy, nearly six years ago. He was all set to be the next big thing on the circuit.
He hasn't appeared on the podium since.
"I was really super young on the front end of it, thinking, `I'm good. I'm fast. This is cool," said Nyman, a two-time Olympian who lives in Sundance, Utah.
Then injuries hit.
A bulging disk in his back that pinched a nerve and required him to wear a custom-fitted cast for six weeks. A badly bruised shin. Operations on both knees.
"I went through a phase: Do well, get injured. Do well, get injured again," said Nyman, who started the fantasy ski league last season and revamped it for 2012-13 by making it more like the football version. "I got injured because I worked too hard. I did well and said, `OK, I've got to work harder.' I never really rested, so that's what brought on the injuries. I didn't feed myself enough, didn't rest, or take care of little things, like stretching and recovery. All these little things make a big difference."
So he paid attention to those little things and was fully healthy last season, something he hasn't been able to say in quite some time. During a training run at Copper Mountain, Colo., last November, though, he hit a rut on a flat section of the course, causing him to do the splits and then a front flip.
His skis never came off as he rolled down the hill. When he finally came to a rest, he thought for sure he had blown out his knee. He gingerly got up and carefully did a few squats to test things out. The knee was just fine.
About then he tried to make a left turn and simply couldn't. He instantly knew: torn Achilles. There went his season.
An Achilles injury usually doesn't happen to downhill skiers. It's more prevalent among powder skiers, who hook a ski tip on a buried tree branch and get launched forward. Nyman really had no rehab protocol to follow, since the ski team deals more with knees than Achilles.
A friend gave Nyman a name to check out, a rehab specialist who might be able to help him mend faster.
He started doing some research on Bill Knowles, who's based in Killington, Vt., and it turns out, Knowles has worked with some of the best athletes in the world, including Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez and Manning.
Nyman was sold and hopped on a plane to spend time with Knowles, who put him through some progressive therapy.
First, there was neuromuscular electrical stimulation, which kept Nyman's leg muscles in well-conditioned shape as his Achilles healed. He lost virtually no muscle tone.
Next, Nyman went through occlusion training in which a blood-pressure cuff was put on Nyman's upper thigh to restrict the blood flow to the lower part of the leg. Nyman would then lift weights for a few minutes, creating lactic acid and producing natural growth hormones to promote faster healing.
It all worked.
Five months after tearing his Achilles, he was back on the slopes. Nothing too extreme, just one run over a groomed course to get his confidence back.
"That's significant, because if your first on-snow opportunity is a positive experience, the psychological gains are huge," Knowles explained. "It helps them leapfrog to their next on-snow experience."
Soon after, Nyman was back in the starting gate at a charity event. He wasn't going to push it in the giant slalom, but then couldn't hold himself back.
"I ended up winning the thing," Nyman said. "I was like, `Oh, sweet. I still have it."
That he does.
"The Achilles isn't calling the shots by any means," Knowles said. "He's in the best possible situation: a skier with an Achilles tendon injury in a ski boot. I've had the same thing with soccer and rugby players who then have to cut on it.
"He's already arrived on the World Cup scene and been on the podium. He's got the goods. It's just about staying healthy, really."
These days, Nyman feels faster than ever. That's why he picked himself first in his fantasy draft.
"Skiing's not really that big of an issue," Nyman said. "I can't dunk a basketball anymore, but, hey, maybe one day."
Pat Graham can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pgraham34 .
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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