For pretty much every athlete, a torn ACL requires a nine-to-12-month recovery period at minimum. At most, it can be the death knell in an accomplished athletic career.
For Australian snowboarder Jess Rich, it wasn’t enough to keep her from pursuing a medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The 27-year-old, who ruptured her ACL in January, finished 13th in women’s big air qualifying, just 2.00 points shy of a spot in Friday’s finals. Rich was in ninth place after landing a score of 73.5 from her opening run, but a hard charge from the rest of the field, combined with only meager gains in her second score (74.25) after landing a 720, left her just shy of the top 12 who moved onto medal contention.
“I didn’t know if I was actually going to make it so the fact that I was able to just drop into the jump today is a huge thing for me,” Rich told the Australian Olympic Team’s David Barden afterward.
Rich, who had been denied medical clearance to compete in slopestyle competition, worked diligently with Australia’s training staff to keep her in the mix for big air.
“Even in the Village, I’ve been joking that I’m on a fitness camp because everyone’s been going off to do their events and I’ve been waking up and going to the gym at 6 a.m.,” she said.
Rich’s knee wasn’t the only part of her body that proved to be problematic ahead of the 2018 Winter Games. In the 15 months leading up to these Olympics, she had fractured three vertebrae in her back and broken her left collarbone twice.
That she was able to compete at all in South Korea is a testament to her toughness and competitiveness. That she nearly qualified for a final on one leg is nothing short of miraculous.
Now that Rich is done competing in PyeongChang, she’ll head back to Australia to undergo surgery on her knee and, eventually, prepare for another run at Olympic glory in Beijing come 2022.
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