Fantastic feats of athletic prowess often come with a high price of admission, and pro snowboarder Kimmy Fasani—who, in 2011, became the first woman snowboarder ever to land a double backflip in both the park and in powder—paid her dues with the first major injury of her career in December 2012 while riding park.
Fasani's resulting torn knee ligaments and fractured pelvis forced the typically active rider to sit out the remainder of the 2012-'13 ski season. It was a mental and physical shock for someone who hadn't missed a winter since she started sliding down the mountain on skis and then a snowboard during childhood.
"I am a very active person and I had to lay low with limited exercise for about four months. That was tough," says Fasani, who lives in Mammoth Lakes, California. She’s somewhat of a poster child for the area and recently scored being the subject of a Mammoth Mountain Bike Park billboard (check out the image at the bottom of this post from Fasani's Instagram).
The toughest rehab training is far in the rear view for the long time Burton athlete, as she comes to the end of snowboarding for the 2013-'14 season, but her full recovery still has a ways to go. Fasani guided us through her rehabilitation journey, which incorporated mountain biking and rock climbing—essential to her healing process last year—and the lessons she learned on the boulders and dirt trails that stuck with her once she got back into the powder.
"I am so happy to have made it through this season healthy! This spring, summer, and fall I am going to be focusing on getting back to full strength. I felt strong this season but I didn’t have 100 percent strength in that leg, so I’m excited to have these off months to dial that in," Fasani says.
How did you get into biking and climbing as a form of rehabilitation?
I rediscovered mountain biking about four years ago because my husband, pro skier Chris Benchetler, was really into it. He and I learned the basics about rock climbing about five years ago. While I was recovering, these activities just became things I could do as part of my knee rehab. They are non-impact and pretty easy on your body. They test mental and physical strengths, so it was a perfect balance for rehab.
What did a typical training schedule look like during the time you were rehabilitating?
Until about five months out of surgery, I really wasn’t allowed to do much in order to let my knee heal. However, once I hit May 2013, my training schedule consisted of about three days a week with my physical therapist, Brad Jones at B Project in Carlsbad, California. I also saw Ryan Allen with M.A.T. (Muscle Activation Technique) about every two to three weeks.
First I was just spinning on my trainer, then road biking, then mountain biking at about six months out of surgery. I would ride my bike about two times a week if my knee wasn’t too sore from all the other activity and [in the] spare time I spent resting and or icing.
This was a great progression for my knee, as I could just spin and keep my knee moving without hurting the joint. Once I had clearance to do lateral exercises, climbing was a great way to step back into working the smaller muscles. I was able to set goals and meet them, which helped me see the progress I was making in my healing process.
What kind of biking do you typically do and where?
I love road and mountain biking in the Mammoth Lakes, California, area. There are so many wide-open paved roads with no stoplights, so I can ride my bike for 50 to 100 miles without having to stop. Mammoth Mountain has a great trail system on the hill, and then there are wonderful, flowing single tracks in the mountains surrounding Mammoth.
What parallels and similarities do you see in biking, snowboarding, and climbing?
Road biking can be compared to a day spent on a resort's groomed trails: fast, fun, and pretty straightforward. I like comparing mountain biking to a perfect powder day because the trails are long, flowing, and wind through the trees. You're in control of your speed, but [you] can let it run if you want. Climbing has a lot of mental similarities to big-mountain riding. Climbing is all about finding the right route up the rock, and there is a big emphasis on technique. It is something that is helping me overcome fear [of] heights. Similar to backcountry riding, I am focusing on creating a line from a blank canvas and overcoming a vast amount of fears. Overall, these three activities helped me get the jitters from this injury out before I got back on snow.
What has each activity taught you that was different and eye-opening?
Road biking taught me how powerful my mind is because I can set goals for each ride and then accomplish them. Mountain biking and climbing both take a lot of commitment [and] focus, and my mind has to be in the moment to really excel. When I first started each of these activities I didn't expect to benefit from them mentally; I was doing them because they were fun and helped me stay fit.
When you couldn't snowboard because you were recovering from your injury, how did biking help you fill that void both mentally and physically?
Biking gave me a way to release energy. I also used, and still use, biking as a form of meditation. I can hop on my road bike and just let my mind unwind. I try to focus on my breathing and being in the moment, which is great for days when I get discouraged or need a boost in confidence. Biking my way through this injury was huge because I could release all the negative thoughts and just focus on things to be thankful for, like the fact that I was able to bike and that I was healing!
Why is cross-training and doing different activities important for your snowboarding?
Cross-training and doing these other activities keeps me outdoors during the shoulder seasons and also keeps me strong. Exploring the mountains during the summer is a great way to understand why the terrain looks like it does during the winter.
What advice do you have for people who want to start mountain biking but may be intimidated?
Mountain biking can be intimidating because by virtue of the terrain it takes a little bit of coordination and maneuverability. Once you start going down a trail, your speed can increase really quickly. Also, the single tracks are all different; some are well maintained, but others may be rough, rocky, and loose. Therefore, it just takes a couple tries to get comfortable with your bike, speed—it's OK to go slow and brake a lot)—and terrain.
I am a believer in people finding others with a similar ability level to start riding with and to make sure you're having fun on mellow trails. Women finding other women can really boost their confidence. This way they can learn how to ride with others going their pace. Once they're comfortable on their bike, they can go out with more-technical riders without feeling out of control.
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