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Devastating Foot Injury Doesn't Stop Olympian From Realizing Her Dream

Dec 17, 2006 5:00 PM

When University of Utah Orthopaedic Surgeon Timothy Beals, M.D., first met Emily Cook he knew he would be able to help her walk again. He never expected she'd be able to return to freestyle skiing.

After qualifying for the 2002 U.S. Olympic Ski Team, Cook suffered a devastating foot injury during a practice jump only two weeks before the start of the Salt Lake City games. A hard landing caused her left foot to nearly disintegrate. The foot was dislocated in several places, many of its bones were broken, and the ligaments were torn apart. Her right foot was also seriously injured.

She watched the Salt Lake City games from a wheelchair. "That hurt more than my feet," she said. "It's something I had worked so hard for, and then it was gone."

This year, Cook found out what it was like to participate in the Winter Olympics. A member of the 2006 U.S. Olympic Ski Team, Cook's return to competition is considered one of the great comebacks in U.S. Olympic history.

"What Emily has accomplished after such a devastating injury is amazing. It's remarkable that she is able to walk--let alone do what she does on the ski slope. She is an incredible competitor and does not know how to complain," said Beals.

Cook admits pointing her skis down the steep ramp used for aerial skiing is still difficult. "I continue to have to remind myself that the worst that could happen, has already happened. Its a little scary, but my favorite saying is 'Without fear, there is no such thing as courage.'"

Beals says that 10 years ago an injury like Cook's likely would have meant the end of an athlete's career. But, new less invasive techniques and continuing research in orthopaedic medicine have made comebacks like Cook's possible. "Ongoing clinical and basic science research is the key to our continued success in orthopaedic surgery," said Beals.

He points out that you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to have a devastating sports injury. High school and college athletes, and even weekend warriors, need to take e very precaution possible to protect their bodies.

The good news, Beals says, is that if injuries occur, there is hope. Just ask Emily Cook.

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