Katie Ormerod: Back on the slopes a year after 'career-ending' injury

Katie Ormerod snowboarding
Ormerod wrote on Instagram: "Back in the summer when I tried snowboarding for the first time since my injury, just doing a toe edge turn was pure agony so the fact that I can now do this pain free makes me veeeerryy happy!!"

A year ago Katie Ormerod was on the brink of winter sport superstardom as a leading British multi-medal prospect at the Winter Olympics - but she would break bones rather than records at Pyeongchang 2018.

The then 20-year-old multiple World Cup medal-winning snowboarder had broken a wrist in a fall on 7 February 2018 in South Korea but vowed to continue, only to suffer a heavier fall the following day and split her heel bone in two.

What she was told would be three months of rehabilitation turned into a "nightmare" year-long fight, during which time she admits to fearing the injury might have proved "career-ending".

However, she fought back though "incredible pain" to return to the slopes and this week marked the unwanted anniversary by performing freestyle tricks on the snow for the first time since her accident.

"I've gone from having this most horrendous injury which ended my Olympic dream, to now wanting to be the best snowboarder I can possibly be," Ormerod tells BBC Sport.

"It just feels amazing to be back on the slopes and doing jumps and rails again."

Missing the Olympics and life on crutches

Katie Ormerod gives a thumbs up from her hospital bed in Pyeongchang
Ormerod had her first operation in Pyeongchang before flying home for more surgery in the UK

Having narrowly missed out on qualifying for Sochi 2014 at the age of 16, Ormerod was determined to make the most of her opportunity four years on.

"I was in the best shape I'd ever been in," she adds. "I was really confident about showing the world what I could do on a snowboard and challenge for a medal."

Being denied that opportunity was "crushing" and although she was "so proud" of her Olympic bronze medal-winning freestyle team-mates - Billy Morgan and Izzy Atkin - she says missing the Games hit her harder than she expected.

"There were definitely days where [returning to snowboarding] felt impossible both physically and mentally," she says.

"I was just in so much pain with my foot, especially in the first few months when I was on crutches and sometimes in a wheelchair because of the pain."

The skin around her heel was effectively dying and she would need an innovative graft created from a combination of skin from her hip and that of a pig.

"It was pretty crazy as I didn't really know what was going on at the time, but the surgeon seemed confident and ultimately it's worked really well."

Gymnastics crucial to comeback

Katie Ormerod gymnastics
Ormerod posts videos of her gymnastics skills on social media

Ormerod has dreamt of becoming an Olympic medallist for as long as she can remember, but it was gymnastics glory she first aspired to she strived to be, and she idolised retired world and European champion Beth Tweddle as a child.

Although freestyle snowboarding would become her focus from her teenage years, gymnastics still forms a key part of her training and was crucial to her return to the snow.

"Gymnastics gives me that special awareness and strength, so after a year off I needed to test myself out before hitting the snow," she says.

"We use trampolines and crash mats when we're learning new tricks - it was just going back to basics so I could remember how to flip upside down without taking a risk back on the slopes."

"Thankfully I have good muscle-memory and it came back quickly."

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'I thought it could be career-ending' Katie Ormerod on Olympic injury

Why Ormerod is now a vegetarian

In addition to increasing her training off the snow, Ormerod has also been looking at other areas of her life for 'marginal gains' in the hope of maximising both her recovery and potential.

Earlier this month she announced she was cutting out meat from her diet completely.

"For a while I've started to eat less and less meat as I prefer vegetables and eating healthily, especially since getting injured," says the snowboarder, whose favourite meals centre around vegetables and pasta.

"I'm feeling really good about it because I'm feeling it's great for my body and also the environment, so it's a really positive thing for me."

Katie Ormerod
"I'm really enjoying challenging myself with new foods and recipes"

'I want to be better than ever'

Ormerod started making headlines in the freestyle world back in 2015 when she became the first woman to land a double cork 1080.

In the last year, however, Austrian Anna Gasser set a new benchmark by achieving a cab triple underflip.

Although the British snowboarder insists she's "not thinking about the treble" herself, she has plans to push forward the sport in different ways.

"I've been seeing the progression in women's snowboarding and although it was quite annoying as I just wanted to be out there progressing with them, it's definitely inspired me," she says.

"I've had a whole year to visualise new tricks and what I want to do is to link 1080s, double corks and new things all together.

"At the moment a lot of girls are doing individual tricks in big air but not linking them all together in slopestyle, and I'm just so excited to think about getting out there and challenge the top of the podium again."

Ormerod hopes to compete in an event before the end of the season - in mid-April - but if not, she is likely to head to the southern hemisphere and compete in New Zealand during the summer months.

Katy Ormerod
Ormerod hopes to be back competing on the slopes before the end of the season

"I've been overwhelmed by all of the support I've had during my injury and now I just want to get back to winning medals again and hopefully make everyone who's supported me proud."

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