Anyone who follows the Olympics will remember the fiery U.S. skier named Picabo Street. Once the darling of the slopes, she tried to harness the big mountains at terrific speeds. Eventually, the exhilaration turned to terror in January of 1998 on a training run prior to the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. That incredible crash at 75 mph did not detour her from Olympic Gold in 1998. According to ESPN, despite the headaches and neck pain, she dazzled everyone with her winning performance just weeks after the crash. She was quoted as saying, "Adversity makes heroes." Her heroics continued to carve up the slopes until another fateful day, Friday, March 13th, 1998. This second crash could be heard around the world and for the first time in her life she was "introduced to fear". The once fearless Picabo Street shattered her leg and blew out a knee. And the worst was yet to come.
Unable to return to her sport and life as she knew it, Picabo was flushed into a deep chasm of depression. Locked in a dark room for months following the crash, she refused all contact with the outside world until Mother's Day of 1998. She told the NY Times that became "bored" with the same old pessimistic tune and opened her life to another chapter.
The recovery process was very slow on the battered legs which had withered into sticks. By 2002, she was ready to try to tame the big mountains at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. While not a gold medal performance, she was still able to go out on her own terms. She bid the world of competitive skiing goodbye in 2002.
Any injured, elite athlete who is unable to return to the sport is very likely to become severely depressed. Dr. Deborah Saint-Phard, a physiatrist and former Olympian told the NY Times, "There's a pervasive sense that athletes are superhuman, not only in their abilities to perform athletically, but also in their morals, their ability to handle pain, disappointment, and injury." After the crashes in 1998, Picabo did not feel superhuman; in fact, she no longer felt "invincible anymore." Most Olympic athletes like Picabo have all their eggs in one basket. If the basket is crushed, then that feeling of loss can be as great as if losing a loved one. At the age of 31 years old, it was time for a grieving Picabo Street to reinvent herself and find a pathway to healing.
Soon after her retirement, Picabo turned to horses. Since the early 1900's, horses have been used as a tool for improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Now, horses have replaced Picabo's skis. With legs of horses, she can once again tame the mountains in her home state of Utah. Picabo told Sports Illustrated, "(Horses) are such mirrors of your energy level. When I retired and started working with them, they'd run from me. I was so jacked up and intense. (The horses would tell me) you need to calm down before you can come talk to us." Not only have horses helped improve her mobility despite the permanently damaged legs, this once fiery personality has also learned to project a tranquil, calm energy. Tranquility promotes healing. Tranquility replaces suffering. Therapeutic Horseback Riding has put Picabo on the pathway to healing both physically and mentally.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding, also unknown as Hippotherapy, is utilized around the world by people like Picabo who have both emotion and physical injuries and disabilities. Because the rhythmic rocking from the horse's gait closely mimics the human gait, riders can improve flexibility, balance, and strength. Because a horse is a "mirror" to energy levels, riders learn confidence, self-esteem, and patience. The benefits of riding are promoted through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). NARHA provides accreditation, training, and insurance for NARHA approved centers. In NARHA centers across this continent, horses are giving people a second chance at a happy life. Picabo Street has reinvented herself by finding the therapeutic effects of horses on her rebound from disaster. Adversity has certainly created this hero.
Maybe horses can help you. To find a NARHA program near you, call 1-800-369-RIDE.
Published On: February 05, 2010