John F. Russell: The power of love and pain

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Pain and love are feelings 24-year-old Brett Buckles understands well.

The promising young skier lived with pain for years as she pursued her love for skiing.

She didn't let it stop her from being named to the U.S. Ski Team in 1998 at age 17 or from impressing coaches who thought she could have been a top American Alpine skier at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

But just as Buckles seemed ready to prove that her will was stronger than the pain that begged her to throw in the towel, she surrendered.

It wasn't because she didn't have the talent or the dedication to her sport. Instead, it was a mysterious shin injury that wouldn't allow her to prepare or compete at the level she wanted to attain. The pain was so bad that she often lay in bed at night dreading the moment she would have to pull on her ski boots the next day. She often inspected race courses on one ski, keeping her other foot in a tennis shoe for comfort.

The shin pain was real, but doctors couldn't find the cause.

Her coaches begged her to be tougher. The latest in boot technology didn't fix the pain, nor did a few days of rest and her "no pain, no gain" mentality.

After years of struggling, she made the most painful decision she could make -- to stop skiing.

"It's not that I don't want to be on the hill, but I also know that part of my life is over," Buckles said after announcing her retirement at age 19.

It was a sad day for skiing, a sad day for the U.S. Ski Team and a sad day for the athlete who traded the pain in her legs for a new pain in her heart.

Buckles went to college, eventually landing at Arizona State University, where she hoped the desert heat would erase memories of the snow-covered slopes she loved.

But just when it looked as if Buckles was ready to move on forever, her love of skiing and a fresh layer of Steamboat powder during a holiday break clouded her future once again.

After two years away from the slopes, she returned to skiing. And the pain in her shin was gone.

Today, she is a rising star in skiercross -- a mix between downhill ski racing, roller derby and motocross.

She won the Gravity Games last winter and did well at several other events, rekindling her desire to compete.

Buckles will be the first to say her love of skiing never faded, and now that she's getting a second chance, she wants to make the most of it.

It's easy to understand that an athlete needs talent, hard work and dedication to win on the slopes. But Buckles is a reminder of why we should never discount the power of love and pain.

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