John F. Russell: Sometimes it's easy to be a fan

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It's not hard to be a fan of Alpine ski racer Caroline Lalive.

During her racing career, she has shown more courage than a rodeo cowboy. She has shown the ability to bounce back like a basketball and has done it all with the heart and determination of an Olympic champion, something she has dreamed of becoming since she was a child.

While still chasing that elusive Olympic medal, she has been a member of the U.S. Ski Team for almost as long as I've known her. During that time, she has posted top international results and has been to the Winter Olympic Games twice.

But last month marked an anniversary that Lalive would just as soon forget. It's not the type of anniversary you celebrate.

The anniversary marked a year since an injury put Lalive's ski racing career on hold. It kept her out of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy and has kept her on the bench this season as well.

"I think this is the longest I've ever gone without ski racing," Lalive said.

So instead of amazing us all by racing down steep slopes at heart-stopping speeds, Lalive has spent this season recovering and reflecting on what it all means.

"It's scary," Lalive said. "I've spent my entire life ski racing. It's not just something that I do - It's who I am."

Last year, when Lalive was injured, she was forced to look beyond ski racing and forced to find her identity outside of the sport.

"I had to consider what life is going to be like without ski racing," she said.

It wasn't easy for Lalive, who started skiing at the age of 2. She has lived most of her life on the slopes, and it is a huge part of who she is.

I've known Lalive as a ski racer since before she was named to the U.S. Ski Team. But it's the things she has done off the slopes that have impressed me the most.

During my career, I've learned that athletes are always polite and cheery when things are going smoothly. But if you want to see the athlete's true character, you have to talk to them at the bad times.

During the years, I've watched Lalive bounce back from a number of serious injuries, I've seen her overcome Olympic disappointment, and I've watched her do it all with a smile on her face.

After missing her third chance in 2007, she could have spent the past year sitting around sulking.

Instead, Lalive embraced the chance to expand her life outside of ski racing.

These days, she spends her time coaching at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, expanding her mind in the classroom and working to get back on the slopes.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I'll be cheering for the Steamboat Springs racer when she returns to the slopes.

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