John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs In the end, it wasn't a doctor, coach or the U.S. Ski Team that convinced Caroline Lalive it was time to give up competitive ski racing.
During her 13 seasons with the team, Lalive seemed more like a superhero than a ski racer. Nineteen times, she recovered from various injuries that required surgery - including 12 knee injuries.
Although the Steamboat Springs sensation suffered her share of setbacks, her success on the slopes defines her career. Her passion and dedication to the sport of ski racing always will be remembered.
Highlights include a seventh-place finish in the Alpine combined - downhill and slalom - at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. There also was her gold-medal showing at the Junior World Championships in 1999 and her 15 top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit. The finishes include a second in a downhill in Austria in 2002, a third in a super-G at Alberta's Lake Louise and second in combined events in 2000 and 2001.
But in the end, it was Caroline's own body that convinced her it was time to walk away and that she should do it while she still is able to walk.
Lalive was attempting to make her bid to get back on the U.S. Ski Team for another Olympic run, but during a race last February, she injured her knee again. The good news is, Lalive will not have to go under the knife this time, but the realization that the time had come to retire was clear.
"I'm glad that I came back and tried to make another run," Lalive said. "If I had not came back, I would have always wondered, 'What if?'"
But she realized her body just couldn't do it anymore.
"I love skiing, but I also want to be able to walk when I'm 50. I want to enjoy this sport for the rest of my life, and I want to be able to go out and ski with my children someday."
So with that, Caroline Lalive's bid for one last Olympics, one last shot at the medal she so desperately wanted, was gone.
She has survived broken fingers and ribs and shredded knees. She raced with her heart and faced her critics with a smile. Through it all, she proved that she could bounce back against all odds.
It would be easy to define her career in terms of injuries, but that would not explain what made her so special.
Lalive could have retired several years ago, but she is telling the truth when she says the thought never crossed her mind. She is one of the rare athletes who competed for love, not results. She understands that her sport has its ups and downs. She always has been willing to endure whatever has been handed to her.
"Despite all the injuries, I've always had a great time," Lalive said Friday when news about her retirement leaked. "I love skiing, and I love this sport."
She says she will miss the travel, the friendships and the experiences her career has brought her. The sport of skiing will miss the love and passion she brought every time she stepped into the starting gate.