Steamboat's Buckles feels for Vonn

Former U.S. Ski Team member’s shins ended her Alpine career

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— Five days into the 2010 Olympic Games, the question on everyone’s mind is the state of Lindsey Vonn’s badly bruised shin.

Vonn, the top female Alpine skier in the world, has been limited in her training at the games and even said earlier that the injury may force her to miss some events.

It’s one of the worst injuries for an Alpine ski racer. The pressure exerted on the boot hits directly on the shin.

Although few people know what Vonn is going through, Steamboat Springs’ Brett Buckles can relate.

At one point, Buckles was the next big thing. She was on the U.S. Ski Team from 1998 to 2002, before shin injuries forced her to retire from competitive Alpine skiing.

Buckles’ injury was classified as compartment syndrome, where the muscle grows bigger and faster. Buckles’ case ended her Alpine career and required two surgeries and two years off of skis to heal.

“It’s not what she’s going through, but it’s the same area,” Buckles said late Monday evening from Steamboat. “She’s feeling a lot of the similar pain.”

And it’s a pain that can be devastating for ski racers.

Buckles’ pain was so bad she would put a ski on one foot and a shoe on the other to inspect the courses.

“When you ski on it, it feels like it’s charley-horsing,” she said. “I tell the people it’s the most intense muscle burn I’ve ever felt. It constantly felt like I was getting stabbed by a knife. When it’s your muscles, you feel it on every level.”

Vonn and the rest of the downhill competitors finally got a training run in on Monday. The women bookended their training around the men’s competition. In the morning they did the top half, and in the afternoon they did the bottom half.

Vonn won the morning portion, before finishing 20th in the afternoon.

“It’s tough,” Vonn said. “ I honestly was expecting it to be a little bit better than it was. Yesterday I trained slalom, and it felt OK. But the course here is pretty bumpy — I was pretty shocked. It was, like, jarring — it was a fight to make it down.”

Buckles — who raced against Vonn before the world champion moved to Vail — said it’s a tough injury for an Alpine racer. Out of the boots, Buckles said, she felt like she could run a marathon. In boots and on skis, Buckles said skiers are helpless.

Buckles said the inconsistent weather that has postponed training is good for Vonn. The more time off, the better, she said.

Buckles said she knows Vonn and reached out to her on Facebook, giving her ideas of ways she used to help with the pain. Buckles said she used Chinese liniment oil that numbed her shins.

“It’s just about getting that pain covered,” Buckles said. “It’s just masking it.”

Vonn should still be the favorite in the downhill event, scheduled for noon Thursday, Steamboat time. Buckles said an event like the downhill was easier on her shins, but the technical events like slalom and giant slalom were tougher.

Although Buckles fell on hard luck with her shins, she said everything happens for a reason. After her shins healed, Buckles came back to compete in ski cross. A devastating injury in that sport ended her skiing career, and Buckles took some time off before returning to Steamboat.

She’s currently coaching ski cross with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. It’s the first official ski cross program in the nation. Buckles works with 15 athletes and said so far they’re dominating.

And Buckles said she expects Vonn to perform and live up to the lofty expectations regardless of her shin pain.

Finishing first in the training run, “that’s a confidence booster” for Vonn, Buckles said. “I think, honestly, it comes down to on a good day she should win. She should. She’s the best skier in the world now.”

— To reach Luke Graham, e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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