Steamboat Springs snowboarder faces hurdles, finds success on the slopes
February 6, 2017
Steamboat Springs — Snowboarding isn't just a pastime for Steamboat Springs native Maggie Rose Carrigan; it's a lifestyle she never plans to give up.
But it is a sport she nearly had to leave behind eight years ago when she was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Carrigan said of the moment she first realized there was something wrong. "I was at the slopestyle park at Howelsen Hill, and I was hiking back up the hill. My back and knees hurt really badly, and when I got home, I told my mom. She started rubbing my back, and she felt a huge lump."
The next day Carrigan and her mother found themselves at the doctor’s office seeking answers.
"The doctor had me bend over and touch my toes. He immediately knew that I had scoliosis," Carrigan said. "When you touch your toes, you can see that one side of your spine is raised more than the other. He could tell right away that my spine is a mess."
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Within days, she was at Children's Hospital in Denver and her family was faced with two options. The first included wearing a brace and would most likely only delay the second option, which was surgery.
"I needed it for sure," Carrigan said of the surgery. "It was confusing for me because I was only 10. They were telling me I needed to be cut open and have metal rods put in my back. I was having little aches and pains, so the surgery didn't make sense to me when I was little. Now I realize that I could have ended up crippled, and if I had not done the surgery, I wouldn't even be snowboarding because my back would have been so bad."
Carrigan’s surgery involved placing two 14-inch rods in her back to support the spinal column. The surgery corrected many of the problems she was experiencing but it also limited the amount of movement she had in her back and can result in broken bones in the case of a serious fall. Her recovery would take close to a year and kept her away from contact sports and snowboarding.
"It was weird to be told that I could not do jumps and that I should just stop snowboarding because it was so bad on my back," Carrigan said.
Carrigan said she doesn't like to think about what would happen if she had a serious fall, but she also can't image not snowboarding. She simply refuses to let her situation hold her back.
"My attitude has always been that I'm going to prove you wrong," Carrigan said. "I just need to show myself and others that you can do it no matter what's holding you back … I was so mad and upset about it that I think my parents realized that I wanted to snowboard, and there was no stopping me.”
Today, Carrigan is a rising star in the sport of Alpine snowboarding, but it hasn't always been easy. The metal rods mean that her back will not bend like most people's. That first year she struggled to clip into her bindings, and even now, scoliosis affects just about everything she does on the snow.
She has worked really hard to improve flexibility in her lower body and hips and is currently working with local yoga instructor Daphne Butas. Butas is also a personal trainer and is working with Carrigan to improve her overall strength and conditioning — not only to avoid injuries but to improve her results on the race hill.
"I've struggled with it, and It's been difficult at times for sure," Carrigan said. "I would love to push for them (people with scoliosis) to stay active. I would encourage them to do yoga, to work at stretching and to go see a physical therapist."
Carrigan hasn't let scoliosis stop her from finding success on the slopes, and she’s always enjoyed strong results. So it wasn’t a surprise when Carrigan placed second at the Winter Universiade 2017 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, last week.
The silver medal performance was one of two top showings for the Steamboat Springs racer. She was also ninth in the parallel giant slalom earlier in the week.
The result is a big boost for Carrigan, who spent last season battling top European riders on the World and Europe Cup. She said it was a season of mixed results, and she returned home this winter to focus on the NorAm and her education at Colorado Mountain College where she is studying early childhood education. She also works at the Holy Name Pre-school and First Impressions of Routt County.
She is currently leading the NorAm standings and is headed into a busy part of the season that will include the World Championships, the World Cup finals and several key NorAm events. She is hoping to earn the points and to gain the experience she needs to be a contender in every race.
Her ultimate dream is to compete at the Olympic Games. It's a dream she has held since the first time she stepped into a snowboard and slid down hill.
"I've always had the dream to go to the Olympics since I was 7," Carrigan said. "I still remember being at competitions with my brother and sister. They were my inspiration, and I've always strived to be really good just like them."