Sunday, February 24, 2008
National Post - February 24, 2008
Shewfelt gains perspective through recovery process
Vicki Hall, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, February 24, 2008
Photo by Grant Black, Canwest News Service
CALGARY - A girl roughly 10 years old approached Kyle Shewfelt the other day and timidly asked the Olympic gold medallist for his autograph.
"We read about your injury in the paper," the girl's mother said. "My daughter fell off a horse around the same time, and she crushed her foot. You were an inspiration for her.
"She's doing fine now. She got back on a horse for the first time in January."
"Were you scared the first day back?" Shewfelt asked his speechless fan.
The girl nodded her head.
"Yah, me too," he said, leaning back on a crash mat at the Calgary Olympic Centre. "But you got over it, right?"
The girl nodded in the affirmative. Shewfelt grinned.
One more uplifting story to help him on the journey to recovery in time for the Beijing Olympics.
One more reason to believe in his chances to rise above the odds.
"When I get to Beijing - if everything gets together, and I'm there - it's going to be the biggest victory of my career," Shewfelt said. "Probably bigger than winning an Olympic gold medal because of everything I've had to overcome"
Shewfelt's Olympic hopes came crashing to Earth, literally, last August when he botched a landing in training at the World Gymnastics Championships in Germany. Doctors determined he broke both knees, sustained ligament damage and chipped a bone.
At first, Shewfelt figured he would be out for six weeks. Maximum. Nothing could keep him out of the gym in the lead-up to defending his 2004 gold from Athens.
Or so he thought.
"I thought I would be able to overcome it and come back really fast," he said. "And then I had surgery, and I thought I was going to die. I couldn't believe the pain."
The 25-year-old needed help to dress himself. To climb into the shower. To get up and make a sandwich.
"I think the lowest of the lows was about two weeks after the surgery," he said. "I was starting to watch my body going from being super fit to sitting on my butt. I was going a little crazy.
"You start to watch your muscles go. Your legs go skinny. You have to rely on everyone to do everything for you."
But Shewfelt refused to wallow in self-pity. He followed the instructions of his doctor and physiotherapist. In time, he had the braces removed from both legs and climbed out of his wheelchair.
"I think I've gained a lot of perspective," he said. "I appreciate what I can do - not that I didn't before, but I felt so happy when I could walk, when I could jog, when I did my first back handspring."
Shewfelt fell off the high bar the other day and uncharacteristically let a four-letter word slip - even though it's a victory for him to even be up there in the first place so soon after surgery.
"It doesn't feel amazing when you land on your knees, especially after having them cut open a few months ago," he said. "It's almost like someone is scraping them with a cheese grater."
With the Olympics less than six months way, Shewfelt can hear time ticking in his head. Not a single day of training goes to waste. He can't afford it.
"Today needs to be better than yesterday and tomorrow needs to be better than today," he said. "I'm on a strict timeline."
In spite of the looming deadline, national team coach Edouard Iarov expects Shewfelt to defend his gold medal in Beijing.
"Kyle is doing great," Iarov said. "We had a camp in Calgary last week, and he trained really good. His legs are getting much better. He will be ready for nationals in June.
"We have six months until the Olympic games, so I think he will be in good shape."
Shewfelt is a realist. There's no way to speed up his recovery. And there is no insurance against setbacks in his recovery.
He can train hard every day. He can look after his body. He can think positive and believe in his chances.
Otherwise, he has to let go of the outcome.
The final chapter of the story has yet to be written.
"I want my legacy to be one of an athlete who fought until the end and gave it everything he had," Shewfelt said. "I want to have no regrets at the end of it."