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ON THE SCENE: Tommy takes an Olympic fall, gets back up

February 23, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, the opportunity for alpine skier Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene to race at the Winter Olympics came to an abrupt end during an optional training run at the Yongpyong (Dragon Valley) Ski Resort

when he fell, rupturing his Achilles tendon.

The fall shattered his dreams and quest that has included other severe injuries along the way, such as a blown-out knee and a separated shoulder.

Article Photos

U.S. Olympic alpine skier Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene poses post surgery with Tess Woods and Reisi Steigler.
(Photo provided)

News of his injury came as a body blow to his family and the residents of Keene, several of whom had festooned their businesses with signs of support for the young athlete. The local web-based Nextdoor Keene bulletin board along with Facebook lit up with people's condolences and beliefs that he would be back on the racing circuit and compete in the next Winter Olympics in Beijing, China in four years.

For Tommy, the hardest part was calling his parents Bob and Tish, who traveled to South Korea, informing them that his race was over.

"I felt that I had let them down," said Tommy. "I could hear their pain. I really wanted to represent them and the community well."

Tommy says it was his dad who inspired him as a young boy at around 6 or 7 to want to become a ski racer, and in particular in the downhill.

"He'd wake me up to show me videos of the downhill at Kitzbuhel," said Tommy, a race considered by many as the most challenging course on the circuit.

Being on skis is in the Biesemeyer blood. His grandmother, Marion Biesemeyer, skied well into her 90s and in her later years used a ski pole for a cane. In 2011, having reached the century mark, I asked her what her philosophy of life was. She responded, "Stell' dich ueber alles weg, freu' dich ueber jeden dreck. Put aside what you don't like and find happiness in every little thing." To Tommy, she'd probably say, "Take advantage of this setback through finding joy in the steps you will take to come back stronger."

"When we heard about it we had tickets to the women's slalom that day," said Bob Biesemeyer. "We were up at the finish, waiting for the race and they postponed it. We were just hanging out, and the phone rang. I saw that it was Tommy. We had heard they again rescheduled the downhill, which I expected he was calling to tell me. So, when he called, I proactively said, "'Hey, Tommy, I heard, it's been rescheduled for 9:30.' He said, 'No, I got hurt. I hurt my Achilles. I'm done.' I asked where he was, and he said in the medical tent."

Tommy told his parents he didn't know what happened. The Norwegian coach, who saw the fall, told them Tommy had skied it pretty aggressively and that it was a rough course. He said Tommy came off the second jump and he booted out - the uphill ski kicked the downhill ski loose, he went down and was knocked out going limp for a couple of seconds. Tommy then got up and waved his hands. At first, the coach thought he was OK. Tommy told his parents when he stood up it felt like his foot was on a 7-inch high heel. Then he looked and realized he had torn his Achilles.

"It was gloom and doom after that," said Bob.

The Biesemeyers said that the community support was reassuring. Bob felt that the community was emotionally supporting their son as much as they were, and when they heard the sad news, it was equally tough on them. Upon their return, friends brought over food, hugs and good wishes. They felt an even stronger bond with their community and appreciate the support received. They are very thankful that they were at the Olympics and able to be with Tommy when he got hurt, and that his girlfriend was able to be with him for the surgery. They praised the Koreans for their kindness and support.

"I have a concussion from the crash which is the most annoying part of all," said Tommy. "I'm still a bit foggy. I understand that my inside ski went over my outside ski and I went down. I haven't seen a video of the fall and analyzed it yet. It was unlucky. This crash, compared to others I've had where I can point the finger at myself, I don't feel that way. I don't know what to think about it. Did I do something dumb? I don't know."

When he woke up from being knocked out, realizing he had a torn Achilles heel, he felt devastated. In the past, he's put such injuries aside and looked forward. But being at the Olympics, which come every four years, he felt crushed.

"This was not what I signed up for," said Tommy. "This is not what I want to do right now, but it's the cards I've been dealt. Tomorrow will be day one of four months of recovery. I had such good thoughts and feelings. I felt ready. I wasn't intimidated. The Olympics is an opportunity to represent our country, our skills and our best. Losing that opportunity my words post injury reflected how heartbroken I was. I was so ready, and then the rug got pulled out from beneath me completely."

Tommy praises his parents for their support through the ups and downs of his career, for always being there for him. He appreciates the sacrifices they made to be in South Korea, and to attend so many of his World Cup and national races.

"When you think of the other things that are going on in the world, such as the shootings in Florida, our loss is not that bad, though the pain is very real," said Tish Biesemeyer. "We've had these calls before, but not at the Olympics. The wind dropped out of our sails. Ski racing is just like anything; it takes you away. One minute you're fine, and the next minute, 'Oh my God,' what hit you? It shows you how life is so precious, how anything you do can change on a dime. Tommy's worked so hard at this, so hard, and to be in a training run when this happened. As a family we've been so supportive of him, and he knows that no matter what, he can always call us."

After his fall, and being patched up, Tommy was sent to Vail, Colorado, where the surgeons who care for the U.S. Ski Team operated on him. Now he faces time in rehab and plans to be back in Keene in about a week. As for going forward and what comes next, Tommy has given that a lot of thought.

"When riding down in the sled after my crash, I flirted with the thought, this may be the end," said Tommy. "But that didn't sit well. Now I am committed to making a comeback and to see it through. My goal is first to win a World Cup and then compete in the Beijing Olympics. I think that would be a real honor and a very cool way to rally back."

He added, "It's times like these that make you realize how you treat other people, how you represent yourself impacts how you are supported, not just as an athlete but as a person. Being a ski racer is part of me, but it's not who I am."

Tommy's final words were how grateful he is for all the support he has received from his family, friends, fellow athletes, and community as it has helped heal his wounds.



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