Kris Mahler suffered a season ending injury, but is now healing in preparation of team trials for the 2018 Olympics.
Kris Mahler screamed while three Italian doctors tried in vain to shunt his left shoulder back into its socket.
The arm had been stuck above his head for over three hours and even on heavy doses of morphine the pain proved unbearable. The arm refused to budge.
The young world cup ski cross star, who had never faced a major injury in his career, realized this was no ordinary shoulder dislocation.
“The doctors said it was an interesting and enticing injury. That's not something you really want to hear from them,” Mahler said.
The day had started well enough. The national ski team member had reached the heats and was battling teammate Chris Del Bosco, along with a French and Austrian competitor, on the top section of the Watless, Italy course before a tricky roller and drop section approached.
“I was neck and neck with the French athlete for first and second. I did the double (roller) and as I landed, the French athlete drifted into my lane and he landed on my skis. As he took off and re-corrected, that put me on my hip, flying through the air sideways. I hit the last lip, then I was flying backwards over the drop. Then I just landed on my outstretched arm,” Mahler said.
He was trying to protect his head from a concussion, but in the process smashed his left arm out of its shoulder joint and below his clavicle. Unable to put any weight on the arm, he had to be airlifted off the course with an orthopedic surgeon who monitored his condition.
“Imagine putting your arm over your head, then flip yourself upside down and drop yourself on your arm. The arm went straight down out of the socket and into the armpit. Usually, dislocated shoulders go forward and they are a lot easier to pop back in. My arm was below the clavicle and below the shoulder socket,” Mahler said.
In hospital, after receiving care and heavy painkillers from some “cute Italian nurses,” a fourth doctor finally managed to get Mahler to calm down, perform a few breathing exercises, and click the shoulder back into place. The joint was badly damaged, and his humerus was broken, but they elected to put off surgery and fly him back to Canada, where he met with Dr. Mark Heard in Banff three days later.
In Banff, he still couldn't feel anything in the upper part of his arm. Mahler was told he risked permanent nerve damage if the arm didn't properly heal, and his season was likely over. He only had a five per cent range of motion in his left arm after the accident. Doctors would have to ensure the nerves were firing again before surgery.
On Friday (Feb. 10), Mahler received word he would go under the knife in March to fix the shoulder, with a cap method often used for those with osteoporosis.
“They will put a metal cap on top of the humerus bone. The impact flattened the top of my bone and there is a pretty big indentation on top of the humerus right now. It's not a ball and socket anymore. It's a square and socket. For this surgery, they will have to cut the deltoid to put the cap in. I'll be under full sedation,” Mahler said.
The option means a longer recovery, which is tough for the 22-year-old. Before the accident, he was skiing well and had a good shot at earning an Olympic start in 2018. That dream will be much harder to reach now.
However, Mahler is still extremely upbeat. The racer who famously drives his Westfalia from competition to competition, and works as a rafting guide in the off-season, is extremely resilient. He's taking a positive approach to his recovery. The muscles are shrinking on his left shoulder, but he isn't giving the right side a rest, and his range of motion is much improved. Combing his hair or brushing his teeth is once again possible.
“The spirits are still high. The biggest thing is staying busy. I'm back in the gym in Canmore, working on one-arm pushups and chinups. I've read the more you work one side, the faster the other will heal,” Mahler said
Currently working four days a week with physiotherapist Lynn Richardson and pumping iron in the Canmore CrossFit gym, Mahler said he's slowly learning to use his left arm again.
“It was definitely a big year, and it was going as planned, if not better. I had a seventh-place finish in Austria and was well on my way to securing an Olympic spot. That was definitely a big goal of mine,” Mahler said.
“A lot of guys on my team have had injuries … most end up having surgery a few times in their career. For me, I want to keep having fun and my goal is the same: I want to compete for my country. I've had a clear path to this point. This is one small step to make me stronger in the future.”