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Herman Maier - WOW

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Increasingly Confident Maier Hopes for October Comeback

Associated Press Writer
July 22, 2002

ZERMATT, Switzerland (AP) -- Eleven months ago, two-time Olympic champion Hermann Maier lay in a hospital bed, his shattered right calf swollen to three times its normal size and his spirit broken.

After training with the Austrian ski team for the first time since his grisly motorcycle crash, Maier's confidence has ballooned and he is convinced he'll return to World Cup competition.

``I can't say where or when but there will be a comeback,'' Maier said Monday. ``This first training went so well, much beyond my expectations.

``Hopefully, I can be at the season opener in Soelden. I will decide at the end of August, after training camp in Chile. Right now, I feel anything is possible.''

Looking relaxed, Maier was glowing.

``I'm very positive about my future. And I see it much more clearly now,'' said Maier, who turns 29 on Monday. ``Not only being able to walk, but able to ski just 11 months after the accident is incredible. It makes you humble.

``Before coming here, it would have been enough just to be able to free ski again. Now, after seeing what I can do in training, I have bigger goals: to get back in the World Cup and hopefully be fast, too. This is only the first step and it was very motivating. I needed it.''

Sitting on a picnic table in shorts and a T-shirt, Maier displayed his scared legs and left arm to reporters, explaining in detail that a foot-long titanium rod had been screwed into his right shin bone, bulging and distorted.

He also lifted his sleeve to show a 6-inch scar on his left arm, and compared his skinny left leg -- still weak from nerve damage -- to his much fitter, though distorted, right leg.

Maier underwent seven hours of surgery to repair his right leg after a car hit his motorcycle in Radstadt, Austria, on Aug. 24, throwing him into a ditch. Doctors said he was close to kidney failure and having the leg amputated.

Surgeons inserted screws and the rod to repair his tibia, and grafted skin from his left upper arm on his right shin.

``The first time I saw my right leg, I thought it would never be possible to ski again,'' Maier said. ``My calf was bigger than my thigh. It was horrible. I thought to myself 'it's finished.'''

Maier also badly bruised his pelvis in the crash and had two blood clots that led to paralysis in his legs. The bruises caused nerve damage and Maier still has little feeling on the inside of his left leg and the inside of his right foot, ankle and calf.

``You could hammer a nail into my right foot and I probably wouldn't feel it much,'' he said. ``This was a great test for the pain, so I'm very happy.''

Maier was particularly pleased with being able to ski with his old equipment.

At first, he was unable to wear boots, even after they were altered to accommodate his injury. In addition, the altered equipment would have prevented him from going top speed.

Only the buckles have been adjusted in order to allow him to close the boot over his bulging shin.

Though there's much less pain, the boot still applies considerable pressure on his leg.

``I like it though,'' the three-time World Cup champion said. ``It doesn't stop me from going fast. I was very happy, as today I wasn't afraid of going fast. Even on the steep sections.''

Maier is scheduled to travel to Chile on Aug. 3, four days before the rest of the team, to get some extra practice. He will try gate skiing for the first time since the accident.

``Chile will be a great test for me,'' said Maier, who hopes to race his three disciplines -- downhill, super-G and giant slalom. ``I need a bit of time, of course. It can't be the same as before my accident. I need time to get the same performances as before.''

Maier said he's also back on his motorcycle.

``I felt I had to do it,'' Maier said. ``My friends had to pick me up and lift me onto the motorcycle. I felt if I didn't, there might be a problem in mental confidence.''
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The Man, The Myth, The Monster.

[ July 26, 2002, 02:57 PM: Message edited by: ryan ]
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