Riding the heal side: Taylor Gold back in action after rough injury
Check online at http://www.SteamboatToday.com for results, photos and stories from Thursday's night's men's snowboard superpipe final at X Games in Aspen.
Steamboat Springs — Taylor Gold has been able to impress his will on so much of the snowboarding world in the past four years that it came as a shock to him when he encountered a situation where will wasn’t enough.
Gold, a 23-year old Steamboat Springs halfpipe snowboarder, willed his way from his sport’s second rank onto the U.S. Olympic Team in 2014. He then willed his way to the top of the podium at some of the biggest events in snowboarding, competitions such as Dew Tour and the U.S. Open.
Through patience and tireless work, he made himself into one of the world’s best, and when that was all taken away from him a year ago, suddenly, will wasn’t enough.
Gold was riding a pedestrian piece of backcountry terrain when he clipped a rock while making a toe-edge turn. He went down hard, breaking his kneecap, and six months later, when he’d planned to be back climbing to the top of his sport, he could only barely ride.
On the slow boat
It’s not that it took longer than it should have. No doctors were telling Gold he should have been “back to normal” by the middle of the summer following his injury.
It’s that it took Gold longer than he’d wanted.
Dealing with the injury was rough from the first day. He still attended X Games and even played a role, commentating on the men’s superpipe competition, eventually won by fellow Steamboater Matt Ladley. He was there a day later, too, when his sister, Arielle Gold, won silver in the women’s superpipe. But, on crutches, his mobility was limited, to say the least.
“I was watching all of my friends travel the world and compete, and I was at home on the couch,” he said Wednesday. “It was tough, and it ended up being quite a bit longer than I expected, so it was a very challenging year.”
He’d hoped to begin progressing back to competing after the snow melted, and he applied the same drive that put him on the Olympic team to getting back to snowboarding.
“I would push it in the gym harder than I should, maybe doing certain exercises before I was ready for them,” he said. “I was constantly trying to think of what I could be doing that would help it heal faster and get the muscle tone back.”
He arranged to attend the U.S. team’s annual at Mount Hood, Oregon.
That didn’t exactly work out. He could ride. He just couldn’t turn much, and the high-flying tricks he was anticipating practicing were out entirely.
“Mount Hood came, and I was barely able to make turns,” he said. “Then, a trip to New Zealand was next. I figured, ‘I should be good for New Zealand.’ But that was just another mellow trip. The patience was the hardest part for me.”
As it turned out, recovery ended up taking about as long as his doctors had initially told him, which meant slowly building on his riding early this winter and only getting really serious about it starting in mid and late December.
“I learned there’s no magic cure,” Gold said. “Time is the only thing that was going to allow it to heal.”
He was getting close to completely healed earlier this month, just in time for another injury to throw in a frustrating hurdle.
Gold traveled to Switzerland last week for his first competition back, the Laax Open, and initially, things looked good. He scored a 70.00 in his first run of the qualification round, not a winning run but definitely enough to send him on to the semifinals.
Before those semis, however, he was riding through a mini-halfpipe, pushed up into a hand plant and dislocated his shoulder.
He withdrew from the rest of the competition and set his sites down the season, first, at Thursday’s men’s superpipe competition at X Games.
A simple plan
Gold’s a thinker when it comes to snowboarding, and if nothing else, his time on the couch gave him plenty of opportunity to plan out his time on the board.
He’s eager to put those plans into action, with several new or tweaked tricks in his competition run.
“The main difference is the tricks I want to learn,” he said. “I want to learn tricks more applicable to the run I want to do, pick tricks that play to my strengths rather than just hitting my head against the wall trying to do tricks I’m not naturally very good at.”
The backside 900 qualifies as a trick he’s decided he’s simply not built for.
A McTwist — a front flip with 540-degrees of spin thrown in — is, however, one he is hoping to add, as is a cab 1200.
His run will still be anchored by the double Michalchuk, the signature trick that helped him leap onto the world stage. He’s hoping a few key changes can enhance it.
“I’ve always been really motivated to learn new stuff, always wanted to do a different run every year,” he said. “In that respect, I don’t think anything has changed. Just, maybe my plans are a little better.”
More than anything, he’s happy to have the chance to apply those plans again, on snow instead of on the couch.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9
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