Down the mountain to the top of his game
A world champion downhill skier, Jan Hudec is no stranger to hard work, sacrifice, and gold medal triumph.
And after six knee surgeries — five on his right and one on his left — he is also no stranger to LHSC's Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic and renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Robert Litchfield, the clinic's medical director.
"Going into surgery and rehabilitation, it's always easier when you're familiar with your surroundings and are comfortable with the people who are taking care of you. That's exactly how I felt from the moment I came to Fowler Kennedy [in 2004]," says Jan from a remote mountain in Norway where he is testing skis for the upcoming season.
In February of this year, Jan claimed his first World Cup podium since 2007 in the Audi FIS World Cup downhill in Chamonix, France. His win, the second gold medal victory of his career, came after battling years of knee, back, and other injuries that threatened to eliminate him from the sport entirely.
At the 2010 Olympics, Jan placed 25th in downhill and 23rd in Super G. "After those Olympics, I honestly thought he was at the end of his career," says Dr. Litchfield, who has come to consider Jan as a family friend.
"When you know what the insides of his joints look like, and what those knees are being asked to perform, it’s amazing that Jan was able to overcome those deficits and ski with such confidence."
Jan first came to Fowler Kennedy in 2004 for his second right knee surgery. Dr. Litchfield performed what is known as a 'double bundle' surgery to replicate and strengthen the torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a procedure he repeated after a 2008 mid-season ski accident tore the ACL again. Shortly after, additional injuries put a sudden end to Jan's 2009 season as well.
"After my last surgery in 2009, I didn't know what was going to happen in the future. But I planned my life around getting to where I wanted to be; back at the top. I had more to prove in this sport," says Jan.
Cheered on by his many fans in London at Fowler Kennedy, Jan says his 2012 gold medal moment felt like a million pounds being lifted off of his shoulders.
"It was a moment of validation and accomplishment, but also of relief to know that I hadn't worked so hard in vain, and to know that I wasn't just kicking around in a sport I didn't belong in anymore. To be on the podium after all those years and all of my injuries was just an amazing feeling."
Jan credits the team at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic for helping him achieve that moment, and recommends the clinic for any athlete at any age — elite level or weekend warrior — who has a goal of getting back to the sport they love.
"Elite athletes, like Jan, at the top of their game represent one per cent of our patient population," says Dr. Litchfield. "Their injuries teach us a lot about what is possible, and we can use those learnings to help everyday athletes resume an active lifestyle free of injury."
Dr. Litchfield says it is not uncommon for everyday athletes to be treated in clinic alongside amateur or professional athletes. "Our treatment is not defined by age, or success in a sport," he says. "We're in the business of keeping active people active."