Vancouver really doesn’t feel that long ago, but then I think of all that has happened in the last four years and I realise my road to Sochi was one epic journey. Full of trials and tribulations, so many setbacks both off and on snow yet with the support of family and friends I made it to my second Olympics and I’m pretty bloody proud of that.
The race itself didn’t go great but I gave it a red hot go! I surpassed my own expectations and made it to the starting line and was even semi competitive. I rolled the dice in the last turn and in rather fitting fashion I crashed. I’m not disappointed though, I know I did everything I could, both in the lead up and on the day of competition but it just wasn’t good enough. Shit happens! And if there is one thing I have learnt from this whole experience is that shit happens quite a lot, its how you pick yourself up afterwards that defines you as a person.
Sochi was the last race of my ski cross career. It’s been an incredible 6 years that I will never forget. I feel privileged to have been given the chance to pursue my dreams and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those people that have made it possible.
My mum and brother for being so supportive of me throughout my career but in particular last year when things took an unexpected turn. My coach Matt Lyons who took me from a very average alpine skier to a dual Olympian. Shawn Fleming and Danny Geiger for their fine coaching over the last year and my technician Marcos Ruiz for his unorthodox approach to creating the fastest skis on the tour. The OWIA and their exceptional staff for creating a world-class program. John Marsden, Siobhan Crawshay, Ashley Merkur and Jason Patchell for their incredible expertise. Southern Alps ski club for their unwavering support and my personal sponsors Thredbo, POC, Volkl and XTM.
When I came home in January to rehab my back I was blown away by the support I received from my local community of Jindabyne. As my career was coming to an end I thought a lot about the legacy I wanted to leave behind and how I could give back to a community that had given me so much. So in January my brother Luke and I started the Rob Kneller Youth Foundation in loving memory of our late father. The foundation aims to increase the opportunities for the youth of Jindabyne to participate and excel in snowsports. The foundation has already been so well received and we raised just over $15,000 for the “debearding Anton” campaign. I’ve never been so excited about a project and I look forward to a bright future for the foundation.
It’s a little sad to say goodbye to competitive skiing but as one door closes another one opens. I’m really looking forward to pursuing the next chapter in my life with that same intensity and commitment.
I returned to Australia on the 8th January. I was hoping to go straight home and sleep off the jet lag but given the seriousness of my situation and limited time frame to recover before the Olympics I was admitted to the AIS to commence my rehabilitation.
Phase 1: Admitting you have a problem. Given the pain that was associated with trying to move my back it was very difficult to deny my problem any longer. My first three days in the Italian hospital were pretty brutal and I soon came to terms with the severity of the situation. I had numerous x rays, cat scans and MRI’s in Italy but the AIS (and rightly so) wanted to conduct their own tests upon my arrival. We wanted to make sure the diagnosis was correct and the Italian’s hadn’t missed anything on their original scans. I was subjected to more MRI’s and x rays which has led to my radiation levels approaching super hero status. The tests confirmed what we already knew. I had broken the transverse processes on the left side of my L1 through to L4. In layman’s terms, I broke the wings off my lower four vertebrae. Apparently this kind of injury is most commonly seen in car accidents and over 50% of patients also suffer serious damage to internal organs. Fortunately for me I ended up on the better side of that staggering statistic. With no internal injures, no complication from the concussion and the haematoma on my left lung gradually dissipating I was ready to move to phase two of my rehabilitation to Sochi.
Phase 2: Seeking help. I had originally planned to be at the AIS only four days a week and then spend the rest of my time training at home. You know when you get sick and the only place you want to be is at home, being looked after by your mum? Well after almost two months on the road and feeling pretty run down I just wanted to go home for a while. I hated the idea of being in an institute especially after everything I had been through. I thought I could manage the recovery on my own and occasionally touch base with the staff at the AIS. I soon realised though how advantageous the AIS would be, and what a crucial role it would play in my recovery. From my experience over the last two weeks I can’t say enough good things about how the institute handled my case. Doctors, Physio, Strength and Conditioning Trainers, Nutritionists, Psychologists and a Pilates Instructor have all worked so closely to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of my recovery. I have an entire team making sure I have everything I need and instilling confidence in me everyday. I would like to thank Ryan Kohler, David Hughes, Craig Purdam, John Marsden, Jamie Youngson, Ross Smith, Emily Nolan, Siobhan Crawshay and Ari. With their help I’ve been able to push my limits everyday
Phase 3: Rehab. For the past two weeks I have been pushing myself harder than ever to get my body in shape for my second Olympic appearance. My day starts at 6am in the pool. For the first week swimming wasn’t possible so I walked forwards, backwards and sideways too many times to count. I then progressed to a splashing, thrashing movement that didn’t really resemble swimming. The power required to pull my arm through the water created too much force on my mid-section so I just kind of floated in the water and put my arms through the motions. My swimming has improved significantly this week and I’ve been soldiering my way through 1km every morning. I then eat breakfast and get to the gym for 8:30. It’s a solid two hour session just trying to switch everything back on and get me back to where I was. I then catch up with Ari for a 45min Pilates session. The left side of my lower back pretty much shut down, so the work I do with Ari is focused on building up those muscles and activating their coordination between the rest of the body. An hour of Physio follows that, including ultrasound and massage. I have been compensating for my injury quite a lot in all my movements to physio helps to loosen the surrounding tissue that has been overworked. I finally get a break for lunch and then I lie on my back for about an hour on top of the magnetic field therapy device. The device stimulates bone growth. My afternoons consist of two sessions, usually a cardio session on the bike followed by another Pilates workout and a solid stretch. I then relax for another hour of magnetic field therapy. By that stage I’m so wrecked I eat dinner and just go straight to bed.
I’m blown away at how quickly my rehab is progressing. Considering the shape I was in two weeks when I stepped off the plane compared to now is quite remarkable. I would have thought rest would be the best thing for a broken back but in my case it was quite the opposite. A very big thank you to the staff at the AIS for providing me with a second chance.
Phase 4: Reintroduction to the world. Last Thursday I was officially selected to the Australian Olympic team. It’s an incredible feeling that’s hard to put into words but given the year I’ve had it finally felt like something was going my way. My selection however is subject to me passing a medical examination on the 10th February. I was given the all clear to return to snow from the doctors at the AIS so I will be heading to Europe next Friday to join the team. I will be based in Austria for 10 days to get my ski legs back before I head up to Sochi on the 10th. As long as I don’t fall off the wagon I have no doubt I’ll pass the medical and compete in my second Olympic Games. I’ve come too far to fail now! This whole experience has given me a new perspective on things and I’m just grateful for the opportunity to give it a go. Its kinda funny that every reporter I’ve spoken to this week asked me exactly the same question “Do you think you will get back to where you were before the injury” To which I reply that for me its irrelevant where I end up in comparison to my previous fitness. This is the situation I’ve been dealt. I look at it as though I am very lucky to have walked out of that hospital and even more fortunate to be given the opportunity to return for the Olympics. I‘m working as hard as I can everyday to maximise my performance on the day. I’m not thinking about what could have been if I didn’t crash. I’m thinking about today and what I can do now. I have the skills and the ability to compete with the best in the world and I know that I will deliver a performance I’ll be proud of.
On December 22nd i had pretty good stack whilst training for the qualifications in San Candido, Italy. The clip is below for those who wish to see it. I’ve broken the transverse processes on my left side in my L1, L2, L3 and L4. I also suffered a haematoma and a pneumothorax on my left lung and a nasty concussion. I was in hospital for 3 days and released late on Christmas day. For the better part of 10 days i’ve been at the AIS European training centre lying on the flat of my back pondering my latest predicament. The pneumothorax is a small abnormal collection of oxygen in the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall. To cut a long story short you can’t fly with a pneumothorax because there is a very real risk of deflating your lung with the change in air pressure as you ascend. In the interest of breathing, i have been grounded in Italy until my health improves. Today though i visited specialists in Milan and had some more scans taken. Despite my radiation levels approaching super hero status, the scans showed that both the haematoma and the pneumothorax have almost fully dissipated. I have been given the all clear to fly home on Monday which is a huge relief to say the least!
I still however have a broken back to contend with and with the Olympics approaching faster than i would like, i find myself up shit creek without a paddle. All i know is that i’m desperate to compete at the Olympics and i’m not going to give up without a fight. I’ll visit the AIS as soon as i get back to Australia and work out a plan to rehab the four broken vertebra as quickly as possible. I’m going to give it a red hot go and with a little bit of luck i’ll be racing again very shortly
To be honest I was a little skeptical about flying half across the globe for 9 days of skiing. There is a day of traveling either side, jet lag to contend with and then there’s the European weather that has been particularly temperamental of late. The camp was already pushed back a week due to lack of snow on the glaciers so i wasn’t overly optimistic. Perhaps I should of been though! In the week we delayed out trip, the Stubai glacier and surrounding areas received over a metre of snow and conditions were all time. Our camp started at the Stelvio Glacier in Northern Italy. An incredibly remote area that hasn’t been updated since what seems like the 1960s. We stayed on the glacier at 3000m which was an incredibly difficult task. Struggling with jet lag and not enough oxygen to recover after training I battled for the five days we are there. Fortunately though the weather was epic and we had a very productive 5 days of training with the Swedes and French.
We then spent the last couple of days of the camp at the Stubai Glacier in Austria. The track wasn’t great but it was a good opportunity to ski some panels and work on some basic technique.
Being based in the Southern Hemisphere we rarely get the chance to train and work with other teams. This is often an advantage but every now and then it’s good to be able to touch base with your competition and see how your traveling. Despite it being a very long way to go for 7 days of skiing, it was well worth the effort just to do some head to head racing with our competitors and put the last 6 months of training into practice. I’m really happy with were my skiing is at and the progress Marcos has made on the skis so I’m feeling really good about the season ahead!
We have gone from full blown winter to super spring conditions in a matter of days here in Cardrona. Rain and warm weather over the weekend has melted a lot of snow and the lingering low cloud hasn’t allowed for any overnight freezes. Unfortunately the track isn’t looking so great but with sunshine in the forecast we are hoping to salvage a few more days of training. The warm weather hasn’t been all bad though, my back had really benefitted from a few days off snow. I’ve put some solid time into my froth game (that’s frisby golf for those who havn’t experienced this beautiful sport) and I shot four under today so I think it’s only a matter of time before I join the PFGA.
Had such an unreal day testing the ski cross track in Cardrona today. The track is nothing short of epic. Fast, big and plenty of features. My back is feeling much better but today was supposed to be a day to ease back into it and test the waters. As soon as I saw the track though I couldn’t help myself. I get such an incredible rush skiing a track for the first time so there was no way I could sit it out and watch. The footage doesn’t really do it justice but the step up at the end is rather large (the photo below is a better indication). The landing is considerably higher than the takeoff so you need way more speed than you think you do. To make it a little bit more difficult today the uphill was rock solid ice so coming up short could potentially ruin your season. Full credit to Chumpy for hitting it first and taking that uphill landing like a champ. Next run he nailed it though and it gave me a way better understanding of the speed to make it over safely and ski away unscathed. I’m sure this feature will casue some carnage though in the weeks to come.
For the most part the course runs really well, we’ll make a couple of changes overnight but we should be able to run full length tomorrow. My back pulled up really well too so I’m all smiles and looking forward to getting up there tomorrow.
The larger than it looks step-up
Another unreal day training in Roundhill, NZ. My back is getting better everyday so i’m all smiles. This was a video shot earlier in the season by Lucas Wilkinson at SSA TV.
My back has still been bothering me so I took most of last week off snow to give myself every chance to recover. The weather wasn’t great so it wasn’t too difficult to sit out a couple of days of training. Yesterday though, the conditions were perfect in Roundhill so I decided to test my back. For most of the morning it held up really well until I got a little carried away and pushed it way too hard. I pulled up so stiff and sore and definitely took a step backwards in my recovery. So last night I lay on my back in pain stressing about how I was going to recover. Usually I wouldn’t be so paranoid but given the little skiing I have done this winter I really needed to maximise my time in NZ. And next week we are building a full length track in Cardrona which I have been looking forward since this time last year and to miss that would be very upsetting. Anyway to cut a long story short I called the team Physio Ashley Merkur in a panic. Her ability to treat someone over the phone is retarded, she prescribed some stretches and exercises and within an hour I was feeling incredible. Ash truly is a godsend. So this morning I woke up feeling amazing, trained all day and had an unreal time. Amazing how quickly your fortunes can just turn around! Fingers crossed my back continues to improve and I’ll be ready to go hard next week in Cardona.
Avalanche’s are not exactly my biggest concern when skiing in Australia. Our hills aren’t exactly steep enough to lend themselves to slides but considering how extreme the weather conditions are in Australia maybe we should be a little more conscious of an unstable slope.
Just over two weeks ago now conditions were all time. For the first time this season, a cold front was not preceded by copious amounts of rain and the snow was as good as it gets in Aus. Cold, wintery blower pow and some sun to top it off. I had an incredible day with Tim Myers lapping Stanley’s on Tuesday, which was undoubtedly the day of the season.
Conditions remained good for the following days and with more snow on the forecast Friday looked like it was going to be the pick. But almost unsurprisingly the mercury rose and it started pouring with rain. Despite the thought of getting wet I heading up for a few turns with Jake Mcbride, Simon Blondell and Phil Maclarn. Although it semi snowed up top, the snow in Stanley’s we saw earlier in the week was ruined. In its place was wet elephant snot.
First run down I was third to drop, the snow looked heavy but certainly skiable. First turn in, unbeknown to me the whole face cracked behind me, a 40cm crown the whole way across the face. I skied my line and pulled off to the side at the bottom to see the whole face of this cement like snow just cruise right past. We were never in any real danger so it was kinda cool to see such a sizable slab just off the main run.
Given the week of extreme weather conditions it really wasn’t that surprising the face slipped. There was so many layers in the snow pack from the changing temperatures it was almost inevitable. I’ve never seen a sluff quite that size so it was a huge eye opener for me and has certainly made me a little more aware of the dangers that exist out there, especially in areas where you would least expect it. Check out the article on mountainwatch for a few more pics…