At age 42, exactly 20 years after breaking his first world record, Jaret Llewellyn is looking to make a comeback at the 2013 world championships in Santiago, Chile, at the end of this year. Since 2010, however, he has been struggling off and on with some serious injuries. This year, Llewellyn was coming back strong, with some impressive overall scores of 225 feet in jump, 10,650 points in trick, and running 38 off in slalom. His goal was to be strong and ready for the worlds, but an unfortunate jump crash out the front in practice has set him back a step. Can we still expect to see Llewellyn as one of the top overall contenders at the Worlds in November? Here’s what the current overall men’s world-record holder had to say. By Geena Krueger
How has the recovery been since your knee surgery in August 2011?
Well, after I skied at the worlds in Dubna, Russia, with a broken knee, I had my second ACL knee surgery in August that year. I wasn’t allowed to go over the ramp for 12 months after that. I did start skiing a bit and riding my jumper around February 2012. I didn’t go over the ramp until December of 2012, so it was a long road of recovery.
You waited almost 16 months to jump again?
Yeah. For my first knee surgery, the doctors told me ‘You’re good to go after six months.’ Well, after feeling good and going hard, my ACL ruptured again. After my second surgery, the doctors in Europe then told me that there’s this cycle: The knee feels really good at six months, but it actually hasn’t transitioned to your own ligament use; at eight months, it then starts to get weaker ’cause of the transition; and not until 10 to 12 months does your knee fully recover. So unlike after my first surgery, I was in no rush this time and decided to make sure it was fully healed.
Do you think that age plays a factor here?
Hitting the ramp that hard too soon after a ruptured ACL, regardless of how old you are, is not going to be good. You have to go through the process, and 12 months is the turning point when it’s good.
It sounded like Zack Worden went through the same thing, having ruptured his ACL twice as well.
Yeah, I told Zack to be careful. It’s good to push it, but don’t go crazy. Rather, give it a few extra months. You know when you come back from an injury, you’re like, ‘I’m going to prove the doctors wrong. I can do it. I can train harder than anybody.’ You believe that, and you feel like you can beat the system. Well, after the second time, I was like, ‘Wait a second, you can’t kid yourself.’ The second time through I was a lot more cautious.
Now you have to deal with another setback after starting the season off strong.
Yes, before the third crash I was skiing good, and I had some good scores. It was really silly when I crashed at the end of April.
What went wrong?
It was a crash in practice. It was a silly mistake. I should’ve rolled, but protecting my left knee went through my head, and it was my left ski that was down. So, to try to protect my bad knee, I ended up hurting my right hip. I had just come back from a tournament at Fluid, where the ramp was so fast. When I came back to my place in West Palm Beach, I just attacked the ramp. I was so excited to come back and to go hard at it. The different texture of the ramp got me. I should’ve taken an easy one. I didn’t. I just went off, and by trying to protect my knee I ended up hurting something else.
What are you dealing with now?
I broke a piece of the back part of my hip socket. It’s called the acetabulum, and I actually had it reset. I’m going to be out for three months, and that’s being on the conservative side. I should be able to be back skiing at 12 weeks, which still gives me four months until the worlds in Chile.
What are your goals now?
I wasn’t planning to do a whole bunch. I just needed scores for the worlds, and that was the key to come back. It is a little bit hard, ’cause everyone’s like, ‘Are you back?’ Everyone’s looking at your scores right away. I’m really just focusing on the worlds. I’d like to go to worlds and ski well. I’d like to do two more world championships and ski in the 2015 Pan Ams (Pan American Games) in Canada.
You’ve won a total of seven open world medals so far. Are you looking to add to that?
I’d love to. I believe I can still improve. I’d like to get back to where I was in jumping. I think I’ve improved in slalom and in tricks, so I think I could still break the world overall record. Ryan and Freddy are solid jumpers, so to finish top three in jump, and to win a medal in overall, would be the goal.
What do you consider one of your greatest victories?
My first Masters in 1992. I was 22 when I broke the world record in jump in the preliminary round. John Swanson made the finals, so we were both walking around with these big smiles on our faces; we didn’t even care how we were going to do in the finals. That’s where I felt like I finally broke into the pro scene.
What’s one of your favorite things to do, besides being on the water?
I love hockey. I grew up with hockey. During the down time, especially when Dorien (son) is home, we jump into some games here with the men’s team.
Advice/ tip you would give to the skiers out there right now?
Just have some long-term goals. Keep plugging away at it. Put time and commitment into it. You can get off track and have an injury, but stay on course. Having long-term goals is kind of a key. The sport has changed, the money and the pro tour, it’s changed a lot, but in my opinion, I had certain goals and stuck with it. It’s hard to make money in this sport, so if you try to follow the money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. You’ve got to believe in what you do.