Katie Ormerod: Brighouse snowboarder feared split heel could have ended her career

Katie Ormerod. PIC: Patrick Elmont/Getty Images.
Katie Ormerod. PIC: Patrick Elmont/Getty Images.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

Brighouse snowboarder Katie Ormerod was supposed to be flying down the slopes at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

But instead she lay in a hospital bed, after a devastating heel injury on the eve of the games had dashed her Olympic dream.

The 21-year-old split her heel bone in two on the second day of practice, just one day after breaking her wrist on the same rail.

It says a lot about the snowboarder’s character that she was still determined to compete after her first fall but after breaking her heel, she knew her Olympics were over before they had even begun.

The Calderdale-born athlete has been snowboarding since the age of five, after receiving a board for a Christmas present.

At aged 16, she came one spot away from qualifying for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and four years on was one of Team GB’s top medal hopes in South Korea.

“The first training day everything was going great, but with 30 minutes to go I had a tiny slip off a rail,” she told BBC Radio Leeds.

“I put my hand out and broke my wrist. I tried to strap it up, have some pain killers so I could keep going.

“Into training day number two, and on the first run of the day, on the same rail I broke my wrist on, I had a similar fall and broke my heel into two pieces. Clean into two.

"As soon as I fell [the first time], it was probably due to how cold it was.

“I think it was sheet ice and I think I just hit it pretty hard, I knew straight away it was broken.

“I have quite a high pain tolerance, I was more frustrated than anything.

“So I went and told my coach and I went to the doctors and had it scanned.

“They put it in a special splint so I could keep training if I wanted to, and straightaway I thought I am going to change my game-plan and my run so I could still give it my best shot.

“I still wanted to put down the best run I possibly could.

“I was still really focused but I still wanted to do it as safely as possible.

“The next training day, on the first run I was just trying to ignore my wrist.

“Going to the same rail, doing the most basic trick, something I do without even thinking about it, I slipped off the rail a bit early.

“I hit the knuckle, which is like falling onto concrete because it was like sheet ice.

“It was only from a two-metre drop, so it must have been the timing and the angle that I landed and my heel just broke into two pieces.

“I knew straightaway that something was wrong because I have never felt pain like it, I was quite close to passing out.

“I just lay there, shouting for help, it was not a good experience.

“I knew there and then that my Olympics was done.

“I knew going in there I could bring back one, if not two medals and to come back with two broken bones instead - it was just the worst.”

The 21-year-old was only meant to be out of action for three months but that soon turned into a year-long recovery process.

Ormerod required a skin graft on her heel when she returned to England, as the skin around the injury had died all the way to the bone.

A skin graft requires the transplantation of skin and is often used to treat extensive wounds.

“I had to have numerous skin surgeries, at one point I had a tube coming out of my heel just to produce some new tissue,” she continued.

“When I was first in Korea, I thought I could remember the surgeon saying it would be three months to recovery.

“So I thought I could still get the end of the season, it won’t be a problem.

“I was gutted to be missing out on the Olympics but at least I would be walking soon.

“That was before all the skin operations and the complications. And then, back home after a few more operations my team physio called me and said it was going to be more like nine months, at least.

“That was really hard to take, I had been hanging onto the fact it could be three months.

“It was a really sad time, knowing I was going to have so much rehab. In the end it was longer than nine months, it was a full year of rehab.

“But, I stayed positive through as much of it as I could.”

Ormerod was worried that her injury could have ended here career.

Although, the Brighouse boarder is no stranger to injury woes.

She has cut her eyelid, broken her wrist three times, broken a shoulder, sustained issues with her ACL, torn her meniscus twice and chipped a vertebrae in her back along with splitting her heel bone.

She said: “I went through some really dark periods during my rehab. There was a point when my foot just wasn’t getting any better.

“I was getting physically stronger, I shouldn’t have been in pain anymore but I was still in soo much pain and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t walk without limping.

“Even though I was staying positive, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to snowboard again. It was such a hard moment thinking, ‘this could be career-ending, now what?’

“Even through those tough times, I believed that I would get through it. I didn’t know how long it would be, but I fully believed that one day I would be pain free.”

She added: “With my injuries none of them have ever phased me. I would just put everything into my rehab and come back stronger.

“The only one that shook me up was breaking my heel.”

Ormeord has now returned to the slopes and has already claimed two medals since getting back on her board.

She won two silver medals at the Europa Cup in Livingo at the end of March and added: “After my rehab I was in the best physical shape I had ever been in.

“So I wanted to use that to work on the basics and the little things. Because of that, I feel like a better, well-rounded snowboarder.

“It worked in my favour because I got two medals, it was great.”