‘It’s time’: Larisa Yurkiw finally listens to her body and walks away from alpine skiing
Vicki Hall | May 11, 2016 | Last Updated: May 12 4:34 PM ET
CALGARY — Ski racer Larisa Yurkiw is coming off the best season her life, finishing third overall on the World Cup downhill circuit behind only American superstar Lindsey Vonn and Switzerland’s Fabienne Suter.
The Owen Sound, Ont. native is going out on top – or at least near the top – and calling it quits on a skiing career defined by challenging the limits of what other people thought possible.
“I’m retiring,” Yurkiw, 28, told Postmedia Wednesday from her home in Collingwood, Ont. “And I know this might seem like it’s coming out of left field.”
Publicly, Yurkiw always made a point of downplaying injuries and refusing to dwell on the pain she felt in the start gate. In reality, her entire 2015-16 season centred on whipping down the mountain as fast as she could for approximately two minutes on game day. The other six days of the week were spent repairing the damage from the last race and building up her body — with endless help from her physiotherapist and other medical professionals — to do it all over again.
In the end, she finally listened to her knees screaming that they could no longer withstand the load of racing at speeds of 140 km/hr.
“It’s nothing more dramatic than what other athletes go through,” she said. “I know tall orders. I know how to overcome obstacles. And I think if I was feeling fully healthy coming off this season, then it would be a really different story.
“But my goals are to beat everybody — not just 10 people or 15, but to actually win races and Olympic medals. They are just huge goals, and I know exactly what they’ll take. More than ever, I think health has the final say.”
Back in 2009, Yurkiw pretty much destroyed her left knee — ripping three ligaments and tearing both the lateral and medial meniscus in one spectacular tumble down the mountain.
After missing two seasons, she battled her way back to the World Cup circuit — only to be released by the national team after administrators decided she had little chance of winning a medal at the 2014 Sochi Games.
I think if I was feeling fully healthy coming off this season, then it would be a really different story
So Yurkiw went independent. She started Team Larisa and served as her own travel agent, fundraiser, brand manager and equipment minder. Sponsors, big and small, jumped on board to help pay the $200,000 annual cost of ski racing against the world’s best.
She placed 20th in the Sochi downhill in spite of not being able to put her own socks on without her heels fixed to the ground for support. A year later, she won her first World Cup medal, a silver, at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
And while her left knee always gave her troubles, the right flared from overcompensating at speeds that would net her a ticket on the Trans Canada Highway.
She underwent her fifth knee operation — and first on her right — last week to repair a damaged tendon. The surgeon made a point of telling her how impressed he is that she ever skied again after the big one in 2009.
From here, Yurkiw plans to do some public speaking and channel the experience of running Team Larisa — and tending to the logistics of skiing the World Cup as an independent — into a business career. She is applying for entry into an MBA program that accepts a mixture of real-life experience and undergraduate classes for admission.
Far from feeling melancholy over her retirement, Yurkiw is grateful for what she calls an incredible ride.
“Now it’s time,” she says. “Being brave for me is stepping out.”