February 2, 2013

Getting back up to speed

A Camden teen has her sights set on ski racing again after surviving a frightening crash last winter.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAMDEN - Molly Mann's home a week ago resembled a ski area on a busy day, buzzing with action. However, it was more a combination of relief and gratitude that fueled the Alpine energy.

click image to enlarge

Molly Mann of Camden enjoys going fast down ski trails, and her thirst for racing has returned even though she sustained numerous injuries and lost the hearing in her right ear when she crashed last January at Sunday River.

Courtesy photo

Last winter, Mann became one of those stories you hear about when a skier flies into the woods, strikes a tree, goes missing, and has to be air lifted off a mountain.

Mann was fortunate enough to recover from her accident. The only reminder is a ruptured ear drum and the loss of hearing in her right ear. And what's truly uncommon was the resolve Mann, 14, was left with, not just to ski but also to race again.

Mann's coaches at the Camden Snow Bowl have seen plenty of falls and crashes. In a high-speed sport full of danger, Mann's resilience and resolve is refreshing.

"I think it shows great character. She has a lasting injury, and yet she has decided to put it behind her and move forward," said Camden Snow Bowl youth coach Chris Christie.

"I had an athlete out west who was in one of the worst crashes I had ever seen. He shattered (two) vertebrae. He still skis. But he stopped racing."

A week ago as her parents, Jenny Roberts and Don Mann, sat and listened, Molly told her story again, how on Jan. 26, 2012, she went flying off an embankment at Sunday River, down a 25-foot ravine and into the woods, where she lay unconscious for more than an hour.

"Honestly, I thought I'd ditch and wipe out and get up," Mann recalled. "I remember tumbling a few times and then I got knocked out, obviously. My glove on my right hand came off, I don't remember why."

Mann was unconscious, covered in vomit and blood, before two parents from her middle school found her.

The mountain's ski patrol and Camden parents who had all been looking for Mann formed a human chain down the embankment to get her out. Trees had to be cut to get a back board down to her. The adults piled their down jackets on top of Mann to stop her from shaking.

During the slide down the hill, Mann broke her right wrist in two places, a finger and her left clavicle. She also fractured her skull. The lasting damage was done in her right ear, where somehow on that fall through frozen trees and branches the hearing nerve in her right ear had been punctured.

But when Mann was air lifted by LifeFlight to Maine Medical Center in Portland, none of the first responders or medical personnel knew if she had head trauma or a spine injury, Camden youth coach Weber Roberts said.

"It was the first major ski accident I have been involved in," Roberts said. "It was a pretty scary day. She's been amazing to come back and want to ski. And to want to ski right after that."

To Mann, it was the only path to take.

"One of my first questions when I could talk was: Would I be able to ski again?" Mann said.

When she got back on skis on Dec. 12, it was the fear of falling that haunted her, particularly as she grabbled with her sense of balance after losing some of her hearing. But with the poise of an experienced racer, Mann decided to take her first run on a different mountain.

She wanted to face her fears alone, in a different setting, not on her town's mountain, which is just 10 minutes from her home and is where she has raced since age 7. So she went to Saddleback with her father and her younger sister, Jesi.

"I didn't want people to judge me. With the first run of any season, you have to get back into it. I had some fear. Also, I like to go fast. I was worried I wouldn't be any good," Mann said.

By her second run down Saddleback, Mann was still afraid of veering off and tumbling. By the third run, she began to pick up speed and leave some of her fear behind.

Mann soon began practicing for a return to racing, but her plans were put on hold by a hyperextended thumb that necessitated a cast. It's unlikely that she'll recover in time to race this winter, but she fully intends to race next winter.

"I became convinced I could do it again. I just told myself, 'You can't hold back. You have to go for it,'" she said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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