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Skier Wells well on road to recovery

With one fall on the soccer field, Alix Wells's career as a downhill skier flashed before her eyes. Her leg was broken just above the ankle and the thought of her ski racing this season was, literally, cast in uncertainty.

With one fall on the soccer field, Alix Wells's career as a downhill skier flashed before her eyes.

Her leg was broken just above the ankle and the thought of her ski racing this season was, literally, cast in uncertainty.

Six months later, Wells has erased most of those doubts and is well on her way to resuming her high-speed descents on steep alpine slopes. She's not racing yet, but she's not far off picking up where she left off as one of the country's top young alpine skiers.

The accident happened June 1 at Rotary Soccer Fields during practice for the under-16 Kodiaks travel team.

"I just tripped on a shoelace," she said. "I broke both the tibia and fibula and had to get surgery. It wasn't a clean break, it spiral-fractured almost from the top of my shin to my ankle bone. I have a plate and 15 screws and it's fine. It's still tender but I ice it a lot.

"The doctor (orthopedic surgeon Tim Olmstead) said I was fortunate it wasn't a muscle or a ligament, which is susceptible to getting injured again, but a bone usually heals a lot stronger."

Wells didn't start walking until mid-July, and by late August was back running and doing light workouts again.

"Walking was the biggest priority because I was so tired of sitting but the most upsetting thing was not being able to ski because I've spent the last eight years of my life doing it," Wells said. "I was supposed to go to Chile (for a provincial team summer camp) and that sucked I couldn't go.

"Initially I thought I wouldn't ski at all this season until my leg got back to normal but when they told me I was allowed to ski I decided I would do it."

In September, the 15-year-old Wells moved to Invermere to take advantage of the east Kootenay city's location right next to Panorama Mountain Village and a short drive from several Rocky Mountain ski resorts. She's dual-enrolled in Grade 10 courses at David Thompson secondary school in Invermere and Kelly Road secondary in Prince George.

"Once I broke my leg in the summer, we knew I had to go somewhere where the coaches are familiar with rehabbing athletes," said Wells. "Luckily, both coaches there are national team coaches and one of them (Helmut Spiegel) is rehab coach for the national team so I feel more confident being on the snow with him."

The school program is based around skiing and the four-member team skis and also goes through dryland training together, catching up with schoolwork after their workouts. Wells, an A-student last year despite missing 75 days of school for ski trips, is billeted with the family of one of the team members. She's back playing soccer and has been skiing the past three weeks at Panorama with the David Thompson school team.

"It was exciting the first time, because I hadn't skied in so long, but it was nerve-wracking of course, with a new school and a new coach," Wells said. "(The injury) hasn't really affected how I ski but it hurts sometimes and I have to watch that. I can't ski as much as I would like to."

School races have already began and the FIS racing calendar gets underway next weekend, but Wells is not ready to race and is strictly training. The Canada Winter Games qualifying races are in a couple weeks but she probably won't participate.

Wells, the provincial champion, carried the Olympic torch that lit the cauldron in Prince George in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Games. In March she placed second overall at the national K2 championships in Collingwood, Ont., where she won the super-G event and posted top-five results in all four events. She followed that with a seventh-place super-G finish at the international Whistler Cup.

Her coach, Spiegel, told her the story of Austrian skier Hermann Maier, a world champion whose leg was nearly amputated in August 2001 after a motorcycle accident. Three years later he won the World Cup super-G and overall alpine titles. Wells's injury was not nearly as serious as the Herminator's, but learning of his miraculous comeback has helped her through her own recovery process.

"I just want to get back to how I was at the end of last season," she said. "I know I'm not at the same level as all the other kids in the province but my coaches said I should there by the end of the season and that's something to look forward to."