Three-tracker Karen Gardner found out a basic law of physics in the Alps: What goes up must come down. A few days after winning the gold medal in super G at the World Disabled Alpine Championships, she broke her good leg in a skiing mishap.
Gardner, whose fourth-place finish at the '94 Paralympics in Lillehammer had fueled her drive for a medal in Lech, lost her left leg to cancer in 1990. Last January, on a day when she says "I should've gone shopping," she got caught in a tricky change of snow conditions while skiing with teammates after the Worlds and tore a ligament and fractured her right fibula.
She rehabbed the injuries without surgery but missed the summer training camp at Mt. Hood. Complications, which meant potential trouble in weight-bearing situations, had her taking things slowly before getting back on skis.
COMMENT: "I'd been feeling pretty confident I'd do a personal best in Lech but I didn't know I'd be the best on any day; I hoped I'd be able to medal. Slalom is my best event but I skied a good clean line in super G. It was nice to see some new faces. Not knowing the competition, but knowing I was skiing well enough against my teammates who are pretty good, I felt good."
Start-up: Learned to ski as a teenager but ignored it for about 15 years, until she lost her leg. She started disabled skiing in Winter '91 -- she saw a poster advertising a trip to New Zealand for disabled skiers at Winter Park, so she joined the team. "I decided I needed that kind of trip," she said.
Gardner made her breakthrough two years later with medalist results at the Huntsman Cup and Columbia Crest races plus DH/SG medals at nationals.
Chocoholic: She's got her cravings (usually) under control but having the Worlds in Austria posed a special threat to her love of chocolate ice cream. Daily chocolate "fixes" were her personal reward for skiing well.
Enjoys photography, maybe: "I think about photography more than I do it."
Atlanta: A physical therapist, she had to turn down some work during spring and summer "because I couldn't trust my two legs to be supporting someone else." But she volunteered to be a PT at the Summer Paralympics in Atlanta and was assigned to work with swimmers.
And...: Gardner got to carry the Paralympic torch as it came into Atlanta. "I saw the Olympics torch when I was 10 and dreamed of carrying it some day. I faxed Paralympic organizers and they said I could carry it by bike for about 3 1/2 miles."
Bookshelf: "Most of my reading is professional journals, helping me stay up on my career."
Music: She played piano for four or five years as a child.
School: Earned a BS in math in 1984, then went to CU for her physiotherapy degree.
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