Story and gallery by KATHERINE SCHUMANN
On July 23, 2018, USA Nordic athlete Stephen Schumann suffered a fall on the K120 ski jumping hill at the Utah Olympic Park, tearing his ACL and meniscus. His focus for the season then turned from training to the recovery of his knee.
That was a huge change for the young athlete of 18. This Olympic hopeful is ranked for the US team and as his coach Blake Hughes said, it “is a huge loss for the team itself and teammates to lose him this winter season.”
Schumann’s entire focus of life has been his sport and getting to the Olympics. Last winter Schumann missed the Olympic spot for the 2018 winter Olympics in Peyong Chang by just a point, coming in fifth when the team cut off is four athletes.
Not being able to make the Olympic team drove Schumann’s focus for the upcoming four years and the next Olympics. He knew he had to train harder and get faster to make that cut the next time.
After the fall when Schumann heard his knee snap he said, “At that point I knew my season was over and it absolutely devastated me.” For the young athlete he felt like his Olympic chances were over. He worried about the future of his career as an athlete, his sponsorships, and mostly his childhood dream of the Olympics.
“For a while Schumann was angry at himself and the world for letting this happen,” Hughes said. Mentally it was especially hard when his teammates were off to Europe for another round of training and competitions and Schumann was stuck on the couch resting.
Schumann expected the hardest part of his injury to be the physical recovery and getting his strength back to normal. But what he learned was the hardest part is the mental recovery The physical aspect he found to be simple.
“You can only push your body to a safe point,” he said. “That’s not confusing. Dealing with your emotions while having a lot of free time to think about it. That’s confusing.”
After waiting a week Schumann got two surgery dates a month apart. The surgery was to be done by Dr. Robert Burks at the University of Utah Orthopedic Clinic. He was also comforted by knowing that his team doctor, Jonathan Finnoff at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, a sponsor of the USA Nordic team, was working directly with Burks.
Having his team doctor by his side and a plan made it easier for Schumann to feel confident about the surgery and process of healing. With all his free time and the doctors supervising his physical healing, Burks said, “The news of two surgeries brought the young athlete to tears, more bad news he didn’t want to hear.”
Schumann started physical therapy at the Alpine Physical Therapy Clinic two times a week, and at the USSA Center of Excellence with James Stray-Gundersen. He is the founder of B-Strong Bands.
Physical therapy gave Schumann a way to focus on the sport he loved in a different aspect, seeing one of the two physical therapists at least five days per week and sometimes six keeps him busy and focused.
Stray-Gundersen said, “Working with a young athlete at this capacity was eye-opening. These kids are so driven and dedicated to their sport.” As a professional athlete Schumann’s recovery is expedited going through the general steps that any meniscus and ACL physical therapy recovery would go through. But moving through them faster, with more visits and the B-Strong.
“The hardest part Schumann has faced with this expedited recovery is that he feels the need to push himself like he would when training, but recovery is different than training and recovering correctly is the most important thing to getting his physical strength back to 100 percent,” Stray-Gundersen said.
After Schumann’s second surgery he was more motivated than ever knowing that he is done with the medically mechanical side of the injury and now that he can work one day at a time toward his end goal, total recovery and competing again. The recovery has been straightforward, and Schumann said he “has taken huge strides finding happiness in the little victories.”
Schumann has learned so much from this experience that he feels has made him into a stronger person and athlete and will help him come back not only more motivated but mentally stronger.
Having felt as though he already knew a lot about his body and physical limits as an athlete this experience has taught him that you can’t control everything, taking things slow is sometimes better, and your body is much smarter than you think it is.
Watch out for Schumann in the near future as he works day in and day out to become the best in the world at the sport that he loves.