- Speed Skating
Can't hold her down: Kelly Gunther
Kelly Gunther only had to look at her foot, or what was left of it, once.
“I knew my ankle was broken, but I had no idea it wasn’t attached to my leg,” Gunther said.
In March 2010, with two weeks left in the season, American speed skater Gunther was skating the 500m course at the Olympic Oval in Utah, the same rink she’d done laps on countless times before. Gunther slipped and, after crashing into the boards, lay prone on the hard ice, her eyes pointed at the direction she just came from.
Then she took that one glimpse, and it confirmed the worst.
“I did look once and then I never looked again,” Gunther said.
She had suffered a double-compound fracture. Her ankle, the bones themselves, were visible.
“I kept thinking to myself over and over again, ‘someone is worse somewhere else, someone may be dying at this point or going through something way more miserable then I am,’” Gunther said.
While being taken off the ice, Gunther asked the medical professionals helping her if she was going to be able to skate again. They chuckled.
“They were like, ‘you’re foot’s hanging off your leg,’” Gunther said.
After the injury, she had surgery and was off skates for six months, the longest she hadn't skated since she took up the sport.
“That was kind of hard, I had so many questions and not many answers,” Gunther said.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Kelly Gunther takes Olympic Trials
But that wasn't the first time Gunther had dealt with adversity. Rewind a few months before the accident to Olympic Trials. She had qualified for the top spot in the 1000m, sealing her position on the Olympic team to send her to Vancouver, exceeding her expectations.
“I was kind of a long shot going into Trials, so I wasn’t really expecting much,” Gunther said. “It was maybe more exciting than this one (Trials).”
But then fellow American skater Rebekah Bradford was granted a re-skate after falling during her original race, and her new time was enough to beat Gunther. Gunther's Olympic dream had been crushed by a technicality, but she says she took it in stride.
“I went to the rink the very next day,” Gunther said. “That was just a stepping stone.”
Then came the gruesome accident. Defeat by bad luck and brutal injury didn't deter her, though. Her patience finally paid dividends at the place it all started: Olympic Trials.
Gunther qualified at the 2014 Trials for the 1000m, finishing fourth and grabbing the last available position in the distance. She will go to Sochi as part of the U.S. speed skating team.
“Just coming back from all of that is pretty exciting, to look back and be like, ‘Wow, I actually made it, I actually did all the work I needed to do,’” Gunther said.
So Kelly Gunther has seen both ends of the spectrum, and for her, it all makes sense. The disappointment of 2010 Trials, the injury, the bliss of qualifying for Sochi, she says, all are intertwined.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason.”
Embedded video_content_type: U.S. women's 1000m speed skating team set