Australian skiier overcomes stroke

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Sami Kennedy-Sim had experienced pain in training and the injuries that inevitably come in ski-cross racing when four skiers are barreling down a course filled with jumps, banks and slopes.

Australian Olympic ski-cross hopeful Sami Kennedy-Sim (right) had a minor stroke in April 2013 that caused partial paralysis on her left side, but with some therapy and training, she has bounced back.  ROB GRIFFITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROB GRIFFITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Australian Olympic ski-cross hopeful Sami Kennedy-Sim (right) had a minor stroke in April 2013 that caused partial paralysis on her left side, but with some therapy and training, she has bounced back.

When she felt her face uncontrollably drooping and paralysis down her left side after waking one morning, though, she could barely fathom what was happening.

That was in April, less than 10 months before the Winter Olympics. After an ambulance trip, five days in the hospital and several months of rehabilitation following a minor stroke, Kennedy-Sim is in strong contention for a spot on Australia’s freestyle team for Sochi.

When she leaves early November for Canada and the first of five World Cup ski-cross qualifying events, the former track athlete, surf lifesaver and Alpine skier goes as a poster girl for the National Stroke Foundation.

Kennedy-Sim – fit, full of life and only 25 – said the stroke was a shocking experience.

“As I struggled in bed, my symptoms got worse,” she said, recalling that morning. “I was gasping for air ... unable to speak.”

Now she wants to put it behind her.

“Fortunately, my stroke was really minor, and once I was able to get on with the job, I didn’t really want to know anything else about what might have caused it,” she told The Associated Press in an interview. “About 30 percent of young people who have strokes, they never determine the cause.”

KENNEDY-SIM, WHOSE best World Cup finish is fifth place (twice in 2012), has been ranked as high as 11th in ski-cross, but dropped to 23rd after a self-described “appalling” 2012-13 season which included a concussion from a crash in training at a test event in Sochi.

She has high hopes for a return to the Black Sea resort in Russia that has been transformed to host the Olympics, particularly after her intensive, five-week training camp in New Zealand.

“It was really productive,” Kennedy-Sim said, “and gave me some confidence.”

AT SOCHI, THERE will be 32 finalists in both men and women’s events. They’ll race down the hill in groups of four, bouncing over natural and sometime very unnatural terrain.

Kennedy-Sim, who knew Zoricic, says the ski-cross fraternity is a “very tight group” of about 120 athletes who socialize on and off the slopes.

Kennedy-Sim said the ski-crossers have formed an “alliance” to make sure that competition sites are not dangerous and “that our safety is not compromised.” They gave the planned Sochi course the thumbs-up in February during the test event.

SHE WILL OVERCOME the odds just by making it to the starting gate, and will no doubt raise some awareness of strokes, which can impact on men or women at any age. She was lucky her husband, former Olympian Ben Sim, realized quickly when Kennedy-Sim needed emergency medical treatment.

“Sami was fortunate her husband recognized the signs of stroke,” said Dr. Erin Lalor, chief executive officer of Australia’s National Stroke Foundation. “Fortunate she was close by a hospital, fortunate she now has a great doctor looking after her and access to a specialist rehabilitation team.”

As she looks forward to Sochi, Kennedy-Sim is reminded of the motto she has featured prominently on her own Web site.

And one which, following recovery, seems to be even more appropriate: “Passion + Persistence = Performance.”

“It’s always stayed with me,” she said.

No one is more aware of that than Kennedy-Sim’s husband. He knows the rigors of training following his cross-country ski career, which included the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and five world championships.

“As scary as it was for Sami to have that setback, she couldn’t just sit there,” Ben Sim said. “Persistence is the biggest thing. She knows she has to keep training hard and not only make it to Sochi, but hopefully do well there.”


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