Downdays w/ Isabelle Hanssen

Interview: Jason Mousseau

Good morning Isabelle! Thanks for taking the time — how are things going?

Goodmorning! Things are going alright, as you know I just had ACL surgery six weeks ago so things could be better, could be worse! Thanks for asking!

We’ll be touching base with you every month to chat and get an update on your recovery. We won’t be chatting too much about skiing, and will be asking some tough questions. What makes you want to share your story?

A lot of people in the industry are dealing with similar injuries and are in similar situations as I am right now. But whenever I go out surfing on the internet I never seem to find any stories or articles that I can actually relate to. Recovering from any kind of injury is not easy, you go through some really tough times and sometimes it feels like you’re the only one that has ever felt like this, but I know that’s not true. Hopefully chatting with you will show some people out there that what they are feeling is normal, and they aren’t in this alone. You gotta find the happiness in the little things.

What are the specifics of your injury? Can you detail how it happened?

I re-ruptured my ACL about nine weeks ago during Revolution Tour practice in Seven Springs.

The conditions were really tough. We only got one training day (two hours, in the rain, with an extremely under vert halfpipe), that day I had four really gnarly crashes, I remember talking to my parents and telling them I was lucky to have walked away from those crashes, and having doubts about competing the next day. On comp day we got 45 minutes of practice, the weather was better and the halfpipe felt a tiny bit better. On my 4th run I decided to practice my comp run, I did a left five on my first hit, and coming around my feet hit the deck and my body kept moving down the pipe. I felt my ACL snap on impact.

I’ve torn my ACL before back in 2010 so I knew what it felt like and instantly knew it was bad. I was taken to the hospital and later that day saw an orthopedic surgeon and had an MRI scan. I got the results the next morning. I flew straight home and saw my own orthopedic surgeon a few days later. Then I had surgery two weeks later (we had to wait two weeks because of the swelling).

I’m now six weeks post op, and feeling really good!

What are some of the initial thoughts that first go through your head when you know you’re injured?

I screamed “It’s my knee” and as soon as I said it my heart just sank. First thoughts were along the lines of ‘‘fuck it’s my knee, fuck it’s my knee, no not my knee’. It feels like your whole world just crumbles into pieces. Then I just cried, not because of the pain (even though it hurt like a bitch) but because I know what tearing your ACL means.

What about once the adrenaline has worn off?

I’m quite the control freak so before I let any of the feelings in I had stuff to take care of. I was in the hospital by myself, and had to make sure I got to see the orthopedic surgeon and get an MRI as soon as possible. I had to figure out how I was going to get back to The Netherlands and what was going to happen to my room and all my stuff back in Colorado, things like that.

And after that?

It took a little while for me to accept that it really happened. I was just coming back from two shoulder injuries and it just seemed so unfair that this would happen to me, again. There were a lot of sad days, there still is. My last ACL recovery was one of the hardest times in my life and I didn’t wanted to go through that again, there was a lot of anger involved. I think when you get seriously injured you go through stages of grief, ‘Injury grief’ denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and until you reach the acceptance stage it’s extremely hard. You have to find the happiness in the little things, try and see the light at the end of this long tunnel. Work hard and stay positive.

Who was by your side when all of this was happening? What kind of support did they provide?

I actually didn’t have anyone by my side. We don’t have a Dutch National team so I mostly travel alone or with friends. I traveled to Seven Springs with Jeanee Crane-Mauzy but because I crashed on the contest day Jeanee still had to compete, so I went to the hospital alone. At the end of the day her and her father came to pick me up.

What were some coping techniques you have developed to help you through this time?

I don’t know if I have any special coping techniques, I just try to keep a positive mind and attitude.

We know all the risks going into it and we decide that it’s worth it. Because the times of utter misery are so worth it for the times of complete happiness. I’m also a strong believer of everything happens for a reason, sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war. I believe that what ever happens was meant to be and somehow it will bring me where I’m supposed to go. Believing this definitely helps to keep me positive towards my recovery. Sometimes you have to take two steps back only to find yourself moving twenty steps forward.

How is this recovery different from the last?

I’ve become quite the expert at injury recovery over the last six years dealing with all different kind of injuries. The stronger you go in the better you come out, I was in a lot better shape this time. I also know a lot more about training, recovery and nutrition now that will all help me recover better. Back then I was just doing Physical therapy a couple of times a week, now I’m doing that and I’m in the gym whenever I can training whatever I can. I’m also reading a lot of mental training books that are helping me stay positive. Most people value their body as their strongest weapon, but your mind is more powerful.

Do you mind sharing a few of those book titles with us?

Mind Gym, An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack The Flight of Ambition by Apoorve Dubey Body Mind Mastery, Training For Sport and Life by Dan Millman

Talk to us a bit about your diet and workout routine.

I promised myself a while ago that I would do anything I can to reach my full potential. Training and nutrition is a big part of that. I try my best to eat as healthy as possible, I follow a pretty strict diet so that my body produces energy out of protein, good fats and vegetables and not as much out of carbs. This helps me to have a lot more energy, produce muscles better and just feel better overall. But of course I have cheat days once in awhile too! Haha.

Together with my physical therapist who is also a personal trainer I’ve developed a training plan specific for halfpipe skiing. But for now the focus is on my recovery, which means I’m doing PT two times a week and I’m in the gym four or five times a week. Basically as much as possible, and as much as my knee and my body will let me.

Talk to us about these cheat days. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Sushi and donuts!! Specially Dunkin Donuts Chocolate glazed, you can wake me up for those anytime!

What about emotional and mental rewards? Do you spoil yourself when you have hit a new milestone or accomplish a tough goal?

When you reach a goal that you worked really hard to accomplish it gives you a great feeling that in my opinion is reward enough. Anyone that knows what it’s like to work hard knows that feeling of accomplishment. It’s really good for the soul!

What has been the biggest obstacle thus far?

When you get injured it feels like your body let you down, that it ‘failed’’ you. One of the most difficult things is letting go of the anger and resentment towards your own body and to trust and love it again. I work extremely hard to accomplish my goals, and having injury after injury just feels so unfair. But we know our sport comes with a lot of risk and bad luck plays a big part in that. My biggest obstacle was definitely accepting what had happened and regaining my positive attitude.

What kind of support has your sponsors given you?

They all have been really understanding and supportive. There isn’t much they can do for me right now. I really hope this injury won’t affect my bond I’ve developed with my sponsors, I really enjoy working with all of them.

Do you feel a certain disconnect from the community while you’re injured?

We spend so much time training and competing with the same group of people that you create an entire family of people with the same passion. When you see them day in day out and even live together with some, you learn all about each other’s struggles, victories and get to know each other inside and out. This creates tight bonds with amazing people. But when I get injured, it means that I can’t ski and have to go back home to The Netherlands. Because of that I definitely experience some sort of disconnection from friends, good times and laughs. It makes me miss all parts of the lifestyle.

What are some of your goals with your recovery? And with your ski career?

After dealing with two shoulder injuries I wasn’t in the best condition and now that I have the time to heal properly and gain a lot of strength I wanna get back as good, healthy and strong as possible.

I have lots of goals and dreams! But the main goal is to ski as much as possible, to reach my full potential and become the best skier I can be. I really enjoy competing and I’d love to one day take part in the Olympics. That would be a dream come true. I also really want to promote freestyle skiing in The Netherlands, to help the community grow and create more support for the skiers here, I think going to the Olympics will help me do that.

Thanks again Isa! Wishing you a speedy recovery — we’ll be chatting again soon.

No problem! Thank you for doing this interview with me!