Jan Hudec's longtime physio talks about the medical marvel
Jan Hudec’s battle through six knee surgeries and back woes to win his second World Cup downhill victory in Chamonix, France, on the weekend is an incredible feat.
Among those who really understand what he's been through is former alpine team physiotherapist Kent Kobelka, who helped the Calgary skier through 1,500 days in rehab, give or take a few hundred. (We'll excuse Kobelka for not having an exact count)
We caught up this week with Kobelka, whose duties now include medical coordinator for Hockey Canada, rehab therapist for the Calgary Flames as well as working with Olympic athletes through the Canadian Sports Centre in Calgary (Guess he needed all those jobs to match the workload he had with Hudec.)
“I’m not at all surprised he’s back where he is,” said Kobelka. “He’s such an unbelievable talent. When he gets healthy and he gets some confidence, he is one of the best. I know a lot of people would say ‘Oh, it’s been a long road,’ but when you see what this kid has been through in his life and the things he’s come back from, it’s probably not that big of a surprise.”
Kobelka points out that Hudec has to walk a tightrope that most of his peers don’t.
“It’s hard because this is a guy who can’t do the high volume of training a healthy person can do because his body can’t take it. But he’s also a mature athlete that he’s been through the grind a little bit to say ‘Okay, I know what I need to do and how I need to feel to be prepared to race.’”
Kobelka was there with Hudec through his six knee surgeries, five of them ACLs.
“It was a roller coaster. The one thing I think always pulled him through is every time he came back from an injury, there was a greater success. He had his first win, he injured himself, he then came back and was able to get second in the world championships … Through every injury, he was able to come back and be a little bit better or have a better race.
“I remember at the world championships in Val d’Isere after he blew his knee that race, he called and the first thing out of his mouth wasn’t ‘I’m done.’ It was ‘I’m committed to getting back and I want to do it again.’ That’s not an easy thing. There’s a lot of different people’s opinions out there that would say ‘Should he even be skiing with all these injuries?’”
Kobelka said it’ll be important for Hudec to get through this season in one piece and do the all the little things necessary to stay on top of his issues, something he hasn’t excelled at in the past.
“As far as the back goes, he has bulging disks. When you bend over and everything you do is in a flex position, skiing, sitting, travelling, everything else, I don’t think any of the guys have good backs. Think of being in a crouch position for everything you do. It’s not a very functional position to be in. His back is always going to be an issue. I’m sure he spends a lot time with (team physiotherapist) Julie Harvey on the road.
“His knees, six surgeries, there’s osteoarthritis being built up, cartilage has obviously been affected. In the future, his knees are not going to be probably his most favorable thing. He is probably more poised to have a knee replacement than someone who hasn’t had six surgeries.”
Hudec and Kobelka exchanged messages after his big win.
“There isn’t a nicer guy in the world. He’ll take the time to talk to anyone. It’s just nice to see a good guy get on the top.
(Photos by PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Here's a pic of the 1-3-5 trio of Hudec (R), Erik Guay (plaid), and Ben Thomsen. What a showing!