Inner Strength

Angel Collinson shares lessons learned during ACL recovery

Marquee Image: Angel Collinson in Alaska filming for TGR’s upcoming release “Tight Loose.” PHOTO: Nic Alegre/TGR

Angel Collinson was on her annual trip to Alaska in April, filming with Teton Gravity Research, when she took a fall that resulted in a torn ACL, finding herself on the couch with her leg raised under a bag of ice instead of hopping out of helicopters on massive Alaskan peaks.

I tore my own ACL just two months earlier, on a much smaller mountain in Upstate New York. During my recovery, I’ve experienced the whirlwind of emotions that come with a big injury—the identity crisis, finding other ways to spend time besides being in the mountains, and practicing self-love, regardless of blown knees.

All recoveries are different, Collinson told me on a call from Vermont, and sometimes things go a little bit slower than expected. For the woman who won Best Line at the Powder Awards in 2015, it has been hard to maintain a rehab schedule while traveling around the country and filming for Outside TV this summer.

Now three months post-surgery, Collinson has learned that it’s important to accept wherever she is in her recovery, and is working hard to make her knee and herself stronger every day.

Kelly: How’s the recovery going so far?
Collinson: It’s going well, but I haven’t been prioritizing my knee as much as I should be, and I just realized this last week. This has definitely been a lesson in patience and diligence and knowing that I just can’t make up all the ground at once.

It’s also been lot more introspective than I was expecting. I always thought that injuries were challenging for people because of their inability to do the things that they like to do, and maybe for feeling left out, but it’s kind of crazy how much deeper injuries go than I ever realized. They target a lot of core beliefs or issues that you may have with yourself. For me, I’ve been dealing with a lot of self-worth stuff, with my body being a large part of my identity and what I do, so when that was taken away from me, all of a sudden I felt worthless. I had to do some deeper work on the self-worth theme.

But, I’ve found that all the things in life that make us a bigger and better person are usually challenges that we wouldn’t choose, and this is definitely one of them. At the same time I’m so fortunate to be young and healthy, and it was only my ACL, and everything considered it was best-case scenario, so it’s a very good opportunity to deal with my own crap without being totally debilitated.

With so many of your relationships with people created in the mountains, has it been difficult to maintain them while being injured?

Totally, yeah! It really makes you revaluate who you are, and how you relate to people. Because if your normal way of relating is being outside together, and your ability to do that is taken away, it’s really difficult. All of my friends are active, so I’ve kind of been forced to either spend more time by myself, or nurture other friendships.

Have you picked up any new hobbies or focused your energy in specific places while recovering?

I’ve been doing more art, and my goal was to learn the banjo, but I’m very far behind on that goal. I’ve been spending a lot of time just being quiet, not listening to anything, and not saying anything but being present and enjoying the stillness. But I’ve been drawing more and singing more and reading more for sure.

Looking to next season, what are you doing to get ready?

I’m trying to get to Hawaii for three months—for October, November, and December—and just really hammer out getting stronger. I’m not too worried about getting on snow as quickly as possible, I just want to be as strong and 100 percent as I can be by the time Alaska rolls around. I only get to rehab once. I can ski any other year, and I’ll ski this year, too.

What’s the plan when you get back to Alaska?

Hopefully to get some redemption.

How do you mitigate risk? And more so, how do you balance risks like injury or avalanches with your love of being in the mountains?

A large part is, you know, knowing your own limits and listening to your gut and your intuition. In order to manage risk, you have to know your limits—know when you can push it, when you shouldn’t be pushing it, and how to have humility to step off of something. The other part is being as educated and well-trained as possible. Avalanches are really a crazy force of nature and we have to try our best to be good at rescue and identifying what’s going on with snowpack and storms, and it takes a lot of practice and training. So between those two things you have to be as knowledgeable as possible, not rusty, and have humility.

What is the biggest lesson that you think you’ve learned from being injured?

I would say that it’s really important to accept yourself for where you’re at, and it’s important to work hard and have discipline and goals. But really the most healing thing is a good attitude and self-love. If you feel good about yourself, where you’re at, and you’re OK with things taking a little bit longer than expected, then all of a sudden, that’s when all my best breakthroughs have happened…It’s important to go easy on yourself and know that you’re still improving even if you can’t see the changes. Oftentimes, change is something we can’t see, and we have to know that we are always getting stronger.

Read more about Collinson in “Angel’s Song” a feature in the November 2015 issue of POWDER (44.3)