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Farrow puts best foot forward on the road to Sochi

15 May 2013

Lying on the ground with his knee literally in pieces, John Farrow made a decision right there and then - he was going to the Olympics.

It was November 2011 and Farrow was in Lake Placid for a World Cup race in his sport of Skeleton.

Skeleton is held on an icy track like bobsleigh and luge, and to gain momentum, athletes push the sled at the start as fast as possible before diving into a prone position and sliding head-first down a 1200m track.

 While warming up off the ice on a running track, Farrow tripped on his spikes and his knee “went completely sideways”.

Farrow almost saw his Olympic dreams crumble as he ruptured his ACL, LCL, hamstring, popliteal tendon, broke his tibia and did peroneal nerve damage.
“I did a lot of damage,” 31-year-old Farrow admitted.

“At the time I didn’t realise just how much damage I had done though. I was lying on the ground going in and out of shock and all I remember is that I made a decision right then that I would come back. I’d be back because I wanted to go to Sochi.”

Farrow was determined to get back on the sliding track to compete at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which will take place in Russia in February 2014. But the injuries he sustained were so severe that even walking again was a distant hope.

It would take two surgeries and organ donations of a hamstring and an Achilles tendon to get him into rehabilitation. But even then, Farrow had a major hurdle to overcome. His foot was badly paralysed, in a condition known as ‘foot drop’.

“I couldn’t lift it [the foot] up, it would just drag along. I knew from the doctors how long the recovery for everything else would take – except for this. With nerves, it’s just one of those things. It could be permanent, it could come back. They just didn’t know.”

After initial surgery in New York, Farrow’s doctors in Australia decided to delay the ACL operation he needed until April 2012 to reduce trauma on the nerve.

In the intervening months, Farrow returned to Lake Placid and started sliding again. Not able to walk properly, let alone run – he pushed off at the start with just one leg.

One year on, with months of intense rehabilitation and strength work under his belt, Farrow had to get back on the international circuit at the end of 2012 earn qualification points and keep his Olympic dream alive.

But he could still only drag his leg, so his friends got together and they began constructing splints out of plastics and then a Kevlar-Carbon compound for Farrow to train and compete with. This allowed the foot to move into a 90 degree position.

“As long as the foot is lifted up, I still have all the power through my leg I just don’t have the stability and control to move sideways,” Farrow explained, acknowledging a lot of the brace prototypes broke along the way.
“The only disadvantage has been that once I am actually on the sled, my foot angles a weird way so it is not aerodynamic.”

Despite this disadvantage, Farrow’s results in the recent northern winter were close to what they were before the injury, even with his foot not being able to move.

Then he met Dr Larissa Trease, a doctor on the Australian Winter Team, at the Sochi test event in February this year.

“I looked at all the sliders when they came through Sochi and the team physio told me about John’s fascinating injury,” Dr Trease said.

“It’s a huge injury and he was still having troubles with it. I come from a background in Paralympic sports and there is a group of people that work there in sport aids. When I saw John and saw him using his own home-made braces we talked about different materials, because he kept breaking them. I said that we should get him to see the specialist and get a proper brace made.”

Farrow has since met with Certified Orthotist Bernard Badorrek who has fitted him with an orthotic to help lift his affected left foot.

Additionally, nearly two years after the injury, the nerve is starting to show signs of repair.

“I have flickers in my toes and I can lift my foot against gravity. I have gone from walking around with a floppy foot for 19 months to having some signs of hope that it might come back,” Farrow said.

“I am looking forward to hopefully being 100 per cent by Sochi and definitely coming back strong for the next four years towards Korea,” he said of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Now back in Sydney preparing for the Olympic selection events, Farrow will spend the next five months combining strength and conditioning work in the gym, running and a variety of cross training activities.

“Downhill mountain biking, riding my motor bike – even go-karting, these are all key to my training,” Farrow explained.

“Once you are on the sled, you are on a vehicle that you have to take round corners, pick lines, choose apexes. It’s like a Formula One race – you need to stay focused and do as fast a time as possible.”

Australia hopes to qualify two men and three women in skeleton for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics which take place in Russia from 7 – 23 February 2014.

Alice Wheeler

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