Slovenian cross country skier Petra Majdic won a bronze medal in Vancouver and captured world attention for her courage

I just bumped into an old story on TV that almost had me crying. It certainly pushed me later to strain a little more while weightlifting and doing push ups. If Petra can ignore the pain and gut out her third place finish in cross country ski sprinting, then I can certainly do better than I have been performing.

She may have been favored to win the gold, but in the practice run, she overshot a turn and fell down into a ditch 10 feet, hit a rock and was in agony. Nevertheless she forced herself to enter the race. She came in 19th in the first heat, which accepted the top 30 out of maybe 50. Then after a brief break, maybe an hour, she entered another heat, then another and then the finals. An amazing performance. She had to be carried off the course after each heat. A quick x-ray between heats showed no rib breaks, but after the finals, it was determined that she had raced with four broken ribs and a punctured lung.

You can start this video at 00:42 or watch another inspiring athlete, Terry Fox, who has an award named after him that was also given to Petra for her courage and incredible achievement. It’s all stills after 1:28, so you may want to stop there.

She was told she couldn’t go to the medal award ceremony, but she forced herself and the doctors to get her there in a wheelchair. And people had to lift her onto the podium. This kind of determination and will power is unimaginable. It shows what we are capable of if we push ourselves. I love that her psychologist “encouraged her to compete, as a day of pain was nothing compared to decades of preparation.”

This video from a 2009 race gives you an idea of what this sport is like. You will see that she fell in the race, but still came from behind…

Now here is a detailed news story about Petra’s astonishing achievement:

Whistler, Canada – Petra Majdic won her cross-country sprint bronze medal with four fractured ribs and a tear of the membrane of the lung from a training crash, Slovenian team doctor Tatjaz Urul said on Thursday. Turel told Slovenian television TVS said that the injuries will not allow Majdic to compete again at the Vancouver Games but can’t fly home immediately either because of the lung injury…

Majdic’s heroics were the talk of the town even before the exact nature of the injuries were later known. She arrived in a wheelchair at the medal ceremony late Wednesday to collect her bronze behind Norway’s Marit Bjoergen and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.

“I think that they (the Slovenians) will think that I am just more than a hero, especially when they find out what injuries I was competing with. I think for sure more than a hero,” Majdic said.

Majdic, 30, fell on an icy patch and slid into a small gorge during the warm-up. First ultrasound examinations revealed no fractures and she used just pain killers to get from qualifying through the quarter-and semi-finals onto the podium.

“This is not a bronze medal, this is a gold medal with little diamonds on it. I already won a medal for going to the start. The wish was so big because I have been fighting for this for 22 years,” she said.

“There was a big hole. I fell three metres. I fell on rocks. I broke one ski and both poles. I was screaming.”

Majdic, who had to be helped out of the finish area by team officials after each race, named personal and national pride as the driving force behind her refusal to give up.

“I thought it was over. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t walk. But my desire was so strong. The second part of me said I will go to the start,” she said.

“You know what it is like when you came from a small country. And you never know whether you will get such a chance again.”

Majdic got the first Olympic cross-country medal for Slovenia, the nation’s fifth overall (all bronze) and the first individual medal since 1994.

Majdic’s psychologist Matej Tusak encouraged her to compete as a day of pain was nothing compared to decades of preparation.

“It is just a lot of pain and I said to her ‘You have 25 years of training, you can do this, you have to do this for yourself, you will just have to hear your heartbeat and feel your arms and legs, then you can do it,'” said Tusak.

Majdic was the Olympic top favourite as leader of the sprint World Cup, and with 16 of her 20 World Cup race wins coming in this discipline.

She said Wednesday that she would likely miss Friday’s pursuit but would try to compete in next week’s 30km. However, the final diagnosis now ended her Olympic adventure.