Aztec native aims for spot in 2018 Winter Paralympic Games
FARMINGTON – Brittani Coury doesn't let hardship prevent her from hitting the slopes — even if it takes the form of an excruciating injury and recovery process.
The Paralympic snowboarder and Aztec native has spent the last 14 years regaining her form after suffering a severe right ankle fracture while doing what she loves the most. Ultimately, she had to have her foot and ankle amputated.
And now Coury will embark on her latest journey: training for the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games on March 9-18 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
"It's always been my passion and my love, and it's cool to have that rekindled," Coury, 31, said.
'I knew something was wrong'
On Christmas Eve 2003, Coury, then 17, was snowboarding with a couple of friends just outside of Durango, Colo. Moving fast down a mountain, she hit an icy spot and tumbled down the mountain.
“My foot tried to come out of the boot, but it stayed halfway in the boot and still tried to come out at the same time,” Coury recalled. “Immediately, I knew something was wrong.”
She tried to shrug it off, but the swelling lingered. And after visiting the emergency room on Christmas Day, Coury was told her ankle was broken and was instructed to stay off it for the next few months.
But those few months turned into a few passing years, with no answers.
Coury visited an orthopedic surgeon in 2006, discovering she had bone spurs throughout her ankle area.
So, at age 21, she had surgery to removed those bone spurs.
She then started snowboarding again the following year after moving to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is just outside Yosemite National Park in the east-central part of the state.
A second chance, dashed
After a few months of boarding at Mammoth Lakes and taking advantage of the jumps there, which Coury said she enjoyed a little too much, her ankle was in bad shape again.
A physician in Mammoth Lakes recommended an ankle fusion procedure, but Coury sought a second medical opinion and traveled to Denver. That second physician was straight up with her.
“He said that an ankle fusion was for a 70-year-old that just wanted to move the water on their grass,” Coury said.
Several years and seven surgeries later, Coury said the joint in her ankle was “so deformed” that doctors couldn’t do much else to fix it.
After doing extensive research weighing the pros and cons, Coury opted to have her lower leg amputated in June 2011 at age 25 and wear a prosthetic leg that goes up to her shin.
Comparing her two options, Coury said it was a no-brainer to go with a prosthetic leg.
“I could deal with the pain, but couldn’t deal with not being active in my youth,” Coury said. "It was definitely the right thing for me."
The next stage
After spending more than five years away from the sport she had taken part in since she was 13, Coury started training again last December.
"She's been able to pick up a lot of this so fast," said Chris Koeppe, Coury's snowboarding coach. "She's been able to adapt... with all the things that have happened with losing her leg."
During that hiatus, she went to nursing school and received her emergency medical services certification. Getting an education in those fields also benefited Coury in regard to her training.
"I'm definitely smarter with my rehab," Coury said.
Coury competed in New Zealand about a month ago on a course featuring steep terrain. She said that landscape helped prepare her for what she'll face in South Korea.
Coury will depart for the United State Olympics Training Center in Colorado Springs today for a two-week training session with her fellow Winter Paralympic Games teammates.
"To see her progress that she's made in such a short amount of time, it's awesome," Koeppe said. "She's definitely one of the most gifted snowboarders that I've seen come through the U.S. program in a while."
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.