Knee surgery is a phrase that would send a chill down the spine of any athlete because a lot of the time it can be career ending.
Most athletes can withstand two or three knee operations before their bodies start to clam up – but then there’s athletes such as Maelle Ricker.
Ricker has had seven knee operations but she can still sport a healthy smile and talk confidently about competing at the 2006 Olympics and in the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
"I love this contest (WSSF) in spring time conditions with all my friends around," Ricker said.
"It’s definitely a great way to wrap up the season."
Her ability to recover from injury aside, Ricker is unique for several other reasons.
Ricker is among the original generation of female snowboarders who started going really big in the pipe and, unlike many professional snowboarders who shun mainstream competition, she is also openly passionate about competing in the Olympics.
"I went to Nagano in 1998 but I missed Salt Lake and I suppose I didn’t know how much I wanted it until I missed Salt Lake," she said.
Ricker’s single-mindedness for competing has gained her a lot of respect in Whistler, but the coach of the Canadian Freestyle Team, Tom Hutchinson, said it has also won her a lot of friends elsewhere.
"Maelle missed the last Olympics by one spot and that’s been eating at her," Hutchinson said.
"At the next Olympics I wouldn’t be surprised if she won gold medals in boardercross and pipe. And you know why? Because she wants it, and once she’s put something in her head good luck getting it out.
"Mentally she is one of the strongest athletes I’ve ever met, and I’ve coached all types of sports.
"She’s also one of the hardest working athletes on the men’s or women’s tour and she’s not only well liked in Whistler, it’s like that all over the world."
Hutchinson said Ricker’s performance in last year’s world championships in Austria was one of the most memorable things he’s ever seen in sport.
"At the world championships she could hardly walk her knee was so bad, but she competed and she qualified for the finals.
"All week when she did her runs the pain was so great she had tears in her eyes.
"To me that was probably the best thing I’ve seen in sport as far as somebody taking it from inside them and making it happen from shear determination."
Ricker’s attitude toward representing Canada will become more understood as the 2010 Whistler Olympics draw closer, but for now many elite skiers and snowboarders remain skeptical about the Olympics.