If there was a dominant theme for the sports season that was 2011 it was injuries. Head injuries. Knee injuries. Broken bones. Canadian athletes sitting on the sidelines wondering when and if they would be cleared to return, and if they would be able to come back at the level they were competing before they got hurt.
The injury situation hasn't gone unnoticed. There have been studies and commissions and equipment requirements have changed for a few sports. In some cases there are going to be major changes in the rulebooks.
Governing bodies for sports have also looked into the various reasons for the growing number of injuries, but all of those reasons can be reduced to the fact that athletes are simply going faster, higher and harder than ever before, aided by gear that helps and hurts at the same time.
The big national story was Olympic hero Sidney Crosby, who received a head injury in the NHL's Winter Classic back in January and missed the second half of the regular season. He returned to the ice this season and played just eight games before pulling himself out with post-concussion symptoms.
Now head injuries are a hot topic in the NHL, in the NFL and in other contact sports.
But it wasn't only pro athletes in the path of the pain train this year. Athletes in the so-called "amateur sports" were particularly hard hit, including a number of Whistler athletes.
In alpine skiing, over half the members of the senior speed team have been on the sidelines at some point — 2009 world downhill champion John Kucera has missed almost two seasons, reinjuring his tibia during an earlier attempt to come back. Whistler's Manuel Osborne-Paradis is still on the injured list after being injured back in January, while Robbie Dixon suffered a head injury in Dec. 2010 that he is only now returning from. Whistler's Michael Janyk is currently on the injured list after tweaking his ankle a few weeks ago, although he should be back in early 2012.
In ski cross, Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor and Julia Murray are both on the sidelines with knee injuries. McIvor, the Olympic champion, is expected to return this season while Murray, second in the last world championships, won't be returning until next season.
In snowboardcross, Maëlle Ricker received multiple injuries in the world championships in January 2011 after hooking her hand in a gate and crashing. She's returned to competition this year after the eighth knee surgery of her career, placing fourth in her first race and then combining with teammate Dominique Maltais to finish second in the relay.
If nothing else, the rash of injuries shows the level of risk that our athletes assume while representing Canada on the world stage, and should foster a great appreciation for the sports themselves. While athletes make it look easy, all it takes is a crash and the appearance of a stretcher to remind us that it's anything but.