If Lindsey Jacobellis didn't grab her snowboard, fall, and finish second in the snowboardcross in the 2006 Olympics, she likely would have retired from the sport..
"I look back and say, if I ever won the gold in 2006, I probably wouldn't be in the sport," said Jacobellis, who was born in Danbury and grew up in Roxbury, where her parents still live. "I was pushed so hard at a young age and didn't even realize that I loved it then. I know for a fact I love it now. Winning the gold (in Sochi) would actually make me look back more on my silver in 2006 and say, 'I'm glad I stuck with it and decided to do it because it made me the individual I am today.' "
The Olympic snowboardcross competition in Sochi is Sunday, and it has been a long road back for Jacobellis, 28, who has been the sport's most dominant female athlete, winning three world championships and seven gold medals in the X Games. But what most people remember is her grabbing her board -- some called it showboating -- and falling in Turin, causing her to lose her lead and finish second. She had such a large lead that The Associated Press reported prematurely she had won the gold medal, only to retract its bulletin five minutes later.
She didn't get to the medal round in 2010 in Vancouver. In the semifinals, Jacobellis, trying to regain her balance after a jump, hit a gate, which meant disqualification.
Then, during a training run at the 2012 X Games, she tore the ACL and meniscus in her left knee.
She spent a year on the mend, realizing at the end of the year that her knee was not quite right. So she had another surgery in December. This time, doctors used an ACL from a cadaver rather than her own hamstring, which they had used the first time.
"After months and months of training, it still wasn't starting to heal great," she said. "I went in for another test after 10 months, and the ACL from my hamstring had been slowly stretching. It was not giving me the stability I was hoping for. My meniscus healed really well.
"The doctor told me most people can live with this kind of an ACL and do. 'Do you want to race in it? It's up to you.' I was like, 'No. I need a 100 percent knee, this was a 90 percent knee.' The very next day, Dec. 18, 2012, I went in for surgery again. Had a cadaver this time. There's always a little bit of a risk because it might not take. But it took really well. I was off crutches within four days, immediately starting therapy. It was such an easier road to recovery."
In December, she won gold at a World Cup in Lake Louise, Canada. She is considered the favorite in Sochi.
It doesn't bother her, she said, that people might only remember her for her fall in 2006.
"No, it doesn't," she said. "People now remember me and they remember the sport. And they want to tune in. They want to see what's going to happen and see how exciting it is, and all those uncontrollable variables (are) what makes our sport really great."
Jacobellis was home in Roxbury shortly before heading to Sochi.
"Everyone still is so excited that I came," Jacobellis said. "And my sign is still there hanging in the center of my tiny little town. Everyone is still watching and very supportive of me coming here. Connecticut is my home even though I moved to Vermont to seek out snow and mountains (she spent her teenage years at the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont). There's always a little spot for Roxbury in my heart."
The banner on the Roxbury Town Hall reads: "Roxbury is the proud hometown of Lindsey Jacobellis. Go Lindsey Go!"
"We've been able to use it three times she's been there, so we got our money's worth for the sign," said Roxbury first selectwoman Barbara Henry, laughing. "We're really excited. We're all thinking about her. Personally, I think she's bringing home the gold this time."
Henry said Jacobellis' parents did not go to Russia this time.
"Her mom said 'Maybe I'm jinxing her,' " Henry said.
Jacobellis was asked why boardercross, given the danger involved.
"My mom asks the same thing question," she said with a laugh. "I feel so bad for her watching me. It's probably going to be hard for me down the road if I ever have kids, they're probably going to do something crazy. My mom is just going to be, 'See you did that to me! Now you know how it feels.'
"Boardercross is just fun. I love the racing aspect. I love sometimes being in second and making that decision of where I can pass. And when it works out, it's so fulfilling. Even when I try to pass and I crash, at least I went for it. I tried to do something crazy. And I feel like I'm getting very seasoned with my skill set and making decisions on the fly."
Veteran snowboarder Nate Holland said Jacobellis is one of the best competitors he knows.
"She's fierce," Holland said. "There's a lot of pressure on her to do well. In my opinion, she's the best women's boardercrosser in the world, and she has been for years. And so it's easy to take -- if (she) doesn't do well, to take a potshot at her and try to knock her down a little bit. As far as do I think that's a motivating factor? Yeah, bracing not to fail is always a motivating factor when you're expected to win."
In 2006, Jacobellis said after the event that she was caught up in the moment and grabbed the board.
"I think every now and then, you might see something like that," she said then. "I didn't even think twice. I was having fun, and that's what snowboarding is. I was ahead. I wanted to share with the crowd my enthusiasm. I messed up. It happens."
Eight years later, Jacobellis says she is not looking for redemption.
"Absolutely not," she said. "When you come to any event, it's really embracing where you are and trying your best. There's no situation that's ever going to be the same. In all my years of racing -- I've been now racing for 16 years -- I've never had a situation again like that. I'm always trying to do my best and win, but that doesn't always happen."
(Lisa Dillman, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, contributed from Sochi, Russia.)
(c)2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services