My unlucky break
Interview with profession freestyle snowboarder Panka Gyarmati
Since the age of 16, in a country which barely has snow or ski resorts, becoming a professional in outdoor winter sports is not an easy job. However a handful of ‘local’ athletes have climbed their way onto the international scene over the past 20 years. A few have succeeded to enter freestyle World Cup events. Panka Gyarmati, who learned snowboarding at the age of 12, has been the most successful of the lot. As one of Panka’s sponsors, we at FirstMed were sorry to hear about her most recent injury.
What happened to your leg?
I had a serious injury that required a three-hour operation to get me back in order. I was on a run when it was exceptionally icy and I landed on the lower part of my thigh, breaking my tibia. When I fell, I didn’t realize what had happened. As soon as I saw the look on my trainer’s face, I realized it was a bad injury. It required seven screws and a metal plate to put it back together. Since it was close to my knee, it counted as a knee injury as well. I’ve been using crutches for the past two months. Although I couldn’t do much with the lower half of my body, two weeks after my surgery I was already back in the gym keeping up with my upper body exercise. Now I have a rehabilitation every day.
What was the worst part of this injury?
It’s been very difficult to endure routine activities, such as walking, which cause me big problems. I’m in a sweat from a 20-step walk. More than that has been the mental aspect. It seems to be written in stone that my career won’t be the same after this injury. The qualifications for next year’s Winter Olympic Games in South Korea have already started, which I will miss because of the injury. There will be just two tournaments at the start of next year in which I will be able to compete. Without a first place there is no way to qualify for the Olympics. Realizing that winning a gold medal after a very long and serious injury is nearly impossible weighs heavily on my mind. I’ve had to digest that maybe I won’t be going to the Olympics after all. On the plus side, next month I will finally be able to get back on my snowboard for the first time since the injury. Today it was my first time running. These are big moments for me now.
Doesn’t Hungary have some quota for Olympic Games qualification?
Usually the country does but in freestyle snowboard only the best competitors can go to the Olympics. The Olympics isn’t the only tournament, as we have many snowboard world cups and I would be very happy to rank there as well. During my “break” I’ve watched qualification tournaments on TV. I’ve seen how good, and brave, these young snowboarders are. Sadly, while I’ve been in recovery they’ve been improving.
How did you wind up as a snowboarder? Were your parents into extreme sports?
My father wanted me to try out as many sports as I could as a child. We were snowboarding in Kékes and there was a jump that time and I tried it out. I liked it so much I couldn’t ever forget the feeling. Nowadays children start boarding when they are much younger and there are many more competitors at student tournaments than when I was at that age. At the time we often travelled to Austria with my family to practice. As I got better I moved there because in Hungary there isn’t much opportunity to improve in this kind of sport.
Are there any indoor jumps in Hungary?
No, but there are some in the Netherlands and they have snow on them.
To date, what has been the high point of your career?
When I was invited to participate in the US open. Only six girls were invited so it was a big accomplishment for me. In snowboarding there is not a huge difference between the first 12 ranks. Sometimes it is just your daily shape, ability to concentrate and your psychological state of mind that counts. It is a very subjective sport, so a big part depends on the jury.
How do you become a good freestyle snowboarder?
Some people have experience with gymnastics, which is a big advantage because they know how to orient themselves during a jump as well as having better balance. In both sports, freestyle snowboarding and gymnastics, you can find acrobatic elements. Additionally in both there is the need to strengthen many muscles in the body, the core muscles, needed for landing. Without them it is much easier to lead to fractures after falls. Muscles can protect the bones.
Where do you live now?
The injury occurred in the USA where I was working with my new team. After the rehabilitation I would like to go back and start preparing for upcoming tournaments. I’ve had to sacrifice many things in life for this sport. Not just my body, I had to lose some relationships because of traveling nearly every week. In spite of this I can’t imagine now how could I live without snowboarding. Where else can I get the same adrenaline a snowboard gives me?
We at FirstMed wish Panka a speedy recovery as she works her way back into shape to win another world cup event, as she did in Mammoth Mountain, CA in January 2016. At this event Panka became the first Hungarian snowboarder towin a world cup.