MONTREAL — Freestyle skier Kaya Turski, unable to get back to top form after a stellar but an injury-marred career, has decided to retire.
Turski had been hampered by an injury at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and hoped to make up for it at the 2018 Games in South Korea, but the Montreal native saw that her health wasn’t up to it.
"Several factors played into this decision," said Turski, an eight-time gold medallist in slopestyle at the Winter X-Games. "It’s not the first time I’ve had health issues.
"I’ve had four major knee surgeries, one pancreas operation, I’ve had iron plates put into my arms, my fingers… but I always persevered. I’ve been getting headaches daily for a few years. They vary in intensity, but it’s every day.
"It probably comes from all the impacts I’ve had on my neck over the years. My nervous system is completely haywire. Knees, shoulders — you can come back from that. But my head, my brain — that’s more important in my view. While I still have the choice, I decided it wasn’t worth it to go on."
She hopes that by stopping now, the headaches will go away.
"I’ve been getting headaches for five years," she said. "For the last 18 months, it’s getting harder to deal with the pain.
"Getting headaches every day is enough to drive you crazy. I’m convinced that if I don’t stop, they won’t go away."
Turski, who turns 30 in May, started out as an in-line skater and turned to slopestyle as a teenager, moving to Whistler, B.C. when she was 17 to refine her technique. She took to it right away and soon was among the best in the young but growing sport.
"I can’t believe how easy it was to adapt to skiing," she said. "It was like skating but with longer, heavier equipment.
"I’d only been on skis twice before but I decided to stick to skiing."
Slopestyle is often compared to competitive skateboarding as skiers go over ramps and do twists and jumps to score points.
It did not become an Olympic sport until 2014, but for years was a big part of the X-Games, where Turski piled up medals.
After it was recognized by the International Skiing Federation (FIS), she won her first World Cup medal, a silver at Deer Valley, Utah, in 2011 and won gold at Voss, Norway in 2013. Coming off a knee injury, she finished 19th in Sochi.
"She hit the freestyle scene like a shock wave," said Jean-Francois Cusson, assistant coach of Canada’s slopestyle team. "She was five years ahead of the entire competition.
"It was really something to see the determination in her eyes while under pressure at a starting gate. We knew then that she would give an amazing performance. It was not unlike that look of confidence Roger Federer had in his best moments."
"When Kaya burst onto the freeskiing scene without warning, I was intimidated by her instant ability to dominate the course and win competitions with amazing style," said Roz Groenwoud, a half-pipe competitor and teammate on the Canadian squad. "No one else has done that.
"She blew us away without having had years of training on snow."
But from her first major injury in 2006 to her retirement, it took a toll.
"When you look at my record you don’t see everything that went into getting onto those podiums," said Turski. "I’m very proud to have contributed in a significant way to women’s slopestyle. There weren’t a lot of women in the sport when I started.
"I always wanted to set the bar high."
Turski is working on a degree in psychology at the University of British Columbia and hopes to become a sports psychologist.