2018 Paralympic champion battles back to the top of podium, overcomes latest adversity
Teddy Katz (Contributor)
It’s been a long and bumpy ride back to the top of the ski world for Mollie Jepsen.
Two years ago, when she was 18, Jepsen looked unstoppable as one of the rising stars in the sport. She stood on top of the podium after winning the super combined, one of her four medals at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics and was named the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s female athlete of the year.
When she won three golds and a silver to kick off the 2020 World Cup season Jepsen showed she was back in form. People who knew her and what she had been through were happy for Jepsen.
“To have competitors and teammates stoked that you are feeling good and stoked that you’re back is really an awesome feeling.”
Jepsen has endured a two year battle after the Paralympics ended that she calls one of the biggest challenges of her life.
She saw warning signs in Korea. Her stomach flared up as soon as she arrived at the Games, but she thought it was just something she ate and didn’t pay too much attention. A few months later at a training camp in Chile, her body screamed out in pain.
Jepsen managed to get back to Vancouver and within 48 hours of her return ended up in a hospital in emergency.
When doctors delivered the diagnosis to Jepsen, the tears started rolling down her face. She now would face a life with a chronic and long-term disorder of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease.
“It was extremely emotional just because it was such an important thing in my life- skiing - and I didn’t know what it would mean for me.”
Jepsen, who was born missing fingers on her left hand, is used to the challenges of skiing and hurtling herself down the ski hill at 100 kilometres an hour.
Over the years, she’s missed significant amounts of time to have both knees reconstructed, for a broken hand and ankle. But she says this illness, Crohn’s disease, was different.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve had to push through in my entire life.”
It was difficult to set goals and a timeframe for her recovery. Trying to return to the gym over the last year to get back in shape has been frustrating. Jepsen lost a lot of weight and muscle mass and she has had to learn to be more in tune with her body.
“I know that I now need to listen to my body and not just push all the time.
It is hard in that moment. You’re like oh my god I’m not feeling well but I have a race the next day. I’m thinking, I don’t care I want to race. But I can’t do that. I need to make sure I’m putting my health first."
Doctors say Crohn’s is also stress related, so Jepsen prepared a lot differently before the recent World Cups.
In the past, she would get nervous before races. She’d sit in a corner by herself to focus and shut out any distractions.
“Now I’ve realized that wasn’t the healthiest way for me to be performing at my best. It was more important for me to be kind of goofing around, having fun with my teammates. That changed my mindset completely.”
Jepsen and the Canadian Para Alpine team will be back competing on the world tour in March in Sweden and Norway.
Her long term goal is to repeat her gold medal Paralympic performance at the Beijing 2022 Games.
“I am just over the moon happy with how everything in my life is going now compared to this time last year. To see that I’ve not only recovered but I’ve become a better version of myself in my eyes, it’s pretty cool.”