The last time Snowboard Cross athlete Belle Brockhoff took to the snow in Sierra Nevada was in 2017. It is a day she will never forget, tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for the first time which led to two knee surgeries in two years.
Last week, Brockhoff put her demons behind her to claim a bronze medal in a World Cup event at the same location.
“It was more than a bronze medal. It was a big win psychologically.”
“I couldn’t be happier. Thank you to my coaches, wax techs and physios. You guys did such a great job,” said Brockhoff after her podium finish.
Brockhoff was always destined to be on the snow with her family heavily involved in winter sports. Her uncle, Peter Brockhoff, competed in Alpine Skiing at the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics, her grandfather, Harold Brockhoff, was one of the original pioneers of Mt Buller and her great aunt, Joyce Brockhoff, has a run named in her honour at Mt Hotham, Victoria, in recognition of her work promoting the involvement of women in snow sports.
After starting skiing at the tender age of three years old, it is when her Mum bought a snowboard that her interest changed.
“My mum got her first snowboard when I was 9 yrs old and I got really jealous. She made a deal with me, that if I completed all the levels in ski school, I could start snowboarding. I got my first snowboard when I was 10,” said Brockhoff.
“I did all the local races on the mountain, including winning the Australian Interschool’s Nationals after a few weeks from starting in the sport. From day one on a snowboard, I knew I was going to make a career out of it and go to the Olympics. I wanted to be the best and push the sport.”
Brockhoff rose through the ranks early. Making her debut in the 2012/13 Snowboard Cross World Cup, the Melburnian made history to become the first Australian woman to win a Snowboard Cross World Cup medal.
At 21 years old, Brockhoff competed at her first Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, finishing eighth overall which was the highest placing of the Australian Snowboard Cross athletes.
Records kept coming when Brockhoff became the first Australian female to win a Snowboard Cross World Cup at the final event of the 2015/16 season.
All was looking up for Brockhoff when tragedy struck. At a World Cup event in March 2017 in Sierra Nevada, Brockhoff crashed, suffering a serious ACL injury. After surgery and rehab, Brockhoff was back at training in December of 2017 and looking forward to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics when she had a training crash, requiring another knee surgery.
That didn’t stop the determined Brockhoff competing at her second Winter Olympics though, putting off surgery and getting medical clearance to ride at the games with no ACL where she finished eleventh.
An ACL revision after the games started a long road to recovery and a determination to push further.
“There were a little bit of doubts on whether I’d come back but I’m pretty stubborn with myself and knew my potential which I hadn’t reached yet. I feel I’m at 65% full potential (as I was a late starter in my sport at age 19 rather than 14 or 13 like most of the girls), so knowing that, I kept pushing on,” said the 27 year old.
“It wasn’t easy, the rehab was so boring, I was more of a gym rat than a snowboarder and I just wanted to do what I love. Not being able to do what I love was soul crushing for me so I had to come back, it was very important that I did come back. In saying that, I was responsible of finding motivation and ways to comeback as best as I could.”
Like most elite athletes, the rehab has pushed Brockhoff to come back stronger and she has set her sights on more medals not only in the World Cup events, but beyond.
“One of my greatest sporting moments was my first World Cup win back after back-to-back ACL injuries and two years out of the sport,” said Brockhoff.
“The rehab allowed me to look at everything thoroughly, where I had to improve physically and also mentally. Iʼve never been so physically strong, I went from dead lifting 140kg for one rep before injury, to lifting 160kgs for four reps after. Mentally it pushed me, my patience increased and clarity of thought improved. All of which have changed the way I race. It’s different, I’m no longer nervous when racing, I am calm. The injury was a blessing.”
What’s next for Brockhoff is clear, the 2022 Winter Olympics. “It’s been on my mind since I crossed the finish line at PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018.”
WSA Digital Media