Preparing for life after freeskiing

Somersaulting through the air and coming down hard on packed ice and snow puts serious pressure...
Somersaulting through the air and coming down hard on packed ice and snow puts serious pressure on freeskiers’ bodies, which can lead to major injuries and force people out of the sport before they turn 30. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Freeskiing is a dangerous sport. No-one knows that more than two-time Olympian Beau-James Wells, who is recovering from his second ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury in three years.

The impact of the sport on athletes’ bodies means many retire before they turn 30, and as Wells continues to work towards a return to the slopes, he discusses with reporter Sean Nugent how he is preparing himself for life off the snow.

There are not many 23-year-olds who are planning for retirement.

But for freeskier Beau-James Wells, it is a reality he faces, in a sport where many fellow athletes hang up their skis before their 30th birthday.

The two-time Olympian and member of New Zealand's most famous skiing family is midway through recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered while skiing in Colorado in December.

It was his second such injury in three years and he admitted he was "gutted" to have to go through rehab once again.

However, on both occasions the time off the slopes has allowed him to explore other life opportunities and prepare for the moment when he walks away from the sport.

The last time many people saw Beau-James Wells was during his strong halfpipe performance at last...
The last time many people saw Beau-James Wells was during his strong halfpipe performance at last year’s Winter Olympics, where he finished fourth. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
After his first rupture in 2016, Wells felt he "had to do something" while he recovered, so studied personal training through the New Zealand Institute of Health and Fitness in Christchurch.

He completed the course 18 months later and when he was struck by injury again late last year, decided to "put that study into practice". So he started his own personal training business, based at Snap Fitness in Wanaka.

"It's only been a couple of months but it's booming. I'm absolutely loving it. I've got lots of clients and they seem happier when they leave the gym, more than when they walk in, so that's always a good sign."

Not only that, but Wells is also quietly working away part-time at a bachelor of sport and exercise degree at Massey University, majoring in exercise prescription and training.

He began the three-year degree last year, but said it was likely to take him seven or eight years to complete part-time.

"It's going to take me a long time but I'm not really focusing on that, I'm just focusing on learning as much as I can.

Aside from skiing, his goal was to continue building a successful business and he hoped to move into sport-specific training in the future.

"It's definitely what I want to do after skiing for sure - something in that industry."

All of the work was to make sure he was ready to move into another career, when - not if - his skiing career ended.

"A freeskier's career is late 20s, early 30s at the most. There's only so long your body can hold up for and take the hits and when there's new kids coming up learning all the tricks, it's pretty hard to keep up with them as well.

"I've read lots of books and seen lots of movies and it seems like athletes, when it comes time to hang up their career, they don't really know what to do after that because they've put all their time and energy into their career and don't have a plan B.

"So I've made it my mission and my main goal to. When I finish [skiing], I look forward to the day I hang up my skis so I can transfer all the hard work I've put into skiing into another aspect of my life.

"I think it's just a mindset switch. I'm not going to be happy that I'm finishing skiing, but I want to be as close as possible to being stoked to hang it up and move on to something else."

As freeskier Beau-James Wells continues to recover from a major knee injury, he has begun to plan...
As freeskier Beau-James Wells continues to recover from a major knee injury, he has begun to plan for a life after skiing. PHOTO: SEAN NUGENT
Older brothers Jossi and Byron, as well as his father Bruce had been "really inspiring" in making sure he had something in place for when his skiing career ended.

Byron is on a year-long sabbatical from the sport after suffering a heart-breaking injury before the halfpipe final at last year's Olympics, and has been working towards gaining his helicopter pilot's licence.

But Beau-James insisted he and his brothers were not finished yet.

He will return to skiing in August, and hoped to be competing again during the northern hemisphere season at the end of the year, with clear goals in mind.

"I'm definitely still after an Olympic medal, World Cup podiums, and mainly just trying to maximise my potential."

The dream of him, Jossi, Byron and younger brother Jackson all competing at one Olympics also remained alive, he said.

"I think it's definitely still a possibility, I hope we can make it happen.

"It's just hard having four competitive freestyle skiers all healthy at the same time. It's been a bit challenging."

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