By Brian Pinelli
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Looking upbeat and in good spirits, Sarka Zahrobska addressed the media Thursday in Prague hopeful about the season ahead. The 27-year-old slalom specialist has recovered well since undergoing surgery to remove a tumor on her pituitary gland on July 11th.
Zahrobska was hospitalized in early July after she began suffering acute neurological problems. She spent five days in an induced coma prior to Doctor David Netuka performing the surgery at the Military University in Prague.
Despite a gradual recovery process, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist says she feels strong, having recently returned from a productive training camp in Ushuaia, Argentina.
“The last two-and-a-half months, now almost three since the surgery have been really challenging, but now I am feeling really great,” said Zahrobska in an interview with FIS. “When I remember how I felt before, it’s really amazing how I’m feeling now.”
“Of course, I’m still weaker than before, maybe at 80%, but its 100% better than it was one month ago,” she said. “I’ve felt a really big improvement every week since my head operation.”
The Czech ski racer lost substantial weight following the operation and while she has progressed well, her road to recovery has been arduous.
“I was three weeks in the hospital and when I came home, I had lost six or seven kilos – I was just 60 kilos,” said Zahrobska. “I was really weak and really thin. My trousers and t-shirts were too big for me. Now I’m looking and feeling better. Not yet 100%, but every week it gets better.”
Following a few days at home in Prague after the July 11 surgery, Zahrobska moved to Ramsau, Austria, where she continued her recovery.
“We started with short walks, really slowly, just a 20-minute walk and then a break, then a 30-minute walk and a break, taking everything step by step,” explained Zahrobska.
Zahrobska continues regular visits with doctors in Prague for further magnetic resonance imaging, blood tests and careful monitoring of her pituitary gland.
“The results until now have been really good and all signs are very positive for the future,” she said.
Zahrobska is seeking to rebound from a disappointing 2011-12 season where her best result was 13th in Aspen in late November and she finished 25th in the World Cup slalom standings. Helping Sarka get back on track will be a new team around her led by new coach Klaus Mayrhofer, formerly with the Austrian ladies downhill team, as well as a new ski technician, Gerald Stocker.
“I was already real excited about this new team at the end of April, looking forward to the season with new motivation and then came these health problems, but now I’m back,” said Zahrobska, who has two career World Cup wins, both in Aspen, Colorado.
“Gerry has been with us since July and we just had our first camp all together in Ushuaia,” she said. “The feeling is great and the atmosphere with this new team is much better than what I’ve had the past two seasons.”
Stocker, who brings considerable experience having worked previously with Ted Ligety, Christian Mayer and Alexandra Meissnitzer, among numerous other Austrian junior racers concurs.
“We were there together for three weeks and I think she has a good feeling on her skis,” said Stocker about the recent camp in Argentina. “She is getting fit and doing well.”
“I know Klaus for a long time, working with him on the Austrian team,” said Stocker about Zahrobska’s new coach. “I think we have a good team together and hope that we can be among the top 15 in the World Cup (Slalom) standings.”
Despite the tumultuous past few months and a couple of subpar seasons, Zahrobska appears to possess the will and motivation to climb back to becoming one of the world’s elite female slalom skiers.
“It’s a little bit different after these health problems, but of course I want to be the best and my big goal and wish for the season is to get back with the top racers in the first group where I mostly was before,” said Zahrobska, who was runner-up to Maria Riesch in the 2009 slalom standings.
Zahrobska is planning to make her season debut in her preferred discipline on November 10th in Levi, Finland.
She also believes she can make gains in giant slalom, where her best career World Cup finish was seventh in Kranjska Gora in 2007.
“I hope to improve my skills in GS also and maybe be in the top 20,” she said.
Zahrobska seems eager to race on the new, longer radius giant slalom skis.
“I really like them a lot, maybe more than the old skis,” she said. “For my technique, I like the construction and radius better than it was before.”
Zahrobska’s greatest career achievements have come at the Alpine World Ski Championships, where she is a three-time medalist, having raced to gold in 2007 in Are, Sweden. Although the odds may be stacked against her this time, she’ll likely get a shot at a fourth medal come mid-February at the 2013 FIS World Championships in Schladming, Austria.
And perhaps the Czech racer will even benefit from a home snow advantage considering that her new ski technician is a longtime resident of Schladming.
“I hope that I will be in good shape and of course I’ll do my very best,” said Zahrobska. “Another medal would be really great.”
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