Health, Interest, Sport

By Michael Di Lonardo

Persistence and determination have been the two driving factors behind Madii Himbury’s comeback campaign, with a competitive spirit that is itching to get back in the limelight. The University of Sydney and Elite Athlete Program Alumni, who has recently completed a Master of Public Health, has been on the road to recovery since suffering a third ACL injury, and while at times it has tested her commitment to mogul skiing, it has also shaped her appreciation for the sport in a unique way. With her mind set on making a second Olympics appearance, the inspiring athlete talks us through her bumpy journey and how she has stared adversity in the face and overcome it.

How did you get into freestyle mogul skiing and what made it an attractive sport to you?

I switched from gymnastics originally and joined the club program at Perisher. I mainly got involved through inter-school ski competitions, we did all the events in it and moguls was my favourite mainly because it has different parts to it. If one thing isn’t working with turns, you can work on the jumps, but it also has the speed component so you can flick between different skills and it can be interesting each day. At the bottom of the run you feel exhilarated over the fact you just made it down this crazy, steep course, which is why my love has stayed in the sport.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact you as an athlete in both a training and competitive sense?

I was injured at the beginning of 2020, so lockdown coincided with my strength and conditioning at home. The uncertainty was challenging because I didn’t know when I was going to get back on the snow and I didn’t know when I would compete next. I couldn’t plan for the future and I couldn’t plan for when I should be ready. We didn’t know if Perisher would be open, we didn’t know if we could go overseas and we still don’t know when we can compete next for sure because things can get cancelled at any point. It was a super anxious period, asking yourself: ‘Why am I working so hard to maybe return to the sport?’ But I’m happy I stuck it out, worked really hard and got really strong, and was ready for when Perisher did open.

You’re coming off a third ACL injury. How has that challenged you mentally and physically?

I was actually coming back from some time off for my mental health after the 2018 Winter Games, so to do my ACL after that season it put me in a place where I was trying to find a love for the sport again. When I learned I had done my ACL I was devastated because I had just decided that I really wanted to pursue mogul skiing and then to be told you can’t made me question whether I wanted to go through the process again. People don’t realise how much rehab and time you have to take off because it’s a longer timeline than that nine-month period for running sports. Mogul skiing is difficult because you basically have to learn how to walk again and it’s about a two-year recovery to get back to the same level you were, and then another year after that to be even better. I decided not to get the surgery and go conservative to build up all my muscles and strength around my knee to be able to handle it without an ACL. I just couldn’t see myself having another year off.

Images: Supplied

You talked about finding your passion again for the sport. How did you do that?

I went and trained with a junior team in the U.S.A., just so it wasn’t competitive and was a lower level. These kids just loved skiing so much. When we go to competition, we are there to compete and hopefully win some money – that is your job. But these kids are there to have fun and ski, so it was cool to hang with people who just frothed skiing. I realised this is how I should feel every day.

After you made your Olympic debut at Pyeongchang in 2018, what goals did you set for yourself?

Not many at that point. I was a deer in the headlights at those Games. It was so intimidating and full on. I was trying to take everything in but it was all just going past me like crazy. I was so anxious and nervous, but I would love to go back having had that experience and be ready for that. No matter what someone tells you, nothing can prepare you for it. In training I couldn’t land my top-air, I was landing on my backside and that is unheard of. I’ve done this trick for years and I suddenly couldn’t do it because I was in my head. After making that first run down, the relief of finishing was unreal and the sense of accomplishment was crazy. I would love to do it again and be a competitor that can block out all those external factors.

Are you hopeful of making an appearance in Beijing in 2022 and what does the path look like to get there?

I am hopeful. I’m skiing really well, it’s just about keeping my body in shape and obviously getting back in the start gate because it’s been a while. From this point on it’s Olympic qualifiers so any event I compete in will help me qualify for the Games. We must be in the top 30 around the world, but the biggest challenge is being in the top four Australian girls. There are six or seven of us that are pretty competitive and in the running for the next Games. Australia’s qualification is your one best result, so if I get one podium and crash every other event, I’m in because they want the best chance of success.

We did some stalking on your Instagram and noticed you had been doing some training at a water ramp facility. For those who don’t know what that involves, could you explain to us what that training is and what you are trying to achieve with it?

Water ramp is a facility for you to practise your aerial tricks. We walk up a set of stairs, click on an old set of skis, a wetsuit, lifejacket and helmet. Then you go down a plastic ramp with water and candle wax under your ski and you flip and land in a pool. We have a brand new facility in Brisbane which is beautiful. We can do 30 to 40 jumps on water, which is way more than we do on snow because it’s less impact and you can also crash on the water which gives you more freedom to learn new tricks. We go there to perfect old tricks and make them more consistent, but also to practise new tricks with a higher degree of difficulty that get you more points but aren’t quite ready for competition yet.