WHISTLER, B.C. (June 1, 2012) – Ski cross star Julia Murray, who realized her dream of competing in her hometown Olympics in 2010 and went on to win a silver medal at the 2011 world championships, has decided to hang up her skis.
The 23-year-old from Whistler, B.C., has bravely battled her way back from a long-term knee injury but after consulting with specialists, she has decided not to risk further injury by returning to competition.
Murray, the daughter of late ski racing legend Dave Murray, is about to wrap up a diploma in communications and hopes to pursue a career in that field.
“The Olympics were a once in a lifetime experience,” said Murray, who competed in a knee brace after injuring her knee a month before the Games. “That feeling I had at the top of the course was very special. It was an indescribable moment I will remember for my whole life.
“I realize there is a lot more to life that involves my knee. I want to use it to its full potential for as long as possible. At this point, longevity outweighs the possibility of one or two years of pounding on it in competition.”
Murray grew up skiing on the slopes at Whistler and dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps. Dave Murray, a member of the Crazy Canucks, claimed three World Cup podiums during a superb career that also saw him finish 10th in downhill at the Lake Placid, USA, Olympics in 1980. He died in 1990 following a battle with skin cancer and the downhill run at Whistler was named in his honour.
“In Grade 5 we had to create a project describing our dreams. I drew a picture of myself racing down an Olympic course. My dream was to ski down my dad’s run in the Olympics”, said Murray, whose mom Stephanie Sloan is a former freestyle skiing world champion. “That was before I even knew it was a possibility that Whistler would have the Olympics. Later, when I was 13, I spoke in front of the International Olympic Committee and the Prime Minister to help win the bid. I spoke as a kid with a dream.”
Murray grew up skiing alpine before making the switch to ski cross in 2007, when the Canadian ski cross team was formed.
“At first I really enjoyed downhill,” said Murray of her early career in alpine. “Partly because my dad is Dave Murray – I had to enjoy it! But then I got into super-G and giant slalom.
“On the bus ride back from Spring Series in Rossland, B.C., my former coach, Jordan Williams, asked anyone who wanted to try ski cross out to raise their hand – so mine shot up in the air. I went straight to a three-day camp at Cypress, B.C.
“Based on the first inspection of the course, I thought ski cross was insane! But, at the end of the camp I remember thinking it was the most fun I’d ever had on skis.”
Murray made her ski cross World Cup debut in 2008 and adapted quickly to the demands of the sport – from rollers and tabletops to head-to-head racing. In March 2009, she earned her first World Cup podium – a third-place finish in Meiringen, Switzerland – and the following season, which led into the Olympics, she became a consistent contender on the tour.
“The season that mattered, I was third overall in the World Cup rankings before I injured myself at Lake Placid,” said Murray, who racked up two podiums and two fourth-place finishes in the 2009-10 season. “There were three rollers into a jump. (Teammate) Kelsey (Serwa) and I were looking at it and thinking we could double it, like the boys. I succeeded, but wasn’t ready for the next feature. I sailed off a roller into the face of the next jump, landed on my bindings and twisted my knee. I had never injured myself badly before, but here I was exactly a month before the Olympics and I had blown my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament) and I had a bone bruise and bad meniscus issues.”
It looked like Murray’s Olympic dream was over before it had begun, but after a scope to clean up the meniscus – followed by a visit to Whistler to carry the torch up the mountain the day after – and two weeks of intense physio and rehab, she was fitted with a knee brace and made the difficult decision to compete.
“The Olympics was one of the reasons why I was doing ski cross so I couldn’t just give up,” Murray said. “I had lots of painkillers and had my knee drained a few times. It was worth it –it was a once in a lifetime experience. No pain, no gain!”
Murray finished 12th as ski cross made its debut at the Winter Olympic Games. In addition to being able to race in front of so many friends and family members, Murray was able to compete alongside her boyfriend and teammate Davey Barr, also of Whistler, who was a second alternate on the men’s team but ended up racing due to injuries suffered by teammates just prior to the ski cross event. Barr finished sixth.
“The fact that everybody was there – my friends and family – and then with Davey’s situation too, it was just a crazy time,” Murray said. “I just had to stay positive through the ups and downs and remember I was living a dream goal, even if it wasn’t exactly how I envisioned it.”
Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team, paid tribute to Murray’s courage and determination.
“She would have done anything she could to be in that race,” Archer said. “It was a tough decision because we had other girls who could have competed but as a team we felt she had earned the right to be able to race there. She skied really well.”
One week after her race, Murray underwent knee reconstruction surgery and was back in time for the start of the 2010-11 season, which was progressing well until she had a nasty fall during X Games in Aspen, USA.
“It was the first race where I actually felt like myself again,” Murray said. “I was having a ton of fun on the X Games course and my knee wasn’t hurting that badly.
“During qualifying I had a really good run and went off the last jump and didn’t speed check or absorb it. I flew 150 feet to the finish line – apparently I was third-fastest – and thought I’d just opened up my chin for the fourth time. The MRI just showed cartilage damage, and a possible sprain to my ACL graft, so I got the swelling drained and carried on.”
From X Games, Murray went straight to Deer Valley, USA, for the 2011 ski cross world championships. She sat out training to rest her knee but made it through qualification and into the heats.
“The day of the race I felt like myself again, even with the pain, and made a couple of good passes,” Murray said. “Kelsey and I were together in three of the rounds. We kept moving forward together. That was pretty exciting.”
Murray made it through to the women’s final and ended up finishing second behind Serwa to make it a Canadian 1-2.
“The Olympics were a great experience, but winning a silver at world champs is the feat I am most proud of.” Murray said.
Immediately after the world championships, Murray travelled with the rest of the Canadian team to the World Cup stop at Blue Mountain, Ont., to compete, then came home for another look at MRI results from the injury suffered at X Games. It revealed she had blown her ACL again, and suffered serious cartilage damage – meaning she won her world championship silver medal while skiing on a badly damaged knee.
“I guess they say I have a high pain tolerance!” Murray said. “They told me my ACL was completely blown and my meniscus was almost completely gone – causing major cartilage damage on the impact – with two centimeters square of bone on bone.
“I went for surgery the week after that. They did micro fracture surgery – drilling 37 holes in the tibia plateau – and did another full reconstruction of the ACL.”
Murray sat out the entire 2011-12 ski season and attended Capilano University. She hoped to make a return to racing this coming winter but after consulting with her surgeon, coaches, and doctor, she made the decision not to risk the long-term health of her knee by continuing to compete. Ironically, Barr also recently decided to retire from the sport earlier this summer so Murray will have plenty of company as she embarks on the next chapter of her life.
“I’m having to quit because of my knee but that’s not to say I won’t continue doing what I love,” Murray said. “Mountain bike season is starting up and I will free ski a lot next winter and possibly do some coaching. We are excited about all the different directions life could take us.”
Murray’s teammate Chris Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., who won gold in the men’s final at the 2011 world championships, said Murray has been a big part of the success the Canadian team has had in recent years.
“She’s going to leave a pretty big hole in our team on the girls’ side,” Del Bosco said. “She was extremely talented and a great person to have on the team. We’ve always had a really strong women’s team and she was a huge part of it.”
Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor, who also grew up in Whistler, took on the role of a big sister as Murray developed her skills in ski cross.
“As I got to know her better and better, I found that she is absolutely the kindest, most caring, selfless, genuine sweetheart out there, and that I could learn a lot from her, too,” McIvor said. “Julia's easy-going mentality and her consistently positive attitude did wonders for our team dynamics. It’s been great knowing we could always count on her to be cool, calm and collected, even through tough times.”
Murray’s ability to focus on the goal at hand and train and race through pain didn’t go unnoticed by her teammates, even in a sport where athletes are accustomed to picking up strains and other injuries through the course of a season.
“I don't think I’ve ever heard Julia complain about anything, even while racing the Olympics with a blown knee,” McIvor said. “Julia is one of those girls who has everything going for her; she’s gorgeous, fun, smart and naturally good at everything she does. I have no doubt that she will have success in whatever she puts her mind to next, just as she has in our sport.”
Murray is hoping to pursue a new career in communications but she’ll never forget her time as a member of the Canadian ski cross team.
“I’ve met so many amazing people on the circuit and through my supportive sponsors. I’ve learned valuable lessons from this chapter of my life, which helped shape me into the person I am today,” said Murray. “Our team is a successful family that I am so privileged to have been a part of.”
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