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Pro halfpipe skier Angeli VanLaanen began competing nationally in 2007, but until this year, she hasn’t felt 100 percent.
That’s because she’s been dealing with symptoms from undiagnosed and untreated Lyme disease from the time she was 10 years old until it stopped her career in its tracks four years ago.
“It’s been amazing to see how much I can progress, now that my body is healthy and now that I can count on it,” said VanLaanen.
Now with her Lyme in remission (uncertain testing means it’s impossible to know if the Lyme bacteria are eradicated), VanLaanen is competing to represent the U.S. in the first-ever appearance of ski halfpipe in the Olympic Winter Games. But it was a long road to recovery.
“Out of nowhere, I would have reduced vision and vertigo. It’s so important to be on top of it and be focused and have your body be with you functioning when you’re in the halfpipe. So having my body give out on me mid-run in a halfpipe was terrifying. And not knowing why was even scarier,” says VanLaanen.
Fellow halfpipe skier Sarah Burke died in 2012 after striking her head on the edge of the halfpipe while training in Park City, UT.
By 2009, VanLaanen was diagnosed and out of the sport, receiving intensive treatment for her Lyme disease consisting of two years of oral antibiotics and six months of intravenous antibiotics administered for seven hours per day.
Beyond the doctors’ prescriptions, VanLaanen did whatever she could to give her body a chance, undertaking low-impact workouts such as yoga, meditation, and eating a strictly anti-inflammatory diet.
“My lifestyle totally changed from being on the go all the time, to giving my body whatever it needed—from sleep to nutrients and avoiding any kind of stress,” says VanLaanen.
After two and a half years of treatment, VanLaanen was cleared to start training again and began her comeback in the sport of ski halfpipe during the 2012-2013 season.
“My coach and I strategized and said ‘Okay, this is a rebuilding year’, so I didn’t have too many podium [finishes], but I was able to learn all these new tricks during one of the busiest schedules in the history of halfpipe skiing,” said VanLaanen.
So far, the strategy is paying off, with VanLaanen placing second at this year’s Dew Tour in Breckenridge—a key Olympic qualifier event—and currently sitting at third in the Olympic selection standings with two events remaining.
Whether or not she represents the U.S. in Sochi, VanLaanen says it is a special year for the sport she loves. “Sarah Burke really pushed for the sport to be included in the Olympics, so this year no matter which way it goes for me, will be extremely special for me to see halfpipe be included because I know she wanted so much. I feel like whoever goes to ski halfpipe in Sochi this year is honoring her by being part of it.”
She also sees this season as a personal victory no matter what her placements. “Losing three years of competition to my recovery was unfortunate, but through that I just gained an appreciation for skiing and have so much gratitude for being back, doing what I love.”
VanLaanen also uses her visibility as an athlete to promote awareness of Lyme disease in the media and through a film documenting her struggles and recovery called LymeLight.
“Being able to be a part of Lyme awareness and being able to give back in other people’s lives has been really amazing and fulfilling.” —Justin Park