Picabo Street was always so irrepressible, so self-confident, so resilient - until now.
With her left leg broken and her right knee severely injured, America's greatest downhill skier admits she never has been so low.Speaking publicly for the first time since her horrific crash in the World Cup finals 2 1/2 weeks ago, Street said Wednesday that she tentatively is aiming for a comeback in time for the Salt Lake City Olympics four years from now.
But she acknowledged that her spirit is bruised, and the possibility lingers that she might not come back at all.
"I am taking next season off for sure, and right now the plan is to continue back skiing for the 2002 Games and rehab accordingly," she said. "But there's no telling what's going to happen.
"I still waver back and forth. Sometimes I feel like I never want to do it again, and other times I can't wait to do it again."
Street, who turns 27 on Friday, said she will return to Vail, Colo., to undergo surgery next Wednesday to repair the damaged ligaments in her right knee. Her left leg already is in a cast from the broken femur she suffered in the Friday the 13th crash.
The operation will be performed by Dr. Richard Steadman, the same surgeon who repaired her left knee after a terrifying crash in December 1996.
Street's triumphant return from that injury after just 14 months to win a gold medal in the super-G was one of the remarkable stories of the Nagano Olympics. But just one month later, she suffered her latest and most serious injuries in the World Cup downhill final at Crans Montana, Switzerland.
"It's been really tough. I'll be honest. It's been hard," she said. "I've had a lot of crying time and a lot of time to sit and go `Whoa, this is gnarly,' and how vivid I see and feel the crash and remember it, just how quick and shocking it was."
She knows that she faces rehabilitation even tougher than what she went through to compete in the Olympics. But the lure of a Winter Games in Salt Lake City, not far from where she grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, was sufficient to keep her from giving up.
"I can't see myself missing the Olympics when the opportunity is there on your home turf," she said. "Four years, three years, that's enough time to come back."
But, after so many crashes, will she have the nerve so necessary for downhill skiers who reach speeds of 80 mph or more?
"There's no telling," she said, "but I would rather be the one making the decision than some fence making it for me."
Weary from her last comeback and her Olympic ordeal, Street had thought about skipping last month's World Cup finals.
"I was tired. I wanted to be done. I almost threw in the towel and came home a couple of days before this happened," she said. "But I wanted to fight on. I thought I was just being lazy. I wanted to get back to being the tough world competitor I was."