From Setbacks to Start Gates: Alice Merryweather's Racing Odyssey

From Setbacks to Start Gates: Alice Merryweather's Racing Odyssey

A broken tibia, fibula, and torn ACL following treatment for an eating disorder, along with three and a half years away from competition, might cause many elite athletes to consider medical retirement. Spyder Athlete Alice Merryweather, however, refused to entertain such a thought. Instead, her goal to return to a FIS World Cup starting gate was reinforced as each setback occurred. On December 8, after 1,380 days of recovery, Alice achieved that goal in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

It's no particular surprise to those who know her that Alice could overcome such a feat. Nothing seems likely to stand in the way of the focus and work ethic of the happily grounded, thoughtfully focused 27-year-old Olympian. We had the chance to catch up with Alice at our Colorado Spyder HQ in November, amidst the US Ski Team’s training at Copper Mountain ahead of the 2023-24 FIS World Cup season. She explained how she persevered through what might have led many athletes to consider medical retirement and shared the goals she has set for herself in her return to the highest level of ski racing ahead of her World Cup return.

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The collision of both physical and mental hurdles of injury and recovery is, for anyone who has experienced it, both difficult to navigate and challenging to avoid spiraling into negativity. In Alice’s case in particular, the psychological challenge of treatment for an eating disorder, compounded by the physical work and commitment to consistency required to rehab, presented a unique setback. When reflecting on how she managed this two-pronged challenge, Alice shared the following:

“In terms of sheer difficulty, I think overcoming the eating disorder was a type of challenge I'd never faced before. And it set me up for success with my physical injury because it made that feel so simple. I distinctly remember being in the hospital in Switzerland [following the leg and knee injury] thinking, ‘ok, I spent the last year rewiring my brain [during eating disorder treatment]. I can get better with this, by just going to the gym, doing reps, letting myself heal. This is way less work for me in a weird way…’ So I think I went into the physical recovery with such a unique perspective from just coming out of the eating disorder, or still kind of being in the process of coming out of that, that I was ready for that kind of challenge.”

Alice Hiking

Both knee injuries and psychological challenges have the capacity to end athletic careers. For many athletes, the constant battle to remain healthy in sports that take a difficult toll on the body and the mind often becomes one that they choose to walk away from, rather than continue to fight. This is largely why Alice’s fortitude to come back is so remarkable. Such an unwavering will to return garners the attention of competitors and teammates alike. It prompts Mikaela Shiffrin, the most successful Alpine skier in World Cup history, to characterize Alice as “the most badass person on the mountain”, whose “courage… is unmatched” and whose “resilience is beyond inspiring.”

While the resilience of her comeback and her long-awaited return is awe-inspiring to the ski community and some of her teammates, the question of if Alice would return to racing against such odds was never in question in her own mind. Indeed, this is perhaps exactly why she was successful in doing so.

“I mean, in terms of having that larger goal of getting back, weirdly, I just never doubted that that was what I wanted,” Alice said of her recovery mindset. “From the moment I was injured, I think having already missed the season before, and feeling like I had already climbed that mountain, I was so determined to get back and prove, even just to myself, that I could do it again. So, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wanted to get back to racing on the World Cup and prove that I could get through it.”

Alice Merryweather Training

With a triumphant return against trying odds, however, can come the temptation of expectations that become unrealistic. Like the rest of her balanced, measured approach to recovery, though, Alice outlines a thoughtful, pragmatic plan around goal-setting for the season.

“My main goal is to have patience with myself because I know it’s really hard to just walk up to the World Cup after three years of not racing and even get a top 30. So, I’m trying to maintain as much perspective as I can… I’m probably going to have to get beat down a few races, and maybe for most of the season, but if I can ski in a way that I feel actually represents where I’m at… if I can go out and ski the way I know how, I’ll ski into the top 30.”

Alice Headstand

This renewed, rejuvenated, rebuilt Alice Merryweather seems primed for success. To have the patience to have such perspective, and the self-confidence to trust in her own skiing in a sport where results are made by comparison to others, Alice seems to have found a calmness through the chaos. Alice corrects, with a laugh, “I’m a very outwardly emotional person. Like my teammates will all tell you I’m usually the team crier… But I think I’ve learned that that’s okay through this process… It’s okay to feel everything and accepting that and encouraging the people around me to feel that as well I think has given me a lot of purpose and direction beyond being just ski-related.”

And she’s right. Too often many of us get caught up crossing the next thing off a to-do list, progressing to the next step, or identifying our next challenge without taking time in the moment to feel. Feeling the euphoria of our successes and the disappointment of our shortcomings is key to improving upon our life experience. Alice, at the age of 27, has found this out first-hand in her recovery.

What is she looking forward to most-imminently?

“I’m most excited just to be back in a World Cup start,” she says. “To experience that moment—the minute and a half where I’m in the start and it’s just the [start] wand and then the course in front of me. Because I’ve missed that. The fear, the energy, the excitement. Everything that has come down to that moment. There is nothing over the last three years that’s paralleled the feelings I have in that moment.”

Alice Merryweather Race Image

It takes a very specific kind of fearlessness and confidence to crave the moments before heading down an icy racecourse at 70+ miles per hour. If we were the competition, we just wouldn’t want to be pitched against the racer willing to overcome 3+ years of recovery to get back to the start gate.

After 1,380 days away, measurement of this season’s success may be abstract, but one thing is comfortably certain: Alice is back against long odds.