Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Broken Ribs Can't Stop Seattle Skier's Drive To Compete In Winter Olympics

Jude Freeman
Roberto Carcelen of Seattle carried the Peruvian flag at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He is tabbed to be Peru's flag bearer again in Sochi.

It's every Olympic athlete's worst nightmare: After years of preparation, training and fundraising, an accident mere weeks before the Olympic Games derails everything.

Such bad luck just struck Roberto Carcelen of Seattle. But the cross country skier insists on competing at the Sochi Olympics despite a doctor's advice not to.

In 2010, Carcelen was the first athlete from his native Peru to ever compete at the Winter Olympics. This month, the Seattle-based e-commerce consultant was in the Austrian Alps training for his second Winter Games when he lost control on a narrow, icy descent. The ski crash left him with one broken rib, several more cracked ribs and contusions.

At the emergency room in Innsbruck last week, Carcelen says a doctor delivered devastating news.

"He told me, 'I'm really sorry, but you're not going to be able to race in the Olympics.'"

The Austrian doctor recommended two to three months of rest to let Carcelen's rib cage heal. But the date for the men's 15 kilometer cross country ski event in Sochi is less than three weeks away -- on February 14.

"I kind of had an emotional crisis," says Carcelen. "I'm thinking, 'This is it.' All the work that I've been doing, all the people inspired by this story, everything is going down the drain."

Carcelen stewed about it, but he's now determined to race despite his injuries.

"I need to show the rest of the world and many lives out there that, you know, sometimes there are hard times to get success," he says. "You need to complete your goals. Don't lose your focus. Of course, it is going to be painful, but I think I can pull it off."

When I ask him about the risk of failing a drug test due to pain killers, Carcelen says he's not taking medicine even though he hurts badly.

At age 43, Carcelen is the oldest of the 25 athletes from Washington, Oregon and Idaho headed to Sochi. The Peruvian-American dual national will again walk into the Olympic stadium carrying Peru's flag.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.