A painful decision for speed-skating star Katherine Reutter
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org January 13, 2012 11:41PM
Stephen Colbert signs the thigh of short track speed-skating star Katherine Reutter on his TV show in 2010.
Updated: February 15, 2012 8:03AM
Short track speedskater Katherine Reutter’s claim to fame has nothing to do with skating.
It’s that TV personality Stephen Colbert signed her thigh.
“People ask me if it’s still there,” Reutter laughed. “No, it’s not. That’s gross.”
Reutter was on the eve of making her Olympic debut in 2010 when she went on Colbert’s show. U.S. Speedskating was all but broke, having lost it’s main sponsor, and Colbert offered to help the organization financially right before the Vancouver Olympics. Colbert’s help couldn’t have come at a better time for the U.S. team and for Reutter.
“I had a direct benefit because we hired an amazing athletic trainer and we got a meal service,” Reutter said. “It was beneficial to our team and it helped my experience, just getting that support.
“And now, sometimes when I meet people, they say, ‘Oh, I saw you on the Colbert show and I Googled you.’ It’s just funny.”
Reutter hasn’t had contact with Colbert since, but that’s not why the bubbly 23-year-old isn’t laughing. Two years after winning an Olympic silver medal in the 1,000 meters and a bronze in the 3,000 relay and a year out of winning a world title in the 1,500, the Champaign native is ending her season to have double hip surgery. It was an emotional decision.
“The ball joint doesn’t fit into the socket so it doesn’t rotate smoothly,” Reutter said. “It’s tearing the labrum and the ligaments, and in the left hip I have a labral tear. They will have to shave the bone down. It’s happened slowly over time and I think this is causing a back injury that isn’t getting any better.”
Reutter first noticed the hip problem in 2009 but didn’t have any pain until 2010 and had surgery on her right hip for a labral tear in June of that year. Then she developed a labral tear in her left hip and she started getting back pain.
“If I have the surgery on both hips, all this [pain] will go away,” she said.
The decision to put the kibosh on this season wasn’t easy. Reutter was competing and training at only 60 percent, and thought she could control the pain enough to get through the World Cup season and then skate in the World Championships March 9-11 in Shanghai, China.
But it took a comment by former teammate and ex-Olympian Anthony Lobello to smack Reutter back to reality at the U.S. Short Track National Championships on Jan. 8. Reutter finished a disappointing fifth and her back pain was worsening.
“I was never in contention for a top-three spot and [Lobello] told me that he knew the pain I was in and he could see it,” Reutter said. “That was the turnaround point for me. I knew it was time to end the season. I’ve had this for over a year and I’ve dealt with anger, frustration and denial.”
Reutter, who trains in Salt Lake City, said she hopes to have the first of two surgeries in the next three weeks. Reutter is optimistic that she will be 100 percent for the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
Reutter’s coach, Jae-Su Chun, was more than impressed and amazed that Reutter competed at such a high level, even with the pain in her hips and back. Despite her injuries, Reutter won two silvers and a gold medal at the Korean Air ISU Short Track World Cup 4 in Shanghai, China in early December. Her overall medal haul this season was three golds, two silvers and a bronze.
“It’s the most amazing thing, because she is in so much pain and stress and she keeps pushing hard,” Chun said. “She will end up pushing herself too hard, but before the next Olympics [in Sochi in 2014] she will have to take care of that injury.”