The Pittsford native is back to training and competing after suffering a career-threatening injury in October of 2010. Looby is currently living and training in Salt Lake City in preparations for qualifying for the Winter Olympics.
In under one minute, on a long sheet of ice in Salt Lake City, Liz Looby’s life finally returned to normal.
Looby, a Pittsford native who spent her high school years dreaming of competing in the Olympics, returned to competitive speed skating earlier this month at the US Speed Skating’s American Cup Finals.
Looby raced for the first time since a horrific accident in October 2010 sidelined her for 17 months.
“It was awesome,” said Looby, a 2009 graduate of Pittsford Mendon. “Up until then I didn’t realize I could do that because of the nerve damage in my leg and I was kind of nervous that I would not be able to do it again. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
Looby’s memory of the accident is as clear as the Olympic oval where she competes. She came to the American Cup short track speed skating championship looking to better her times in the quest to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Looby, who wasn’t happy with her times heading into the meet in Milwaukee, appeared to be turning the corner early in the meet. Looby had a strong showing in her first heat and was doing well in the semifinals leading the first five laps of her 1,000-meter race.
“That race was interesting,” she said. “I was coming out of a a long slump and I was doing really well in that day. I was really happy.”
While competing in the Class C race Looby and Katherine Ralston collided and hit the retaining wall coming out of a turn. Looby was cut behind her right inner thigh, which caused extensive bleeding that was visible on the ice.
The injury was described in the surgical reports at Froedert Medical Center in Milwaukee as “right traumatic popliteal fossa injury with distal hamstring laceration and tibial nerve laceration.” Surgeons at the time said it was probable Looby would have a permanent limp and likely would never skate again.
“I was out of it after I got out of surgery, but I remember the first thing the doctors told me was ‘you are probably not going to be able to walk normally let alone skate,’” Looby said. “I was focused on recovery, but it kind of killed me.”
Looby decided to stay in Utah for her recovery so she could continue to work at her home facility and train with her teammates.
Looby began an intense regimen of physical therapy, acupuncture, massage and exercise. Still on crutches and in a full leg brace within a month she was at the oval using a stationery bike with one leg and doing weight work.
Page 2 of 2 - When Looby’s team did running exercises between cones, she got out with her crutches and tried. By January 2011 Looby was testing her leg on the 400 long track Olympic oval and by early July was back training.
She is still battling continuing nerve deficits, which to this day prevent her from moving her right toes, or having feeling in that foot.
“The improvement has been an amazing,” said Matt Kooreman, who currently coaches Looby in Utah. “She could barely get around out there at first and quite frankly I felt bad for her being on my team. As the year progressed she seemed to get more mobility in the leg and started to coordinate her moments.”
Looby did time trials at 500 and 1,000 meters late last month and Kooreman encouraged her to register for the last major US Speedskating event of the season. She skated twice at each of the two distances, each faster than the prior week’s trials, and the second set faster than the first.
As Looby continued her recovery, she and team coaches decided she would switch from short-track to long-track speed skating.
“I worked so hard up to the point for about six years and it wasn’t an option for me to quit,” Looby said. “Up until about two or three weeks ago I didn’t know if I would be able to skate competitively. I needed that last race to give me the confidence to keep racing.”
Looby’s first encounter with speed skating came in 2006, while her family was on a trip to Boston. They were out to dinner when Looby caught some of an Olympic speed skating competition came on TV.
After watching a gold medal winning performance by Apolo Anton Ohno, Looby was ready to lace up her skates. She started training with the Rochester Speed Skating Club during her freshman year at Mendon and competed with it for four years.
Looby was far from a natural in the sport according to Marty Medina, who coached her four years with the club.
“When she started she was lucky if she could get around the rink without falling,” Medina said.
“She pushed past her comfort zone and that helped her progress quickly. By the time she was a senior in high school she had gotten to the point where she could compete with some of the top skaters in the country.”