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Broken foot and all, Bradley determined to compete

Skater will participate in worlds despite foot injury

Ryan Bradley has had to overcome a lot recently, but he is hoping to be a factor at worlds.
Ryan Bradley has had to overcome a lot recently, but he is hoping to be a factor at worlds. (J. Barry Mittan)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(03/18/2010) - Ryan Bradley wasn't going to let anything prevent him from competing at the 2010 World Championships.

Not even a broken bone in his foot was going to get in the way.

Bradley just missed a shot at competing in the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver after placing fourth at the U.S. Championships but had his spirits lifted when he was named to the world team last month. Unfortunately, he subsequently went to a dance class and broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

The injury could have been yet another setback for the veteran skater who thought he had seen it all, but instead, Bradley figured out a way to tape up his foot and get back to landing quads. And he will be heading to Torino for a shot at redemption at the world championships, which begin Monday.

"Man, this has been a roller coaster,'' Bradley said in telephone interview Monday, just a few days after U.S. skating officials monitored his skating practices in Colorado Springs, Colo., and gave him clearance to compete.

Emotionally anguished and physically banged up as he may be, Bradley isn't going to worlds just to check out the sights in Italy. He said he is eager to prove exactly what he can do and to compete against the best skaters in the world.

"I'm not going to worlds just to enjoy the scenery,'' said Bradley, who last competed at the world championships in 2007. "I'm a competitor.''

Bradley undoubtedly has already proven that.

He's already fought more battles in the past couple of months than many skaters will in a lifetime.

Bradley began the 2010 year with the hope of making the U.S. Olympic team. He was planning to go to Spokane, Wash., the place where he captured a silver medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 2007, and was hoping to return to the medal stand in that same arena in 2010. He knew it was going to be difficult to earn one of three coveted spots for the U.S. Olympic team, with Jeremy Abbott as the defending champion, Evan Lysacek as the reigning world champion and Johnny Weir as a three-time U.S. champion in the mix. But Bradley had been landing quads well in practice and was going to go for broke at nationals.

Bradley landed a quad-triple in the short program but botched his triple lutz to place sixth. Even with a strong free skate, in which he performed two quads and placed second, it wasn't enough to get him on the medal stand.

Abbott soundly defended his title, Lysacek was runner-up and Weir wound up taking the third spot. Bradley finished fourth, and while the top three prepared for Vancouver, he had to cope with heading back home to Colorado Springs. As an Olympic and world alternate, Bradley had to continue training, but when the men's short program began in Vancouver, he realized his Olympic dream was over.

Mentally beleaguered, Bradley continued to train but his heart wasn't in it. His coach of nearly 22 years, Tom Zakrajsek, was in Vancouver with American champion Rachael Flatt, and Bradley went through the motions on the ice back in Colorado.

But then Lysacek won the Olympic gold medal and shortly afterward, he sent a text message to Bradley to let him know he wasn't going to compete at worlds in Torino. Bradley would go in Lysacek's place. Bradley's spirits went from 0 to 60 and his training zoomed back into full quadruple-jump gear.

Shortly afterward, he went to dance class.

With about two minutes left in the class, Bradley leaped into the air and then stumbled and immediately felt pain in his foot when he landed.

"This was an elite dance class, and I was so embarrassed that I just stumbled out of the room,'' Bradley said. "I thought to myself, 'Oh no. This isn't just a roll.' ''

Bradley was forced to suck up his pride and went back into the room to get a friend to help him. He spent the rest of the evening in the emergency room. The world championships, which for Bradley was all about redemption, appeared to be another opportunity lost.

"I remember asking the doctor right away about worlds,'' Bradley said. "I said, 'I've got two weeks, am I going to be able to do this?' And the doctor looked at me and just said, 'No.' ''

At first Bradley was in shock. Then, however, the doctor suddenly and slightly changed his tune, and Bradley immediately hung on every optimistic note.

"I just didn't want to pass this up,'' Bradley said.

Bradley immediately called Zakrajsek.

"It was the middle of the night,'' Zakrajsek said. "My wife picked up the phone, but it was too late. She saw the number and I said, 'That's Ryan.' She said, 'I hope nothing's wrong. Ryan never calls at night.'''

Nervously, Zakrajsek called Bradley back.

"He had just done two clean programs in practice that morning and then we were at the Olympic Training Center to review everything for worlds,'' Zakrajsek said. "I went to bed feeling really happy.''

"That phone call,'' Zakrajsek added, "changed everything.''

Ever since, Bradley has been spending much of his time in doctors' offices and in physical therapy sessions. The injury happened on a Tuesday, and Bradley took Wednesday off. He hobbled into the rink Thursday and could barely lace his skate. He mustered a couple of waltz jumps, not exactly the high-scoring maneuvers Bradley was hoping to perform. The outlook appeared hopeless.

Zakrajsek, meanwhile, had left Colorado Springs to be with U.S. junior champion Agnes Zawadski at the world junior championships at The Hague in The Netherlands, and pretty much ruled out the possibility of coaching Bradley in Torino.

But Bradley wasn't giving up so easily. After some finagling, Bradley figured out a way to wrap casting tape around his broken toe so he could skate relatively pain free. He started doing quads, and much to Bradley's astonishment, things were somewhat back to normal.

"After my first session, I got on my cell phone and sent Tom an email,'' Bradley said. "He was like, 'What?''' "It's just been really incredible,'' Bradley added. "It defies medical logic. But the doctors say I'm not going to make things any worse, and I'm not really in any pain.''

Last Thursday and Friday, Bradley practiced in front of U.S. skating officials, who had to monitor him and make sure he was physically fit to compete at the world championships. He said that he did so well that "a lot of the people who came to see me skate were arguing about which foot I had injured.''

Bradley admitted that he can't do quite as many repetitions as he could before the injury, but basically, he is ready to go. Even with the injury, he only missed one day on the ice.

Bradley's parents are not standing in his way, either. In fact, his father is a family practitioner, and he didn't even want his son to have cortisone shot. Both his parents are making the trip to Torino watch Bradley compete at worlds. Bradley, 26, joked that his parents keep coming to competitions because they want to make sure they see him at his final event. For the record, he hasn't made up his mind about his skating future, so his parents just might keep booking flights.

Right now, he's just happy to be traveling to Torino. But he knows it won't be an easy as he will face Russia's three-time Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko, Four Continents champion Adam Rippon (who replaced Weir), two-time U.S. champion Abbott and Canada's Patrick Chan, who has been training in Colorado Springs with Christy Krall.

"I know a lot of people don't have me on their radar,'' Bradley said.

Bradley doesn't mind. He's on his way to Torino, and that's a victory in and of itself.