Maëlle Ricker wanted to keep going.
Even at age 36, after 19 years, the four-time Olympic snowboard-cross competitor and 2010 gold medallist felt she could prove herself once again.
But at an offseason training camp, the pain just became too much.
In a Nov. 4 phone interview shortly after announcing her retirement at a press conference in North Vancouver, Ricker explained her decision was a result of keeping a promise to herself.
"I've been through a little over a year of injury and rehab. I went back on snow at the end of the summer in September. A switch flipped. I realized I don't have what I need to have in the start gate to really give it 110 per cent, to remain in that top echelon on the World Cup tour," she said. "I always promised myself that once I knew, once I had that feeling, that I would stop."
Ricker's World Cup career started way back in 1996 and took her to four Winter Olympic Games beginning in 1998 with a fifth-place finish in halfpipe in Nagano, Japan. She returned in Torino, Italy in 2006, placing fourth after crashing with the lead. Four years later, she was on home soil, claiming the win in front of family and friends in Vancouver.
Her Olympic career wrapped in 2014 with a 21st-place showing in Sochi, Russia.
Ricker also hit the World Cup podium 42 times including nabbing 17 gold medals.
All along, Ricker battled injuries, undergoing 11 knee surgeries in addition to suffering two concussions, a broken arm and broken bones in her hand.
In spite of those setbacks, Ricker never felt quite like she does now
"It's definitely been on my mind. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't (thinking about it), but this was definitely a different feeling than I've had in the past," she said. "If I would have stopped earlier, I would have maybe been living with a little bit of regret whereas this time around, I know that it was the right decision. Even though it was the right decision, it was not regretful."
Coach Rene Brunner, who began working with Ricker in 2004, said she was fairly banged up and seeking to make an Olympic return in Italy after missing the Salt Lake City event in 2002 because of injury.
"She already had quite a few injuries so when I started working with her, she was actually in very bad shape," he said.
However, Ricker displayed fierce determination to get back to the top of her game and in Torino, she was dominant, winning the time trials and cruising through to the final before crashing and suffering a concussion.
While severely disappointing at the time, Ricker recalled her Italian experience intensified her desire to win on home soil and steeled her determination to make it happen.
"The great thing about 2006 is it gave me the drive to push through every day, turn over every stone and really commit," she said. "It's a bit of a blessing in disguise."
Brunner said the months of training leading up to the Vancouver-Whistler Games were intense, with a slow-but-steady approach being employed. Ricker had a brand-new board and by the end of it, an unbeatable attitude.
"Coming into Vancouver, she had a lot of confidence," he said. "She knew she could win."
On a familiar rainy day - Feb. 16, 2010 - Ricker combined a lifetime of experience and made the most of the conditions on a day many others would have found challenging. When she crossed the finish line, family and friends awaited. Even five years on, Ricker said the fogginess of joy still hasn't entirely lifted.
"It's like one of those moments that's so hard to define. It's still a little bit blurry. There are so many great moments on the journey leading up to that moment and then when you actually do it, you're in a haze. It's almost a concussion state of mind," she said.
In her nearly two decades in the sport, Ricker has seen major strides in everything from the quality of the technology to the speed and flow of the courses to the intensity of training, but still, a lot stayed the same.
"There's still this underlying love for snowboarding, getting out there on the powder days and hooting and hollering with your friends and travelling the world as a big family," she said. "I've just been enjoying myself on this journey doing something that I love. It's a combination of my passion for the mountains with my passion for sport with my passion for snowboarding. It's been an easy fit for me.
"I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather do."
Ricker hopes to remain involved with Canada Snowboard in some on-snow capacity, but has not yet carved out a specific role within the organization.
"I still love every aspect of being with the team and I'm really hoping to find a way I can integrate into the team," she said. "I want to challenge myself, give back and find a way to make an impact with these younger athletes that are coming up."
Brunner said Ricker always loaded herself with expectations, taking it on herself to truly represent the entire country.
"She opened a lot of doors for the upcoming generation with her success," he said. "She inspired the young athletes and it's a very big thing. She never really raced for herself - she raced for everybody." N
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