Date of Surgery: 9/23/2019
Update (6/2020): Chelsea has returned to ski guiding and mountaineering.
My name is Chelsea Sullivan. I grew up ski racing in small town Ontario. I made the pilgrimage west after high school, and have lived in the mountains ever since. I forged a life on the coast and have continued to follow my passion for skiing through a number of mediums. First as a professional athlete on the Freeskiing World Tour and subsequently, the Freeride World Tour North American Qualifier series. Secondly, as an Avalanche Skills Training instructor for the Canadian Avalanche Association and most recently, as an ACMG Guide. I am currently working towards further Rock and Alpine certifications within the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. I call Whistler, British Columbia home.
I was skiing before I could walk, before I could crawl, I was in a back pack carried by my father. At the ripe young age of 4 my parents put me into the local Nancy Green Racing program at Pakenham Resort in Ontario. By the time we entered the juvenile stage I was competing for the race team at Calabogie Resorts in the FIS category. At the age of 16, freestyle skiing had made a huge impact on the ski industry and I made the switch over to park and pipe. I worked in a local ski shop, Tommy and Lefebvre, competed in small local competitions and attended training camps with young female coaches like Sarah Burke.
The decision was made to move to Whistler at the age of 19 after a year of competing locally in Ontario and Quebec. I garnered a job fitting ski boots professionally year-round between Surefoot in Whistler and Tommy and Lefebvre in Ottawa. In 2007, I got invited to go to the Canadian Championships by some members of the Rossignol Freeski Team and went on to compete professionally in Freeride Competitions for the next 10 years. I stood atop the podium enough times to garner many sponsorships over the ensuing years, and was able to support a life as a professional skier in Whistler.
In 2010 I tore my ACL and during my recovery enrolled in The Adventure Guide Diploma at Thompson Rivers University. The experience at TRU, the mentorship from the amazing faculty, and the connections I made with other young aspirant guides laid the foundation for my career in the Tourism Industry as a Professional Ski Guide. During the Expedition Planning course, I heard all about Kees and Claire passing away three years earlier in an accident on the Wapta Traverse. Hearing their story and the many case studies presented throughout the program was a real turning point in my risk tolerance in the mountains, and as a result I began to hone my craft. In 2018 I became an ACMG Apprentice Ski Guide and I am currently working towards my IFMGA. In the summer of 2019, at the time of my accident, I had just finished my debut year as an ACMG certified heli ski and touring guide in British Columbia working for Tyax Lodge and Heli skiing, Bella Coola Heli Sports, Extremely Canadian, and Whitecap Alpine.
Treatment Procedure and Recovery Plan
On July 27th 2019 I simultaneously dislocated both my Right and Left Shoulders on a slab climb in Murrin Park British Columbia. My left shoulder immediately self reducted but my right shoulder had suffered previous dislocations and damage was done to the structural integrity of my Labrum and my glenohumeral joint. I needed to be back on my game come winter and a mentor of mine Lee-Ann Patterson recommended applying to the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation. On September 23rd 2019 I had my right shoulder repaired by Dr. Peter Millett at The Steadman Clinic in Vail Colorado. Operative findings under an intraoperative exam revealed a grade III anterior load and shift test with anterior glenoid impaction as well as anterior labral tear. There was damage to the glenohumeral cartilage at the area of labral tear with significant fraying and incompetent labrum as well as significant bone loss. Basically, my shoulder had suffered so many dislocations I had worn down the bone and torn the cartilage that keeps the humorous in place. My procedure included; right shoulder arthroscopy and a Latarjet Procedure with coracoid process transfer to the anterior glenoid.
After surgery, I attended the Howard Head Sports Medicine Clinic. When I returned home, I attended physio 3 times a week and spent 4 hours a day in the gym working on strength and range of motion. By Jan 01st 2020 with the permission of Dr. Millett and his team I was back to regular activities. Ski guiding, mountaineering and carrying a 50 lb pack.
"The Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation picked me up, dusted me off and put me back in the game. I can’t thank them enough. My world stopped on July 27th 2019 when I simultaneously dislocated both my right and left shoulders in a climbing accident in Murrin Park, British Columbia. I was climbing a slab and had my arms over my head with my elbows above my shoulders, gripping little crystals and my feet poised in a small sloping dish. I lost purchase with both my feet at the same time and was dragged down the wall resulting in anterior dislocations of both my shoulders, before the rope caught my weight. The left shoulder immediately self reducted, but the right remained out of place. There wasn’t much I could do and self rescued from the park. Upon hospitalization, an X-RAY showed a small bone contusion of the glenoid bone. I knew it was going to need surgical intervention. It took me almost a month to get an appointment with an Orthopedic Surgeon in Whistler where I lived, and she informed me it would be months before I would reach the top of the list for surgical reconstruction. The Canadian medical system is good but they lack the ability to help athletes like myself who don’t have the financial backing to get timely medical diagnosis and repair. It was looking like my winter aspirations were spiraling down the drain, when a mentor of mine Lee Anne Patterson recommended, I apply to the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation. One of life’s biggest challenges is time. We never seem to have enough. As a professional athlete and ACMG guide I needed to return to my career in a very short period of time between the accident and the beginning of the 2020 winter season. Without the support of the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation that would have been impossible. I chose to have the surgery in Vail Colorado at The Steadman Clinic, the same clinic who had helped my mentor years earlier. Dr. Peter Millett, renowned for his experience in shoulder reconstruction, was the perfect choice of the many famous surgeons working at the clinic. At four months post op, I went back to working as a ski guide full time. By 6 months I was mountain biking and climbing. If you had told me 7 months ago, I was going to come out of this stronger than I was before I probably wouldn’t have believed you. The Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation believed in me and provided me with the foundation to believe in myself. Thank you KBF! "
- Chelsea Sullivan