Ella Taylor-Tipton is a 14 year-old skier from Derbyshire, England and has been skiing since the age of 3. She first starting training at the Swadlincote Ski Centre, and competed in the slalom ski race at the age of 5. By the age of 9, she won her first National Title.
Ella was not the only talented skiier in her family. At the time, both her brothers were big into Freestyle skiing which inspired her to give it a try. She ended up loving freestyle skiing and has never looked back since.
She then went on to compete in Freestyle competitions nationally with her brothers, making podiums. Her first British Freestyle Competition was at Tignes France which was a great experience. The following year, she won a Silver Medal in the Slopestyle for U12’s. The event then moved to Laax, Switzerland where she has competed in Slopestyle, Big Air and Half Pipe over the past few years and won Silver in Big Air U16’s, Bronze in Half Pipe U16’s and Bronze in Slopestyle U16’s.
In 2017, she was the recipient of the Erewash Young Sportswoman of the Year. Ella is on the GB Park & Pipe Pathway in the Home Nations Squad. She is grateful for Snowsport England, Sportsaid, The Nottingham Building Society and her sponsors (The Snow Centre, Afterjam Collective and Odlo) for all their support throughout her skiing and recovering seasons.
Outside of the ski world, she loves music, art, taking her dog for walks, raising money for Charity, spending time with family and friends. “I am just your normal 14 yr old girl who just happens to like an extreme sport.
Ella shares her experience
ON THE INJURY
“Earlier this year I was competing up at Glasgow in Go Big or Go Home, a Freestyle Ski Competition. I took several slams on that day - spinning a 360 rotation and 540 spin, then one slam was brutal; I couldn’t get up of the ground. I screamed with the pain and the tears were trickling down my face. A couple of snowboarders from Kendal Ski Club that I know came and picked me off the slope and placed me at the bottom.
My Mum and Dad came over to me immediately. Mum ran and got some ice for my leg while my Dad helped get my ski boot off. It was so painful, and I couldn’t stop crying. My parents took me to the hospital, leaving my brother Justin to finish his competition. Once at the hospital, after 15 minutes spent trying to get me out of the car and into a wheelchair, I waited for 40 minutes to get an x-ray, and then another 90 minutes to see the doctor. While waiting another girl from the same competition came in with an injured knee, and we waited together.
After my X-ray results came back and I saw the nurse, the hospital put me in a straight leg brace and told me that I just had a mild sprain and that if it got worse, I should go to my hospital when I got home.
After a bad night of trying to sleep in a hotel bed, I had a 5 hour drive home from Scotland, with my leg resting on the arm of the passenger seat. Once back home, my Mum took me to the local children’s hospital at Derby, and I waited a while for an x-ray again. I could only get comfortable with my foot resting on the bin in the waiting room. The nurse checked my knee and x-ray results, and then told me to take off the straight leg brace and use crutches instead. She then made an appointment for me at the the knee clinic. There was a 3 week wait...
Luckily my Dad has Private Medical insurance with work and my Mum got me an appointment to see the Consultant 2 days later. I was very nervous when I went to see him; my knee looked like a melon and I could not move quickly or easily, taking 15-20 minutes to get in and out of a car. When I finally got to the waiting room I was feeling sick and scared. Mr Straw was nice, but told me I had to have an MRI - his nurse took me down to the MRI waiting room in a wheelchair and since I was so very scared (never had an MRI before) my Mum changed her clothes and came and sat next to the MRI scanner with me.
After what seemed like a whole day of staying still, I got dressed waited for the nurse to come back with the wheelchair and head home.
The longest 12 hours of my life followed.
My Mum got a call from Mr Straw to say that I had completely ruptured my ACL, and arranged for me to go back and see him, so we could sort out a surgery date. I went back the next day. I felt numb like my whole world had just dropped from under my feet.
While Mr Straw was showing me my MRI photos and explaining everything, all I could do was cry. In only 2 weeks from then, I was supposed to be heading to Portland Oregon to the Windells Camp for a part Scholarship I had been Awarded. I had been so excited and looking forward to skiing Mount Hood. I had my accident on June 23rd, 2018 and started my prehab on June 30th, 2018 with an operation date of August 9th, 2018.
I got in touch with Windells straight away and they have been awesome. They agreed to defer my Scholarship until I was well enough to take it up. We had to fight with Air France to get my money back which I had raised through Go Fund Me, and I am happy to say that they gave me all back in the form of a voucher to use next time. I got in touch with a Physio from the NHS and there was a 9 week wait to see them, so I paid to go and see a Sports Therapist who had been great with my brother Justin in the past. It was called JL Sports Therapy. Also, through Dad’s insurance, I was able to get to see a private Physio earlier.
Without the support of my physiotherapist, Jake, from JL Sports Therapy, I would not have been ready for my operation. He helped push me, encouraged me, and helped me get my mobility back. My Mum has been wonderful through it all. She held my hand, gave me a shoulder to cry on, was a demand hugger, and constant voice in my head reassuring me and encouraging me.
So, I finally got all my mobility back and was about to lose it all again as the date for the operation drew closer and closer.
The school was accommodating. They relaxed my School uniform so that I could wear trainers and trousers. I got to leave class early to get around on my crutches, but they were only to be used at school to protect my leg and knee. I stopped using my crutches 2 weeks after to accident, thanks to my physiotherapist, Jake. It was good to get off them!
A week before surgery, I went on holidays with the family. Mum and I went for walks and she would go out on the deck with me and help me with my prehab. I used play with equipment in the park to help with my physio - it made it so much more fun. I went out Dolphin watching on a boat with the family and the Dolphins came out to play which was an awesome sight and made me feel extremely happy.
As my holiday ended, my insides were churning. I was trying hard not to be scared but I was. “What if it went wrong?”. All these thoughts went around in my head. Weeks of intense prehab were over, and it was time for the surgery.”
ON THE SURGERY EXPERIENCE
The morning of August 9th arrived, and I headed off early in the morning to Derby Children’s Hospital with my Mum. I was welcomed on to the ward, sat down in the waiting area as my bed wasn’t yet ready. Not long after my consultant, Mr Straw appeared with the man who would give me my anaesthetic. Mr Straw drew a big arrow on the knee he was going to operate on, but also told me there was a slim possibility that he might have to take ligament from my other leg to make one good new ACL.
I am not the best when it comes to hospitals and I was scared beyond belief. They decided to administer me with a drug that makes the patient dopey and hopefully not remember what has happened. They also decided that I should be put to sleep with gas, and not by injection.
Mum walked with me to the Theatre holding my hand. I was crying uncontrollably. The drug did not seem to be working as well as it should. Mum stayed with me dressed from head to toe in white theatre wear. As the gas mask came closer to my face, I was shaking my head, but it was not long after that I fell into a deep sleep.
I remember waking up with Mum by my side in recovery, holding my hand. It wasn’t until I got back to the Ward that I noticed bandages on both legs. the worse had happened and Mr Straw had to take ligament from both sides. About 2 hours later, l had something to eat. I was managing to move my right leg around, but not my left. Mr Straw came to see me in the Ward after he had finished the operations for the day, and explained that the hamstring graft from my bad leg was too thin, so, he had to take a hamstring graft from my good leg and attached the 2 grafts together to enable me to have a good functioning ACL.
My Dad arrived later to see me. He arrived in good time, I needed the toilet. Trying to lift myself up was so hard. I still felt a little sleepy but between my Dad, the nurse and my Mum, I got into the wheelchair and headed down the corridor. Things did not go well!! I went a terrible grey colour and was sick. Mum managed to find something for me to be sick in but by that time it was too late. Sweat poured down my face and my body was burning. The nurse got me back to bed, took my blood pressure and temperature and got some fans blowing on me to cool me down. Apparently that kind of thing can happen when you have been put to sleep - I didn’t like it!
After what seemed like a long night, morning came. I washed, had something to eat and the Physio arrived. It took about 20 minutes to get me off the bed and onto a pair of crutches, but the Physio was great and helped me start walking. The pain was real, as was the weakness, the nagging doubt of “CAN I DO THIS?!”
But I did. I wanted to be back on my feet despite the pain. Slowly, throughout the morning, I got better and better at getting off my bed and using the crutches. The painkiller was keeping the pain sort of under control but not gone.
It was hard learning to walk with both legs that had both been operated on, which was twice as painful. The Physio came for a second time that day to check on me, go through exercises he wanted me to take home and basically talk me through going up and down stairs.
Home at last and the long journey back begins. Extension exercises.. flexion exercises.. I had two tools that became my best friends: a tin lid for sliding my foot back and forth for flexion, and a TheraBand for lifting my leg.
My quad had shrunk so much that I was scared it would never come back. 3 times a day I went through all my exercises, pushing past the pain as much as I could. On the 5th day I went to see my physiotherapist and he was honest about being worried about me. The walk from the car park to his office is about 100 metres and normally takes a few minutes to get there. The first day, it took me 25 minutes to walk 100 metres. I was out of breath, and my hands were slipping off my crutch handles. I got back to the car with an appointment to see the physio a week later.
I kept on with the exercises, each day getting better. I went to see my Sports Therapist Jake, and he gave me some tips on getting my quads going. There was lots of pinching, stimulation and looking at my leg telling it to move “visualisation”. Plus, he took a crutch away and told me to walk. He had me walking up and down until I got it right. No messing with Jake! Then he took the other one away and told me that if I could walk on one I could walk with none.
My physio, Guy, was so impressed with the change in me just a week later. I was walking upright for one and had the pain under control. Guy did some manipulation and massage on my knee, I hit his couch a lot over the first few weeks my way of dealing with pain I didn’t like. After another week I was totally off the crutches and Jake gave me some tips for walking without limping.
The two step – works like magic – whenever I felt the limp coming back I would break into the two step either in one place or a travelling two step and the limp would go away.
The day I was able to lift my leg up put the biggest smile on my face. It was about two and a half weeks later after days and days of telling my leg, pulling it up with a band, pinching it, all the work paid off. I was then able to really start and working on the rehab. My Mum has been a big part of my rehab. She has driven me everywhere, and helped me when I’ve had down moments. Sometimes all you need is a Mum hug and it’s easier to find that missing bit a strength to keep going. Mum helped me make my bedroom into a little gym with a variety bands in different strengths, foam rollers, yoga blocks, skateboard, chair, compex machine. We attached bands to my door handles on the wardrobe that I could use to strengthen my upper body. Mum also bought me a full-length mirror that I could use to check my stance when doing my exercises (I’m still using that mirror!). We brought a dining room chair up into my bedroom and I was able to use that for leg extension exercises. I sat on it to use with my skateboard when doing my leg flexion exercises. Each time, I could get my knees back further and further, as a guide when doing my squats, to hold onto when practicing my single leg squats, slowly getting my core and myself stronger to the point where I didn’t need to hold onto the chair.
Recovering 2 legs has been hard but I know it will be worthwhile. It’s been painful, there have been lots of down moments, lots of laughter, high 5 moments - it was an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Starting back to school was a big thing for me because I was on crutches and needing to keep up with extension and flexion exercises. I had to go into a special part of the school and have work brought to me. If there was ever a driving force in getting me back into mainstream school, that was it! Not being with your friends, feeling isolated (plus it’s just not the same experience a learning in a classroom). The school were great and let me modify my uniform to accommodate different trousers that were easier to wear with my dressings and trainers much better for walking in.
Six weeks later, I saw my Consultant, Mr Straw. He took out the remaining stitches. I cried, as you know I don’t do well in hospitals. Mum held me.
Mr Straw was super happy with my extension and flexion by that time, after all the hard work Guy had done with putting me through my massage and manipulation. Plus, I had started my NHS Physio 2 weeks before my appointment, with Lauren.
My life had become one of constant exercising, physio visits, and checking knee bends, but I made time for the things I love and missed so much: skiing and friends. I went to ski competitions and training nights with my brother, and caught up with my friends. All of this helped keep me going mentally. Each progression leads to my future, so I now go to the gym 3-4 times a week, and the other days workout at home.
The road is a long one but trying to be positive makes it easier! There have been little blips along the way - I took a stumble coming out of school one night which hurt my knee. It made my knee swell slightly, but my physio checked me out and was happy that it was just an aggravation. All these little things can cause a set back though, and the main thing is to remember that we all have our own pace. Recovery is hard but we have people in our corner to help the journey even when feeling totally alone.
I am lucky that my NGB have helped me with a few sessions with S & C Tom Heeley of Function Jigsaw. He has given me exercises to help make me strong and I am looking forward to when he gives me back to snow exercises to do, Tom and Jake are both keeping an eye on me, helping me achieve my goals. Tom had me working on balance floor work, the watt bike, single leg squats, dead lifts and squats.
ON ADVICE FOR OTHER ATHLETES
The best advice to others that need the same procedure as me or similar is to take a deep breath on those very first steps, as it’s kind of like abseiling - you need to trust yourself and just do it. Those first steps are very scary and I had no idea how much it would hurt, if it would hurt, or if I could even walk on it. But the physios at the hospital were patient. I had one in front encouraging me and one behind me with a chair in case I needed to sit down.
It is so surprising how the human body works, after a short period of time, walking gets easier as the legs get stronger. Each time I was walking, I was making my legs stronger. With every push up on the crutches, I was making the legs stronger. The leg that Mr Straw stitched was perfect, neat and now I can hardly tell he cut me open. Remember to work both legs in physio - whatever exercise I do on my ACL recovery leg, I do on the other (but not as many reps).
Calf raises and heel drops are great, as is hopping and hamstring curls with a Theraband. Remember to work on balance on both legs and the fact that recovery is a whole- body experience not just the knees and legs. Recovery is twice the work, but the result is worth it.
Also keep plenty of instant ice packs at hand especially when going out for the first few weeks or just after physio.
ON STAYING MOTIVATED AFTER SURGERY
Staying motivated is hard work but my Physio Guy, and Lauren, Sports Therapist Jake and NGB Strength & Conditioning Tom Heeley of Function Jigsaw are really awesome people which motivated me to want to do well for them. The moments when I worked hard and made progress led to seeing them with smiles and high 5s. That mental boosts were amazing. Each time I progressed and get moved, on the mental buzz was the best feeling in the world. It made me feel like I had achieved something. I feel one step closer to going to Windells Camp next summer and finally being able to ski again. That’s my focus. That goal is keeping me motivated: skiing again in the mountains. I want that more than anything else. Putting my skis on, sliding down a mountain, and hitting a snowpark. To do what I love is pure motivation. I can honestly say that I did not realize how much I dearly love skiing until I could no longer do it. I think I got into the habit of skiing because it was expected, but the moment I was told I could not ski, my world literally sank.
When I have been going to watch my brother and friends ski I have been itching to get out there with them. It’s like “Oh My God I miss this”. My accident may have been the worst thing that happened to me, but at the same time, it could of been the best. A flame inside of me is shining brighter than before. The thought of skiing makes me smile more. I can’t wait to try out new tricks and push way past my old boundaries. Every time I start to feel a little down I think about all those words of encouragement from Guy, Lauren, Jake and Tom and just thinking about being back on the mountain surrounded by snow covered peaks and the lovely view of a snowpark I feel better mentally… and the motivation keeps coming.
I could pretend that I am happy and motivated every second of every day, but the lows are real and the physio is relentless. That’s why I am glad that I have good support network to help me when I hit the lows. Wondering if I will ever ride a skateboard, play netball, do gymnastics - all of these things go through my mind. At 14, I can be stroppy and argumentative and sometimes I just want to be like everyone else - hangout with my friends, dance and have fun; which doesn’t help when I am having a low point. Mum puts up with it all, she is always there for me. The mental lows have their counterparts the mental highs which are now (I am glad to say) in my life more and more. This week I was put onto a new programme for teenagers.
ON DREAMS AFTER MAKING A COMEBACK
My biggest dream after I have fully recovered is getting to a good enough stage to represent my country and be a role model for other young female skiers to look up to. To be someone who hasn’t let injury stop them but ignite them. If I could compete on a World stage, that would be the ultimate dream.
See the world, set goals and achieve them. Make my parents proud and maybe one day have my parents waiting and watching while I ski in the Olympics.
At the moment though my biggest dream is to get back to sport and back on skis and then be allowed to hit the snowpark. Dreams are all about benchmarks. Set one, achieve one and then set another.
It’s called a dream staircase and each step takes me higher to the next level until the day I reach the top of my dreams.
Thank you Ella for sharing your story with athletes across the globe!