7 Surgeries, 5 Olympics, 1 Dream: Skier Casey Puckett And His "Appointment In Vancouver"

  • Wednesday, March 3, 2010 1:35 PM
  • Written By: Vantastic Voyage

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Director Anna Christopher was in Vancouver to follow skier Casey Puckett, the subject of her documentary, Appointment In Vancouver. The film focuses on Puckett’s life as a world-class athlete, father of two and hometown hero, who was preparing for his fifth Olympic appearance. Here is Christopher's account Puckett's latest Olympic experience:

We made awesome signs. Amazing signs. Signs that deserved to be on TV. Which was exactly the intention.

After camera-tailing four-time Olympian Casey Puckett for three years and making an applauded documentary about him, my producer, music supervisor, brother (who is in the film) and I scrapped our way to the Olympic Games. With our signs in hand, we were determined to get our film, Appointment In Vancouver, and our favorite skier cross racer, Casey Puckett, some network coverage.

Appointment In Vancouver documents Casey’s dramatic/thrilling/gut-wrenching/inspiring journey to the Games. We capture the challenges Casey faces as an elite athlete competing on the world’s stage and as a father juggling gold-medal dreams while raising kids. The film offers audiences a rare, exclusive glimpse of the mental, emotional and physical trials of a retired Olympic athlete making a comeback at age 37.

The film was born the moment I met Casey. The IOC had recently named Skier Cross as the “new” Olympic sport to debut in Vancouver. Casey said then that he “had an appointment in Vancouver.” His unwavering faith and determination to compete in the 21st Winter Olympics hooked me. He’d competed on the U.S. Ski team since he was 19, raced in Albertville, Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City. Never medaled. He retired after his final Olympics. Final? Actually, not so much. That’s one of the reasons his story is so inspiring.

Through a mix of chance, fate, and itch of “unfinished business,” Casey fell in love with the emerging sport of Skier Cross. Before he knew it, he was back on the slopes and dominating the field unlike he’d ever done as an Alpine racer. He’d found his cup of tea, and he was guzzling it down. Even Daron Rahlves, Casey’s teammate, Alpine racing legend, and co-star of Appointment In Vancouver, admits that Casey was better at Skier Cross than he ever was in Alpine. In the film, Daron says, “My heart pumps a little harder when I line up against Casey because I know what he can do.”

As the Appointment In Vancouver crew climbed the million stairs to the grandstand on February 21, 2010, we wondered what Casey would do that day. The crowd seemed to be pondering the same thing of all the athletes. An excited but serious vibe emanated from the grandstand as the first heats began. Every race of four-on-four skiers was enthralling but the crashes were brutal, which I think caused the pensive energy in the stands. There was no doubt -- this sport was way more electrifying than curling.

Friends have told me the TV coverage made the course appear easy. From our vantage point, it was not. The crowd gave every race its entire attention because if you looked away for a second, you

may miss something unbelievable. This universal focus gave bonded all of us in the crowd without words. We were all there for the love of this new sport and the fearless racers who tried to conquer it.

In the first couple heats, scary pile-ups unfolded right before our eyes in the last turn to the final obstacle -- a monster jump. We started calling that toilet-bowl turn “trouble alley” and worried about how Casey would handle it. I remembered Casey’s perseverance. He fought through seven surgeries to be here. His most recent injury happened in January when on the way to his first World Cup victory. He fell a mere six seconds from the finish and separated his shoulder. In that moment, even he thought the ride was over. However, he pushed through, rehabbed the injury in six weeks, and was here in Cypress on the day Skier Cross was debuting at the Games. No matter what Casey would be a part of history.

And he was. Not with a medal or a massive crash but by laying down a solid race. Because of his injured shoulder, he came out of the gates slower than he’d like and found himself in fourth place. Despite his best efforts, he stayed in fourth for the whole race.

Casey and I texted after the event. What did I say? I’m not sure. There’s not a go-to phrase for “I’m sorry you didn’t achieve your dream and our dream for you.” I know he was disappointed. So was I. But he gave the race everything he had and that’s all you can ask. The Appointment In Vancouver team remained in the stands until the end of the event, enjoying the spectacle of the sport but without the gusto with which we began. We left our signs in the stands.

The funny thing is that when I returned to Los Angeles, I screened Appointment In Vancouver for a few friends. The film ends just before Casey goes to the Olympics. My friends knew the outcome of the Games, yet they loved the film. Even I still loved it. I realized that Casey didn’t win a medal on February 21, 2010, but the journey that got him to that historic day, his Appointment In Vancouver, was pure gold.

-- ANNA CHRISTOPHER

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