Maria Epple was a 19 year old German skier when she won the Giant Slalom world cup championship in 1978. For a brief moment in time, she was the best skier in the world. Maria's older sister, Irene, was also a world class skier and would win a silver medal in the 1982 Winter Olympics.
Six months later, Maria had a little accident in Bad Gastein, Austria. She was on a training run when she lost control during a turn. She went head over heels crashing into the protective fence at over 70 miles per hour. She suffered a badly displaced femur fracture, a dislocated kneecap, and a broken tibia and fibula.
"People often ask me about that crash." Maria said in an interview a few years ago, "Is it more dangerous to compete now as opposed to 30 years ago? Advances in equipment mean we can go at faster speeds now. But the equipment is safer. Bindings release easier. And the snow is much better prepared now than then."
"The fence I crashed into was nothing more than a garden fence. I went through it like a hot knife through butter. I came to rest 200 meters later. My ski was still attached to my boot and my foot was 180 degrees out of alignment. It was turned around backwards."
"Today, there are strict protocols for dealing with injured skiers. We have A through C networks and rescue chains. In 1978, everything was chaotic. Totally untrained staff were trying their best to comfort me while we waited for the ski patrol to arrive. It took over an hour to get me off of the mountain. I am lucky to still have my leg."
Maria's recovery from the injury took over a year. A plate was place in Maria's femur and a rod in her lower leg to stabilize her tibia. She was fitted with a massive cast. After one week in the hospital, Maria was driven by her father to her home in Germany.
"The cast was enormous." Maria later said. "The field of orthopedic was not as scientific then as it is now. Even for world class skiers, I was treated like anyone else would be. I spent six weeks in that horrid cast unable to move my knee or ankle. After six weeks, I was placed in a cast that was hinged at the knee. When I broke my other leg six years later, I had no cast at all."
Maria went through a series of casts and spent months in physical therapy. By September of the following year, she was back on the ski circuit although she never regained her world champion form.
Today, Maria Epple is a certified beautician and manages a beauty shop in Germany. She also sells real estate on the side