January 23, 2015

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) Being at the Winter X Games and seeing the perfectly polished halfpipe off in the distance has snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington itching to try out some of her newest tricks.

Like that backside 1080 - featuring three full rotations - that she's been mastering.

Those days are now behind Farrington. No more twisting. No more spinning. No more of anything that involves her board leaving the snow.

The gold medalist at the Sochi Olympics was forced to retire from competitions last week after doctors discovered a degenerative spine condition.

Olympic champ done at 25 - it's still something she's trying to wrap her mind around.

She has a condition known as stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal cord and something she's had since birth. It was only detected after a crash three months ago in Austria that left her momentarily without feeling all the way to her toes.

She's thankful to have caught it before something more serious happened. And thankful the timing was such that she had a chance to win a gold medal in the halfpipe last February. Because that, they can never take away from her.

''This has been the craziest year of my life,'' said Farrington, who will be a spectator for the women's halfpipe final Saturday after finishing third last year. ''Win the gold medal and then find out that I have this condition and I can't ride halfpipe ever again?

''It's been wild, especially processing all of this.''

She showed up in Aspen to be a part of the social scene, and squeeze in some riding. No big air, of course.

''I'm a grounded snowboarder as of now,'' she said. ''It's really hard, too.''

For so much of her life, she was Kaitlyn the Snowboarder. The sport was part of her identity, and her career reached an entirely new level on a magical night in Russia last winter when she edged a pair of former Olympic champions, Torah Bright and Kelly Clark.

Farrington surprised everyone. Including herself.

''I don't think I knew I was going to come here and get a gold medal. I still don't really believe it,'' she said a few hours after her win.

Now, she's trying to figure out the next act. Could be commentary work. Or maybe mentoring an up-and-comer (just not now, because she's not ready to coach yet).

''Hopefully, I'll still be Kaitlyn the Snowboarder or Kaitlyn the Celebrity,'' said Farrington, who was raised in Idaho and whose family sold livestock from their ranch to finance her career. ''I had some more things I wanted to do in the pipe. It's cut short now.

''But I feel like coming here (to Winter X) is about not letting snowboarding get fully taken away from me.''

Never has Farrington really had any sort of issues with her back. Only an accident alerted her to a potentially serious condition.

At a photo shoot for a sponsor last October in Austria, Farrington was trying to land a jump when she fell backward and onto her upper back. She lost feeling all over her body. For nearly two minutes, she said she felt nothing, before sensation began to return. She convinced everyone she didn't need to go to the hospital, though, and even went snowboarding the next day, despite a burning feeling in her shoulders.

Following a visit to her physical therapist back in the U.S., she decided to get her back checked out.

Soon after, doctors were saying her career was over.

''They were like, `With what you've chosen to do, you're so lucky you haven't had another incident like this,''' Farrington said. ''Now that I've had an episode, it's more likely to come up again.''

Appearing at Winter X this week was a chance to explain to everyone what exactly happened to her. Farrington showed up at the Dew Tour a month ago and wasn't quite ready to share the bad news. She just told everyone she'd be back in time for Winter X.

And she is, too, she just can't compete.

''It's very bittersweet being here right now. I cried probably about 10 times from athletes hugging me,'' Farrington said. ''Now that everyone knows, people have sent me text messages saying, `It was so great knowing you.' I'm like, `I'm not dead. I'm still here.'

''People think I'm disappearing. You're not going to get rid of me.''

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Follow Pat Graham on Twitter: http://twitter.com/pgraham34

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