Her doctor saw countless problems in her foot — among the most severe was a polarized calcaneus. “The foot was black, dead. A few days later the heel went to an ashy black,” she recalls. The pain at its worst had her getting injections of the narcotic pain reliever Dilaudid every six minutes.
Fortunately, throughout her extended stay in the hospital, her life partner and fellow pro skier Thomas Asher could be her support.
“I’m lucky that in water skiing there are no set hours or a set job, so I could spend most of my hours with her,” Asher says. “She also had amazing support from the whole ski community. But it was still very lonely for June. It was despairing, a lot of emotion. Looking back now at those 65 oxygen-chamber trips, it’s crazy to imagine what she went through.”
But it wasn’t just her own condition that challenged Fladborg. Her longtime coach and close friend, Ray Stokes, was diagnosed with terminal melanoma cancer. After three and a half months in the hospital, she received permission from her doctor to fly to Australia to be with him. “He was such an inspiration to me in so many ways,” she says. “It’s hard to think of him not being in the boat. After a while, you wonder how much you can take, but he kept encouraging me to get back out there and do it. He never wanted me to give up.”
The loss of Ray Stokes, in December 2011, provided further perspective on Fladborg’s injury. She wouldn’t give up on healing, on skiing; it reminded her of what was important to her in life. She was grateful that Asher had been there through it all.