CALGARY — Dustin Cook was fast on his skis before torn knee ligaments wiped out an entire season. He believes he'll be as fast again.
A silver medallist in super-G at the 2015 world championship, Cook is heading into the home stretch of his return to skiing.
"Now that we're kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm really itching to get back on snow," Cook said this week in between training sessions at WinSport's Performance Training Centre in Calgary.
The men on Canada's speed team seem to be on a constant rotation of knee injuries and rehabilitation as Erik Guay, Manny Osborne-Paradis and Jan Hudec have been in and out of the lineup in recent years.
Cook joined them with the first serious knee injury of his career. His faith in his abilities, and what got him through surgery and the drudge days of rehab, comes from what they've told him.
"Jan Hudec put it really well," Cook said. "He said 'You had the success before you got hurt, so now you know what it's like. You don't have to find it after you've been hurt.'
"I've been skiing my whole life. I don't think I've forgot over the last few months. I want the knee to be fine. I want it to feel like it felt before. As long as that happens, I'm not worried about the skiing part."
The 27-year-old from Ottawa had a breakout 2014-15 with the world championship silver followed by World Cup gold and bronze medals. Cook ranked fifth overall in super-G at season's end.
Cook, who now lives in Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., had never finished in the top 10 in a World Cup race prior to his world championship medal.
He went into the 2015-16 season buoyed by the knowledge he could join his aforementioned teammates as Canada's contenders for the podium.
Three days before October's season-opening giant slalom in Austria, Cook crashed in training. He tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee as well as an adductor muscle in his left leg.
He underwent surgery on his knee in London, Ont., in November. Cook then embarked on the full-time job of rehabilitation. He says this is the longest he's been off skis since learning the sport at age two.
"What I wasn't really expecting was the pain the first couple of weeks," he said. "Your whole leg just kind of shuts down. You lose all that muscle that you've worked years and year and years to get and in two weeks it goes away.
"You kind of have to reactivate those muscles. It's been almost six months now and we're just starting now to get that muscle back, to get it firing properly. It's a lot longer and a lot more intense of a process than I ever imagined."
He once again turned to his teammates, who have experience in this sort of thing.
"I went to those guys when we were all together in Toronto and asked them 'What's this going to be like? What should I expect?'" Cook said.
"The best piece of advice was you're always going to take those two steps forward and one step back. Some days you're going to feel great and a couple days later you're not going to feel so good."
He's "very confident" he'll race the season-opening World Cup downhill and super-G in Lake Louise, Alta., in November.
Cook wants to join his teammates for glacier skiing in Europe in July. He's willing to stay home, however, if his knee isn't ready.
"The biggest thing I've learned is I do have a little bit of patience," he said. "I'd much rather take a month or an extra couple months, or even if it takes another four months, I'd much rather do that than be constantly hurt and not skiing to the level I can ski at."
This is Cook's first time on the road back from a major knee injury, but he's watched others travel it successfully.
"When I had those moments of doubt, 'Is this knee ever going to work again?' you look at pretty much every athlete who podiums. They've had at least one knee injury," he said. "That, unfortunately, is kind of motivating and reassuring."