US luge vet battles herniated disks

Tony Benshoof chose to endure the pain in his lower back rather

than get another needle in his spine.

The American slider will be competing with three herniated disks

in his lower back in the Olympic luge. He had two epidural

cortisone injections to manage the pain during the World Cup season

and decided against getting another this week. The treatment does

relieve pain, but can’t be used too often.

He’s been dealing with back pain for years. What’s another 10

days?

“It’s got its days, but right now it’s holding up. That’s all I

can say,” Benshoof said Thursday at Utah Olympic Park, where he

and the rest of the U.S. lugers are fine-tuning their sleds before

heading to Vancouver next week.

Men’s singles luge opens a week from Saturday. Until then,

Benshoof says he will just try to deal with the pain with

stretching and strengthening his core muscles and taking

anti-inflammatory medication.

“I’m really conservative during training, then I give it hell

in the start and cross my fingers,” said Benshoof, who is headed

to his third Olympics.

Benshoof is in his 21st season with USA Luge and his

fourth-place finish at the Turin Games in 2006 was the best by a

U.S. singles slider at an Olympics. At 34 years old with a bad

back, he’s not expecting another chance.

“I’m getting old and my back is failing. There’s no question

about it. It will likely be my last (Olympics), but never say

never,” Benshoof said. “I don’t think it’s going to change my

perspective but I’m definitely going to do my best to enjoy it and

see everything I can and have as much fun as possible.”

The pain started with one bad disk in his lower back late in

2009. Surgery seemed to fix it, but only temporarily.

“Since then I’ve kind of gone through the gauntlet. Life was

great, then the other two (disks) herniated,” he said. “It’s got

its days, but right now it’s holding up. That’s all I can

say.”

He had an epidural in late November, then another a month later.

A third dose of the powerful steroids to his spine in three months

sounded risky enough that he changed his mind this week and decided

to gut out the pain.

One thing Benshoof likes about his chances is that the track at

Whistler has a steep start, which should put less strain on his

back. After that, the G-forces of hurtling down the icy track and

using his feet to steer through the twists and turns will still be

excruciating.

But if Benshoof can survive four good runs and get a medal, back

pain won’t seem nearly as bad.

“You put so much work into it and even with my injuries I’m

still one of the top sliders in the world. That’s encouraging,” he

said. “I’ve kind of been able to learn how to time it right with

the combination of rest and anti-inflammatories.”