Dealing with injuries comes with the territory of being a wakeboarder, especially a pro rider. It is often the price to pay for progression, as pushing ourselves to learn new tricks can lead to everything from the annoying (sore muscles) to the devastating (a blown knee or broken bone). When it comes to dealing with injury, different pros have different approaches, but this past winter Rusty Malinoski was dealt a blow with effects far beyond the physical. A victim of a vehicular hit-and-run assault, Rusty was left with not just a broken leg, but also a mind full of what-ifs and whys. Seven months later, Rusty is just now getting back on the water and starting to feel like himself, so we sat down to catch up with the legendary Canadian to see how he’s doing.
What were the days and weeks like following the incident?
Not easy. The aftermath of a major incident in your life like that is much more intense mentally than you would ever imagine. This wasn’t something where I got hurt doing something to myself, like trying a new trick. This was a guy running into me with his car and me smashing into his windshield and roof and getting tossed to the ground. The first few months were just me trying to get my head back right, because it’s not just me and my riding career, it’s my family seeing it happen as well. There was a lot that went on. And then there’s the thought process of what if I’d gotten hurt worse and could never ride again? Or what if I hit my head harder and died? It’s a weird feeling in your head trying to process all of that. Until you actually go through something traumatic like that, you don’t know how you’ll react. It is by far the hardest thing my family and I have been through.
What helped you start to move on mentally?
Being able to focus on getting back on the water helped. The worst part for me was not having anything to do, because I love being busy. I love always having something to do. I can’t chill.
Did you expect to be off the water this long?
No. I thought I might miss an event or two and be fine, but I had no idea it would take this long and how bad the pain would be when I started riding. I have a hard enough time sitting still when I’m healthy, so being injured for me is really hard. And then to be injured because of something like this only made it harder. I actually ended up pushing myself too hard in the gym doing rehab, which injured a different part of my foot as I compensated for my leg. That kept me off the water longer.
How did that affect you?
It was tough. I’ve never been off the water this long in my career. I started getting pretty bitter. It’s really hard to not think about the negative things, but my family and sponsors have been so supportive through this whole thing. Honestly, if you told me I could get $10 million in a settlement or never have this happen, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. No doubt. I had to find some silver linings and know that, ultimately, I’d be able to get myself back on the water. In hindsight, this injury might give me more longevity because it’s let my body rest and rejuvenate, and it’s definitely brought some new perspective mentally.
What’s it been like watching some of the progression from the sidelines rather than being in the mix?
Pretty crazy. You have to give the kids these days credit: They’re really, really pushing the sport to a new level — a level it’s never been at. I remember when I started landing my 1080 somewhat consistently and thinking there’s no way this will be a consistent trick in contests. And now guys are doing them every day. Same with double flips. What’s crazy to think about is what if Harley and Dowdy each hadn’t gotten hurt the last two years? All of this could have been happening a year or two earlier.
You’ve been back on the water a couple of weeks. How do you feel?
There is still pain involved, but I still push it. I don’t know if I’ll ever ride pain-free again though. But with every set I take, I get more confidence, and I know I’ll be able to get back to where I was. Today I just landed a 1080 for the first time (since I started riding again), which felt really good. I still want to push myself and my riding to see where I can take it.
Where do you go from here with your riding and career?
Unfortunately, this year is basically a write-off for me competitively, which is fine. It is what it is. I just want to have fun when I ride. I still want it though, and I’m motivated. I’ve always loved hitting double-ups, and I’ll continue to push myself in that arena — trying new things and going big. By the end of the year, I want to be strong and confident on my board again, and then look forward to trying new things and putting out edits and stuff like that — hopefully stand out in a different way than the rest of the guys.