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Deidra Dionne, in her career as an aerials freestyle skier, is used to reaching up to the sky to do her manoeuvres.

Often, she has plucked a World Cup medal out of the blue.

This time, she's reaching for a miracle.

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The 23-year-old from Red Deer, Alta., is trying to recover from a broken neck vertebra suffered only five months before the Turin Olympics, where she would be considered one of Canada's top medal hopes.

Dionne, an Olympic bronze medalist in Salt Lake City in 2002 and a world championship bronze medalist in both 2001 and 2003, was training at Mount Buller in Australia for the first World Cup of this season when she "slapped back" on her landing.

Her shoulders and neck smacked the snow hard, and she knew immediately from the pain that this was worse than any of her previous crashes. She had a subluxation of the C3 and C4 vertebrae in her neck, and there was a wedge fracture of the C4.

Dionne was immobilized and spent a worrisome week in hospital in Melbourne before undergoing seven hours of surgery to fuse and stabilize the two vertebrae.

Amazingly, she was walking within about 12 hours. Last Sunday, after flying home and then going to Calgary, where she will work on her rehabilitation, she did a slow, 15-minute jog.

At first, Dionne needed to know she would walk and function normally. Now, she needs to believe she will make it to Turin.

"I've chosen to do rehab in Calgary," she said in an interview. "It's important for me to be around high-performance athletes and the Canadian Sport Centre.

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"At home, it would be more difficult to be by myself and doing things on my own. In Calgary, I'm with other athletes who are in that [Olympic]frame of mind."

The courage she used to fly into the sky and spin and flip and gyrate is now something she is using to get through the days and the doubts. Dionne's life has been pointed at Turin. It has been her goal for the past four years, and it's the one Olympics that come in her athletic prime. She still cries over how close she has come to losing the dream, but she won't let it go.

"I think the emotion helps," she said. "It makes me hungry to get back. Every time I get sad, it reminds me how much I want to win, to get back.

"I cried at my friend's house. At my house, it's not really addressed."

The frustrations of not being able to jump yet and of not knowing the future are gnawing at the athlete.

"I've never really just been floating," she said. "I always had a plan.

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"Realistically [to get to the Olympics] I have to be back on skis by January. I have to be in at least one World Cup before the Olympics, and the last one I can get into would be Jan. 17 at Lake Placid, N.Y.

"My parents are pretty supportive. I gave them a good scare, but they also know this is my dream. They stand by me. They said they've seen me crash worse and understand that this may have been a freak occurrence."

Dionne said she has drawn inspiration from the comeback of Silken Laumann, who suffered a shattered leg in a rowing accident about 10 weeks before the Barcelona Olympics, and from fellow freestylers Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau and Warren Shouldice, who came back from potentially career-ending neck injuries.

"I have to say we're relieved at how things have worked out," Canadian freestyle coach Peter Judge said. "A person's lifetime health is the first thing you look at.

"She has had a phenomenally successful career and won an Olympic medal, and that's a success, even if she has to walk away. But Dee's an incredible tenacious person, and she rededicated herself this year and committed herself to fitness and diet, and if it's possible to be back, she will be."

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