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Snowboarder Torah Bright healthy for Olympics

NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — With a last name like that, no way Torah Bright could have a gloomy personality, right?

The Australian snowboarder keeps her sunny disposition even when describing the painful shoulder problem that nagged her for more than three years.

"It would just pop out," she says with a lighthearted laugh as if she were discussing a fun day on the slopes, "and I'd sit and scream until it went back in."

No longer must she fret about her left shoulder staying in place when she should be worrying about landing a switch backside 720. After spring surgery and months of rehab, she's focused now on preparing for February's Vancouver Olympics, where the 22-year-old Bright will be a gold medal favorite.

"I feel like I'm one functioning body now," she says.

The first time the shoulder popped out was at the 2006 Turin Olympics, where she finished fifth, on the first trick of the first round of the finals.

"It just came out mid air," she recalls. "I didn't even fall."

Her doctors and physical therapists told Bright the problem could be solved by strengthening the shoulder.

"My shoulder would dislocate every event," she says, then pauses to correct the exaggeration. "Not every event — every second event, it's probably safe to say."

She just kept popping it back in, kept on competing. Taping and braces didn't seem to help. But it was hard to be too concerned when she was winning so much. Bright's successes included Winter X Games championships in 2007 and '09.

Her coach — and older brother — Ben Bright was a professional snowboarder himself. He can't imagine competing through the pain the way his sister did over and over.

"I probably wouldn't have the will or the determination to get going," he says. "I would've taken myself out of the game."

But after her final event of last season she was riding around the mountain with some friends and took a spill. Immediately Bright knew she needed an MRI.

The Olympics were less than a year away, but she wasn't thinking about that.

"I just felt like it really needed to be done whether there was time or not," Bright says. "It was going to just drop out at the worst time possible like it always did. Even though over the years I was able to pick myself back up and do what I needed to do, it was definitely getting to that point where it was just wearing on me.

"There was nothing better I could have done than go in and get it fixed."

That same laugh is present even as she describes the gory details of the damage that had been done to the cartilage in the shoulder socket: "The labrum was actually off the bone and folded under, so we don't know how long that had been folded under for."

She was in a sling for six weeks after surgery. It was three months before she was allowed to even run. And yet Bright was thrilled to be forced to sit around her home in Salt Lake City.

"It was actually wonderful," she says. "I loved the rest. I think it's been the greatest thing for me."

Her coach agrees. Ben Bright says the break gave her the chance to improve her strength. "The bionic Torah," he calls her now. She was always so busy during the offseason — her endorsements include her own clothing line with snowboard apparel maker Roxy — that conditioning sometimes fell by the wayside.

She finally returned to the snow in October in New Zealand. There was only one way to know for sure that everything was OK: the first time she fell.

"Falling definitely didn't feel good," Bright says. "But I laid there for a second, I got up and moved my arm around. I'm like, 'Oh, it feels perfect.' I was very relieved."

"Perfect" is also the word her brother uses.

"She's back to exactly what she was doing before," he says, "and better."

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