BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Before PJ Fraterrigo’s 2014-15 Alpine ski season could start for Niskayuna High School, he faced a roadblock.
Well, actually, three of them — yet, the 16-year-old junior overcame all of them to land a trip to this year’s state championships at Whiteface Mountain.
“I’m just glad I even got to have a season,” said Fraterrigo, who finished in 17th place at the Feb. 23-24 event in the giant slalom with a time of 1:52.43 and 32nd second place in the slalom at 1:41.31 seconds.
In the summer before this ski season, he had torn the meniscus in his right knee. After surgery and a diligent rehabilitation, he was cleared to return to athletic activities just in time to gear up for the ski season.
Then, setback No. 2 came for Fraterrigo.
“I went through the surgery, all the rehab, [physical therapy], and everything was fine,” he said. “Then, I was going to get a snack one night and retore it, just walking around a kitchen counter.”
“He was literally cleared on a Thursday afternoon and ripped it that night,” said mom Peggy Fraterrigo.
Thus, PJ Fraterrigo went through another surgery, more rehabilitation work, and was soon good to go again — which was when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
“So, that was a double whammy,” he said.
The combination made Fraterrigo miss a large chunk of his club season with a team based at Gore Mountain and all of his high school team’s preseason.
Fraterrigo’s goal from the moment his sophomore campaign had ended was to make it to the state championships this year. John Sharkey, Niskayuna’s head coach, said he had thought Fraterrigo was a strong candidate to make it to states this season — but, after seeing the junior go through two knee surgeries and deal with an illness right before the season’s start, his expectations changed.
“I did not expect him to get to states,” said Sharkey. “You can quote me on that.”
But, then, something funny happened. Though not at his best physically early in the season, Fraterrigo’s skiing had never been better and strong finishes piled up.
“I never felt my most healthy, per se, because of the mono and the knee, but whenever I got on the mountain, it felt like I could let that all go and focus,” he said.
Fraterrigo continued his surprising season all the way to the end, advancing from the Section II championships to the state championships with relative ease. After the states, Fraterrigo was also invited to compete at the March 7-8 Eastern High School Championships at Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire.
Sharkey said the dream season could not have happened to a better kid. Fraterrigo, the coach said, never missed a practice even when he was hurt and he helped to guide an inexperienced squad that included his two younger brothers, 15-year-old Andrew and 13-year-old Nick. Sharkey said the way PJ Fraterrigo handled himself on a daily basis helped the entire Silver Warriors’ squad improve during the 2014-15 season.
“I’m not sure most athletes realize what they do is being watched by others,” said Sharkey. “[Fraterrigo] is a young man that helps us coaches get the stuff off the bus each time, he thanks his coaches — and, when the young kids hear that, that’s being a role model by example.”
That maturity was recognized at the state championships, where Fraterrigo was Section II’s sportsmanship award winner. The section’s coaches voted for the award and could not select their own athletes.
“So, the other coaches chose him,” said Sharkey. “That’s the other coaches recognizing him as a true sportsman.”
Fraterrigo is a three-sport athlete at Niskayuna, where he also competes in cross country and with the crew team. Long-term, he said, crew is probably where his athletic future is strongest, but he said he’d like to make a return next year to the state ski championships.
To do so, he joked, he is willing to use the same formula he did to make it to this year’s championships.
“Hey, I’d give up this meniscus too,” he said, pointing to his left knee.