“Don’t cry, don’t scream – it’s not that bad – just think of those crazy stories where some mountaineer drags himself back down the mountain with his femur sticking out of leg – that must have been hard, this isn’t that hard – it’s going to be ok, its going to be ok, its going to be ok – my god, what a shitty way to end my ski career – I cannot believe this is happening – I wasn’t even doing anything stupid, just trying to prevent some kid from getting hurt.”
These were some of the thoughts racing through my mind after my ski had wedged into a soft pile of snow, stopping me suddenly and violently while my body twisted and flipped over my left leg. Initially as I felt my leg twist, I thought “well, probably going to blow my knee out” but I kept twisting and my lower leg didn’t. As I flipped and landed onto my right side my feet somehow ended up in the air, I saw instantly that my left foot was pointed 180 degrees in the wrong direction. “F#*$, I hope my bone isn’t sticking out, please, please do not be compound.”
It was a terrible situation, simply come about by me slipping a training course for the athletes at the American Downhiller camp that I love coaching at. I was trying to smooth out a soft berm of spring snow so none of the athletes would get caught up in it. I was stunned with what had happened and how quickly the course of my life and career would be changed in the next months. I had decided prior to the camp that I would not be running any of the courses this year as it wasn’t worth the risk, I would go off the small jump for a few demos, talk about body position in the air, and give “course clear” for the athletes. I figured I could still teach the athletes a lot and not have to risk anything while doing it.
I sustained a transverse fracture of both my tibia and fibula but luckily my tibia was not sticking through my ski sock like I had so feared. That all seemed like good news! No spiral fractures or bones shattered into multiple pieces. Surgery included repairing the tibia with a tibial nail (rod) and doing the same to the fibula – two titanium rods. The surgeon in Mammoth told me that I had a very good chance at racing again this winter and that I would be walking in 2-3 weeks. Possibly ski in 5 months. I was on A LOT of drugs when he told me that and even then, I knew that timeline wasn’t realistic. It was still nice to try and believe that for a couple weeks though, and it gave me a lot of hope initially! My surgeon at home in Vail was a bit more conservative and realistic, bone healing in 3-4 months, possibly ski in 6 months. That put me on a return to snow timeline in November which felt doable at the time. All in all, although it was terrifying to see my foot pointed in the wrong direction the outlook was positive. It wasn’t an overly complex injury and it was anticipated that the recovery would go smoothly
The first six weeks post op seemed to be going ok, I started to put more weight through my leg at two weeks post op and was pretty much off crutches at three weeks. It didn’t feel awesome though, I would have sharp stabbing pains in my leg during certain movements, and I never felt that confident in steps I was taking. I shrugged it off, “hey my leg is broken, of course its gonna hurt.” At the six-week mark I looked at the x-rays with my Vail surgeon who was taking over my care and we saw essentially no bone healing. Dr. Sterett gave me two options, we wait another four weeks to see if it improves or we remove the locking screw from the upper portion of the tibial rod right away and “dyanamize” the fracture. The theory being that the locking screw was preventing the tibia from compressing on itself and creating the pressure and alignment needed to heal. I had the screw out a week later. “Ok, a little behind but no big deal” I thought.
Follow up in another six weeks, and we were still not seeing very much healing. For sure a bit more but not as much as you would like to see at almost three months post-op. So that was bad news. Not only that but I had begun to develop pain on the inside of my ankle and lower leg about 4-6 weeks after the injury, or when I really began walking again. By mid-August the pain was severe, and it was getting very uncomfortable to walk. I had sharp pain on the inside portion of my ankle and leg every step. I had to hold onto a chair or the wall when standing and taking my first few steps as it hurt too much to put my full weight through my leg. I tried to grit my teeth through it all and tell myself over and over “tomorrow will be better”, only when “tomorrow” came it felt worse and worse.
More doctors’ visits and MRI’s indicated that I had scaring around the fracture site that was locking down the tendons that control the flexion and extension of my foot when I was trying to walk. I tried a cortisone shot. That worked for about three hours and by the next day I was back in the gym crawling around on the floor between exercises as that was easier and less painful that walking.
I would say this was a low point…I kept thinking “it can’t get worse, if I just keep trying and keep training something good will happen, and “it’s gonna get better.”
After each doctor’s visit where I continued to receive news that I was looking at an ankle surgery I would go home and cry, which continued to make me feel even worse. So, I gave up the crying and would instead go to the gym, crush myself on the rowing machine, or whatever device was available and leave for home knowing that at least I was attempting to make progress.
Since I was at a breaking point, we decided to removed the lower locking screws from the tibial rod in hopes that some of ankle pain was being caused by the screws even though we knew the scarring was the real issue– we were grasping for straws at this point and I was hoping for miracle that would help me heal. The screw removal didn’t help with the ankle pain. Ten days after the screw removal I had ankle surgery where a different surgeon (ankle/foot specialist) cut a 6-inch incision into the side of my leg and cleared out all the scarring around my tendons.
When I sustained the injury, as the bone twisted and fractured it had torn through some of the muscles in my lower leg. As those muscles tried to repair themselves the scarring became so severe that the tendons were eventually scarred down to my bone.
Weeks after the screw removal and ankle surgery I was again training in the gym. My hopes of skiing this winter were gone and I was hoping I would gain my ability to walk again without a limp. I was better after the ankle surgery but not healed. I was honestly very scared I wouldn’t ever walk normally again. I could not get my gait to normalize no matter how much work and focus I put into it. In addition, the x-rays of my tibia were not showing a ton of improvement. At four months with my tibia not being healed my fracture was classified as a “delayed union”. At that point we decided to give it one last chance over the following six weeks – I started doing pool plyometrics and mini jumping exercises on land hoping that with the increased force we could jumpstart the healing again. I wasn’t in that much pain at that point, the fracture didn’t hurt although my ankle still caused me discomfort. This was the actual lowest point – mentally I was so frustrated and beat down. I was crushing myself in the gym, sweating, crying, doing everything recommended to try and help myself heal. I went to doctor appointment after doctor appointment, more CT scans, MRI’s, blood tests, and searched out second opinions in New York City at the Hospital for Special Surgery all in hopes there was something else we could do or try that wouldn’t involve another surgery. In the end the consensus was that I needed to go ahead with another surgery. This time we would rip the rod out of my fibula and let the fibula heal on its own as typically prescribed, then rip the rod out of my tibia, ream the bone out – essentially making it bleed again to restart the healing process and then hammer in a thicker rod to stabilize the fracture once again.
My mind was so far away from skiing at this point, I didn’t care if I ever skied again let alone ski raced. I just wanted to walk normally again. Not be embarrassed if I caught people watching me walk down the stairs and not have to pretend, I was doing “ok”. If someone would have given me the option to quit right then and never race again if that would mean I could walk normally I would have done it. Ultimately, I didn’t have that option. If I indeed wanted to walk normally again, I would have to undergo another (the 5th) procedure and do the rod exchange.
So, we did that in the beginning of December in Vail. It wasn’t very fun... I was in much worse pain that I experienced post op from the actual injury which made sense as it was a much more invasive procedure.
Thankfully it appears this last procedure is working – my six-week post op x-rays showed the bones well on their way to healing fully and miraculously all my ankle and tendon pain is gone! I can train hard in the gym and have even begun plyometrics without any pain or soreness. It really feels like a miracle! I hope to get on snow sometime this spring and get back to ski racing this coming winter. I know there are still many obstacles ahead but I am confident I can make it. The struggle has been immense but once again the struggle has made me stronger.
As with any adversity in life it is hard to understand why it is happening – or why it is happening to you. Again. There really isn’t any explanation other than accidents happen…I guess? I always tell myself “It could be worse” and that is certainly true. It could have been much, much worse. Although I have endured a lot of discomfort over the past months, I am still grateful for where I am at. I am really starting to believe I am going to be “ok” and will have my chance at ski racing again! I am still finding myself giddy with excitement over every “new” activity I can do and that my body is adapting and accepting a new stimulus each day as I progress.
Aside from what feels like a season of surgeries, seven new incisions cut into my body and lots bleak moments physically and mentally I have many other exciting things that have happened in the last months – In June I got engaged to my love Pat and am so looking forward to getting married this May! My best friend, and a person that has lifted me up so much during the past months, I’m not sure where I would be without him… 😊
Family is something to also be grateful for, seeing my niece and nephew grow and truly become their “own people” is so fun and exciting to witness. My sister and my Dad for always being supportive no matter how much I know it hurts them to see me injured once again.
Thankful for all the hours of physical therapy and the people that dedicate their days to helping us crippled athletes heal. I don’t know how many hours I have spent wincing from their strong, claw like fingers (I mean that in the best way) but I can’t fathom how uncomfortable I’d still be without their help. Thank you, Winnie, Gillian, Matt, Anna and Sara. Your claws hurt me but I still like you! 😉
My coaches have been nothing but positive and supportive, even when I wanted to give up and give in they always have had a positive word and keep telling me how much they believe Ill be back and have my chance again.
My teammates have been great as always too! Training with the “cripple crew” in Park City brings it own relief, seeing your injured comrades sweat, wince and make progress alongside you is always motivating and inspiring. I miss being on the tour and its weird to see so few of US women on the start list…but I have a lot of faith for those of us remaining. There is so much potential in our group!
All in all, that is a succinct update of what my last months have entailed. I could go into more detail about the daily struggles and emotional roller coaster but I honestly don’t feel like reliving many of those moments, days, and weeks. I am putting those days behind me and looking ahead with optimism and the belief that anything is still possible! Onwards.
Now that the season is over I have had some time to reflect on the past couple months and fully appreciate what a couple months they were! From racing two events at the Olympics to posting two of my best Downhill results in years it has been hard to decipher all of the madness, intensity and emotion that went into these races. But I promised I would share some of my Olympic experience so that it is what I am going to do…here we go!
After a decent season leading into the Olympics I was still uncertain I would be named to the Olympic team. Sure, I had some good results but never wanting to count my chickens till they hatch I wasn’t counting on anything. For days leading up to the naming I was going pretty mental – one moment being certain I would receive a nomination, to the next moment certain I would not be going to Korea and looking up what FIS races in North America I would be going to instead…Lots of anxiety and sleepless nights!
When I finally received the call from my coach (after laying on the couch all morning unable to function at any level because I was so nervous) I almost dropped my phone when it rang – then somehow lost my ability to speak in full sentences while my coach asked if my flights home went ok and if I was “resting ok” – (yeah right buddy). I could have done without the small talk at that point and was waiting for him to drop the bomb that I wasn’t going…but his words told me something else – I was going to the Olympics! WAHOO! After eight years I was achieving a goal I had set out to do. Now to get the chance to race was another issue all together!
With the way the Olympic selection criteria was written only the two athletes with the most World Cup points in each discipline would be guaranteed a start right in each event. Those two athletes in both Downhill and Super-G were Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. The other two spots would be chosen by coaches’ discretion creating a team of four which is the maximum number of competitors per nation per discipline. Depending on how you looked at it that could be either a good thing or bad thing…good meaning you might have a chance to prove yourself leading up to the games and that you were “peaking” at the right time, or bad meaning you didn’t have the best races leading in the games but had some results earlier in the season that might warrant you deserving a start right. Either way it was a pretty unnerving feeling.
There was still a weekend of racing left in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany before heading to Korea so the pressure was on…we were all racing to prove ourselves and that we were “peaking” at the right time. Needless to say, it was a mixed bag of weekend for our team in Garmisch. As a team we started off on a high knowing that our whole team(!) was going to the Olympics after youngster Alice Merryweather received a last-minute nomination! We were so PSYCHED! Lindsey followed that up with winning the first DH race and Breezy was 4th. But things turned sour after those two had locked in great results on that first day and unfortunately Jackie Wiles had a bad crash and injured her knee. It was devastating. Stacey and I were yet to race that day but knew things were not looking good. I typically never watch my teammates race, simply because I am unable to bear to the thought or mental image of them crashing and getting hurt. I can’t watch one of my closest friends get their world rocked and turned upside down with a bad crash. I’ve been there and know the emotions all too well.
So, as I watched the helicopter fly Jackie away to the hospital knowing that her season was most likely over I looked Stacey in the eye and told her we were going to ski smart, not do anything stupid and “ski solid”. I was scared, uncertain and I didn’t really want to race at that point. On that very same course where I have my own history, knowing I still had to tackle it after it destroyed my teammate and friend’s dream it did not give me a very happy feeling. But somehow, I willed myself out of the start gate and I actually raced really well. I found the strength to stay committed to what I was doing, to ski without hesitation and to attack the course fully. Except for one mistake it was a good run and I might have finished top 10 if not for the mistake.
In the finish area I had total meltdown when I learned the true nature of Jackie’s injury, it was bad and she would not be going to the Olympics. As a team we were devastated. To lose one of our own so close to a big event was incomprehensible. All of Jackie’s work and dedication seemed futile in her pursuit of her dream. Although I knew she would back and have her chance at redemption someday, in that moment it was overwhelming sadness that filled my heart. But as I wiped the tears away I couldn’t help be in awe of how I had just skied. I had been so uncertain in the start, unsure if I would make it down, assuming I would just ski in “survival mode” but I was stronger than I knew and had found a way to push the doubts aside, focus on what I could control in that moment and ski for myself yet again. (I share my Garmisch experience as it was very critical in helping me find out just how strong I am and how that strength would be critical in the weeks ahead leading into the Olympics.)
So anyway…we flew to Korea, received our Olympic uniforms (so much stuff), participated in various media obligations, went to opening ceremonies (awesome!) Then we had a week of training prior to the Olympic Super-G and Downhill at a nearby resort to the Olympic speed venue. We were pretty much in total isolation where we were training – it was a very strange feeling to be “at the Olympics” but not really “at the Olympics”. We watched some of the Olympic competitions on TV, primarily curling and speed skating which no offense to those sports got pretty boring after the umpteenth hour of watching them. Even with the boredom of watching those two sports over and over they provided a welcome distraction and way to kill time till it was our turn all the while trying to remain calm and not think about who might selected to race or not.
FINALLY, we had the team meeting where we would be told how the selection process would go down…I was so nervous walking into that room. I had a stomach ache all day and was so very sweaty and clammy…gross. “Blah, blah, blah” – I don’t really remember what the coaches said, something about skiing, analyzing results and performances, and finally they spit it out and gave Laurenne and I the final two spots in Super-G based off of our results with Breezy as first reserve. WOAH! YES! I was guaranteed a start in the Olympic Super-G! Never did I think in the past year would I be racing Super-G at the Olympics!!! So very excited and relieved.
The breakdown for the Downhill selection was thus: first training run was just “training”, the second training run would be our “race” for the two Downhill spots with the fastest in our group not named Lindsey or Mikaela would be guaranteed the third start right, while the fourth spot would be named by coaches’ discretion. The reason for the discretion choice being the coaches wanted to make sure everyone had a fair shot in case someone was flagged, had a bad weather or some other misfortune. The final and third training run would again be a “training” run giving us a day to bring the intensity back down for a day before the Downhill race. It was a fair way to do the selection giving everyone their chance. So, it would come down to me, Laurenne, Breezy, Stacey and Alice Merryweather racing for the last two spots. But first, we had the Super-G race to conquer!
The Super-G race day finally came about it and it was our chance to race and represent our country to our best ability! As I rode the gondola up prior to the race thinking about the course and what I planned to do and execute, tears came to my eyes. My heart was so full – so full of pride with the opportunity to represent my country, to give my best for my nation and for all the people that supported and believed in me for so long. I really felt the Olympic “spirit” within me and could feel what felt like whole nation behind me. It was truly a different feeling from a World Cup, the immensity of the event and the work that I had put in and the work of our coaches and staff made me feel more confident than ever. I knew all I had to do was execute my plan and leave the rest to chance.
I started 27th, just behind what would be the Super-G gold medalist Ester Ledecka. Moments before I kicked out of the gate I heard a raucous noise behind me – the cheering of Ester’s coaches and staff. I had a momentary thought of “wow, something weird must have just happened” but then it was my turn to race and put all the noise behind me. As I raced my way down the course I didn’t have to think, I just skied – a free feeling that is often so hard to find. I skied without hesitation and didn’t hold back in any manner. With all the uncertainties of ski racing finding that I could ski this way was an amazing feeling. I made a few mistakes but kept fighting ahead the whole time never dwelling on the mistakes but continually striving forward to the next turn. As I came through the finish I smiled big, my heart was ready to explode, I was so proud of the way I skied and the way I represented my country. No, I didn’t win a medal and could have certainly skied sections better but I had given that run everything and that is all I could have done in that moment. We can always think “coulda, shoulda, woulda” but the reality is all you can give is your best and have no regrets. I have no regrets from that run. I took confidence that I could fully trust my abilities and skiing and that anything would be possible in the coming days.
After some moments and hours of celebration on our team performance in the Super-G it was time to focus on the Downhill and feel the intensity build. There was still a lot of work and a lot to prove in the next days leading into the Downhill.
For the first Downhill training run I knew I wanted to make a statement – a statement that I was a contender and I didn’t want there to be any second guessing from the coaches on who their selection would be. Drawing back on the experience from the test event on the same track in the previous season I pushed hard in that first training run finishing third. One step closer to earning my selection but nothing for certain yet. The second training was next and everything was on the line. As I mentioned in my previous blog I had been held in the start for 45 minutes prior to my race at the test event in the previous season so it when I got held in the start again, just moments before kicking out of the gate for the second training I was prepared on how to maintain my focus and narrow it back to what was important. Staying focused on the skiing, skiing with trust and full confidence in my abilities.
Finally, the course was cleared and it was my shot, my shot to earn my start right. I skied with a fury, attacking every turn, every piece of terrain, never hesitating and came through the finish in 9th. The fasted of our team aside from Lindsey. I had earned my start and nothing was going to keep me from racing the Olympic Downhill. I was indeed stronger than I ever knew once again as I had learned in Garmisch. After all the struggle, the moments of the doubt and the near retirement I was going to have my shot in the one event I so wanted to represent my country in!
One more day of training to go, and I was gassed. Totally exhausted from the physical and mental intensity of the days prior. I knew I needed to step off the gas in the final training and that I couldn’t maintain the intensity for so many days in a row. Thankfully I had that final day of training to “take it easy” and to ski the line yet not have to push so fricken hard and to regain my energy.
Race day was upon us and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to win a medal, how my life would change if I won a medal and how I would achieve a childhood dream. But that was just still a dream, I still had to narrow the focus back in and ski. It was extremely hard to bring the focus back in, to not feel uncertainty, to not feel any fear of failure. At moments I felt like there was no way I could achieve the skiing I so wanted to achieve, I felt certain I would somehow mess it up – that I would waste a chance to represent to my fullest ability. Even moments before I kicked out of the gate I had those feelings, but I drew into myself even deeper and found the focus I needed. The trust in myself.
Yet again, I was held in the start just seconds before kicking out of the gate. It seemed liked getting “iced” in the starting gate was becoming my normal routine in Korea. I felt my focus start to waver again as I waited for my turn. Again, I had to dig deeper - deeper than minutes before when I was “ready” and find the power again. I locked it in and kicked out of the gate knowing I had a nation of support behind me and that I could achieve the skiing I wanted.
But then I wavered again for just a moment on the third turn, feeling uncertain for just a moment that I couldn’t ski the way I wanted to, but then I willed myself to dig even deeper and put my full trust into my abilities. Never hesitating again, trusting the line I had memorized so deeply in my body, trusting my skis to react when I wanted them too, skiing the sections that I had slipped up on before without hesitation – sections that I normally would have hesitated on but didn’t this time around. As I came through the finish I smiled wide, I had skied for myself and for my country to the best of my abilities.
When I saw “4th” next to my name I couldn’t have been happier, to see such a good result after so many years of not even being close to sniffing the top five it filled me up with joy. For a second, I thought “oh shoot I just missed a medal” but that was only a moment, in the end I couldn’t have been any happier to put down a performance I knew was deep within but had taken so long to find. As I said before Ales (my technician) had been right all along when he told me I would have tears of joy at the Olympics, I shed a few tears of joy and took my performance as a personal win.
I ultimately ended up 5th as Norwegian Mowinckel came down into second and to be honest I think I’ll sleep a bit better the rest of my days knowing I was “top 5” at the Olympics and not the person who just missed out on a medal. 😉 Sure, I made mistakes and lost time here and there but I won’t look back and think I could have done it differently because you can’t change what is already done.
Looking back on both of my races at the Olympics I am still filled with pride with my performances. I knew I could contend with the best for a long time, but to actually do it and contend on one of the biggest races of my life was really something.
After the Olympics I felt confident that I could perform my best when it counted, not just in training but in the races. That confidence ultimately helped me to reach the World Cup podium again at the final Downhill race of the year in Are! I never hesitated and skied with full confidence building off of the mental strength I gained over the previous weeks and finished third capping off the season in the best way possible.
For now, it’s time to take a step back – to relax and reflect. Then take those reflections into the next season and build off of my strengths, find the weaknesses and continue to stay focused on what really matters.
Once again…I have abandoned my blog for ages. To be totally honest, I grew tired of sharing my story and continually having to not only build myself up in my own mind while struggling to stay positive but to pretend to the world that I felt like things were going to turn around for me in my journey as an athlete, ski racer and person. For a while it seemed like things were not going to turn around, and I didn’t feel like pretending to the world that I felt they were going to. BUT! I was wrong; things did turn around and reflecting over the past year and what a journey it has been leaves me with the feeling that anything is possible and that I am stronger than I ever knew. I typically am not a person that wants to share a lot, but in doing so I hope that maybe one person (or more) can relate and can potentially learn something from what I have done in the past year and it can help them in some way. That is my hope and goal by sharing. 😊
First, let’s rewind…to a year ago, as the previous season ended with the final World Cup in Korea. I came into those final races ranked outside the top 30 in downhill knowing I needed to finish fifth place or better in order to make World Cup Finals and qualify for the U.S. Ski Team. Needless to say, it seemed like a pretty dauting task, seeing as though I hadn’t finished in the top five since my win in St. Anton in 2013. In my heart, I knew it was a long shot and that it probably wouldn’t happen. My heart was right – it didn’t happen. Instead of getting fifth, I ended up 27th after being held in the start for 45 minutes due to a timing malfunction while the sun baked the course and created a sticky mess on the bottom of the track. As I came through the finish line my heart broke. I knew the run I had just finished would probably be my last World Cup downhill ever. I couldn’t conceive the U.S. Ski Team giving me another chance with a discretionary team nomination. As I felt everything slip through my fingers Ales, technician and close friend held me in a hug and told me "Next year in this same finish you will have tears of joy". I didn't believe him.
I finished the season forerunning at World Cup Finals in Aspen, taking my last runs of downhill, and taking note of every time that I kicked out of the gate that it was one less time I would ever kick out of the gate again. Racing my last race at U.S. Nationals in Sugarloaf it only seemed fitting to finish 4th. Wooden spoon.
It was sad, I was sad…feeling that I still had so much more, that somewhere in my heart I knew I hadn’t fulfilled nearly anything close to what I was capable of. But I let it go. I moved on. There wasn’t anything else to do in that moment, I didn’t tell anyone it was the end, I didn’t share any of it. It was easier to let it slip away then to confront what was happening or make any plans.
Then I got an email in early April saying that I needed to book an airplane ticket to Mammoth but nothing noting if I would be part of the U.S. Ski Team or not. Fittingly, it arrived moments before shutting off my phone and pushing off from the river bank to begin a five-day raft trip down the Green River through the Gates of Lodore. A bit of hope started to flicker in my heart that maybe it wasn’t over – maybe I would get another chance but not wanting to get my hopes up I didn’t let that hope build. As I got off the river after freezing my ass off for five days (it snowed), I received more news that I indeed would be given another chance and I had better get prepared for a training camp in Mammoth.
As I arrived in Mammoth I had such a weird mixture of emotions, “like what am I doing here”, “do I deserve to be here”, “is that guy/coach gonna continually judge me”, “am I even a good skier”, “do I even want to be here”, “is it worth it”. I skied terribly. Perfect, so I’d been given this chance and I look like a total buffoon out there getting my ass handed to me every day. Ok, it wasn’t that bad but the first week was pretty terrible! As the days went by, I started to feel my passion for the sport and belief in myself coming back. The new coaching staff believed in me, looked me in the eye, showed me respect and gave me the chance. It was only just the beginning of what would turn things around for me. Being surrounded by the right and good people cannot be overrated!
I knew I needed to change things, change my approach somehow but what to change I wasn’t sure. What to change became clearer to me as I worked with Steven, Bryce, Johno, Bryon, Marco, Daron and Virgil at the American Downhiller camp (this is not an ad I swear!). What it boiled down to is focusing on what is important and focusing on what I could control. That can seem obvious: don’t think or worry about dumb stuff. But honestly, how much time do we spend thinking about and even working on things that don’t matter? What were the critical things I needed to change about my skiing? My equipment? My fitness? My mental preparation? Well, it was about damn time to step up and own it. I did that, I owned every aspect of my preparation this year, unlike any year before. I have always been a hard worker, that has never been my issue, but was I focusing on the things that were important to me or just what I was told were important? I made the conscious decision to be accountable for my career. I hadn’t ever really made that choice before but had simply always done what I had been told I should do without putting a deeper thought into what I really needed.
How I was prepared physically was good…good enough for a person with all the injuries I had sustained but never great by any means. It was never a lack of effort…maybe a lack of maturity in my body and “healthy time” where I could make gains instead of just trying to break even again physically. So finally, being healthy and having the time I pushed my dryland coach and physical therapist to understand that we can’t just be “good enough” in comparison to what I was the year before or in comparison to when I was injured. That’s not enough and we could always improve. Identify the issue, create a plan, follow the plan, and hold myself (any everyone involved) accountable.
Same for my skiing, what were the main “issues”? Check this out; I used to be terrible at starts, like REALLY slow. I told my physio (Micum, who is always in the start) I wanted to become one of the best at starting. I didn’t care if I had elbow surgery again this past spring – that my arm was weak – but that between him and I we were going to analyze starts together and we would figure out what technique suited me best and find a way to make my arm strong again. We stalked the Norwegians during training in the summer, and Micum videoed them on his iPhone during training, we analyzed and I PUSHED. Pushed hard as I could. Every. Single. Time. I never didn’t work on my start during the prep period. Guess who won the start split at the Olympics in the downhill….ME. How bout them apples?!!
I treated other aspects of my skiing in same regard – the small things were the most critical. I began to reflect on everything. Why did I break my hand last winter on the base of gate? Because I continually dropped my hands while clearing the gate causing me to not only put my body at risk but to move inside and lose power at the gate, costing me time. When I was turning on the flat were my skis parallel? No, my inside foot would often creep forward causing my inside ski to drag imperceptibly, again costing me time. Was I keeping connection in the transition? No, I was sitting back, not moving forward onto the new ski to gain power at the beginning of the turn, losing time again. These are the “small things” that can add up to be the difference between a fast run and slow run.
I began to win in training, and I won a lot. Sometimes winning every run of the day which was very gratifying and felt awesome but I didn’t sit back at the end of the day and think I was “making it” or allow my coaches or myself to be satisfied with my skiing as “good enough” or to be fooled by my times, we needed to keep striving, keep analyzing, and keep PUSHING. It can be easy to coast when you are doing well in training; to feel like you “got it” but I made a conscious effort to never let myself coast or lose focus.
I have learned that when you focus on the right things – the things that actually matter and make a difference – you create so much more room in life to actually put time into the things that matter and that you can control. Bottom line: focus on the things you can control, because the things you can’t control take up too much of your time and energy.
As I trained and skied with this mindset, having a focus for only three things in each session, I felt myself starting to ski with passion again…skiing for the fun of it, gaining the confidence to play, to push the line, to trust again. To ski for myself again. Not for any result, not for any criteria, not for any team.
I also came to the realization that how I ski is good enough on any race day, I don’t have to push harder, do something different in the race, just “ski myself”. For me that is owning it.
The ultimate test of trust? Super-G. How is it possible to take one inspection run, then completely trust what you just inspected and ski with total confidence to execute your plan? It’s pretty frickin difficult to find that trust, but I have started to find trust. I still screw up a lot in Super-G, and make huge mistakes or miscalculations, but I scored in five of seven of the World Cup Super-G races this season. That alone equals all the other times I have scored in my career in the Super-G discipline.
Even though I haven’t had huge results on the World Cup this season and I am no means ranked among the “best,” the way I have progressed has been my own journey. And that’s how I measure success for me. From where I was a year ago, to where I am now is remarkable. I know I still have more potential, more to give, more to put together on race day, and more consistency to find. That is exciting to me, and motivates me still to keep pushing, to stay focused on the right things: the things that matter and what I can control.
Without the support from my coaches, technicians, conditioning coach, physio, teammates, friends and family I wouldn’t have made this progress, so I owe a lot to them. They may not all know that they were actively involved in my process but nonetheless, them being there has been a type of support that has not gone unnoticed on my part. I am forever grateful for everyone who has been part of this journey the past year.
All of the support and newfound focus culminated at the Olympics, where I placed fifth in the Olympic Downhill! It was such a meaningful result and testament to what I have done…but more on that experience later!
I will say though, Ales was right all along. I did have tears of joy at the finish in Korea… 😊
2017! It’s happening, and I’m excited for it. 2016 in general left me feeling pretty unsatisfied with my skiing life and breaking my elbow to cap last season off wasn’t all that fun…but my life outside ski racing was pretty great! Two river trips, a trip to Europe for fun(!), a trip to Mexico with the girls, coaching Keely’s Camp in Mt. Hood, plus endless adventures biking, hiking, and fishing. All in all 2016 was a pretty good year but I’m hungry to get back to it and to get into the heart of the season!
The beginning of the race season didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped…as well as I was skiing this summer and fall in training things didn’t quite line up how I wanted. I risked too much in the first Downhill in Lake Louise trying to tighten my lines and instead ended up nearly crashing off the jump but was lucky enough to land on my feet although I missed the next gate. The second Downhill race was a challenge for multiple reasons, first being the changing weather, going from bluebird for the first ten racers to a full blizzard by bib 30. Secondly I let off the gas after my near disaster the day before so I wasn’t feeling the same confidence going into day two and that translated into some passive skiing in sections. Finally for the Super-G I netted some success after my work in the off season and finished 20th after starting in the late 50’s. I was pretty happy with that result, skiing so well in sections and like such a jerry in others…whoooops!! Regardless of the inconsistent Super-G skiing it was nice to leave Lake Louise with a decent result in SG.
My hopes were high heading into Val d’ Isere...feeling good, skiing well, totally confident and yet the top ten still alluded me. In the turns I was top 5…on the flat top 40…yikes. It is almost a sick joke of some sort…all my career I have felt like (and many others have told me) that the turns were my weakest aspect of my skiing and that I had the “touch” on the flat. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be struggling so much on the flat. You just go straight right? Well for the life of me I can’t figure out why I was so darn slow on the flat, I know it’s not my skis as they were prepared the same as teammates that were top ten on the flat. Something just wasn’t clicking for me in the gliding but I know I will get it back and with some of the more technical courses coming up I should be in good shape!
Again in the Super-G in Val d’ Isere I was off to a great start, skiing well in a challenging set that was throwing racers off course left and right, but I was on track for a good result and then I crashed. Boom. Moved inside or something and I was headed towards the A-net on my hip unexpectedly and hauling ass. I was scared as I rocketed towards the net, I was trying to think how to position my body to avoid injury but it turns out there isn’t much you can do to when you’re headed towards the A-net. On TV the net can almost look forgiving…well it sure doesn't feel that way! Feels more like sliding into a somewhat bouncy brick wall, then rag dolling off of it and slamming back into it again. In the first moments after my crash I was certain I injured…both shins were throbbing from the impact with the net and blood was pouring onto my suit from my face. After a minute or two and after I managed to drag myself out of the net I was relieved to realize I was unscathed for the most part…a bloody nose, a cut on my knee, a jammed (potentially broken, still not sure) finger, some insanely sore shins and a tragically destroyed pair of Super-G skis but still with the ability to walk away. Not gonna lie,that crash left me shaking and with a reminder how thin the line is between racing and rag dolling into the net praying you make it out ok.
As I look back on the past few weeks I can’t help but feel a bit confused…I think back to when I first started racing World Cup and it seems like it all came so easily then. I was earning top ten results frequently my first couple years, then the injuries came and I haven’t been able to score those results that seemed like nothing before. The crazy part is how much of a better skier I am now…like seriously waaayy technically better. I’m not going to pretend I was specimen of technical ability in my early years but I was reckless. Maybe the recklessness made up for my lack of ability and now that I have the technical ability I have worked so hard on I have the lost the recklessness in my racing. Not that being reckless is necessarily a good thing…sure it can be fast. But it’s not fast when you crash and break your tibia plateau into 30+ pieces. Seriously, some of these younger racers maybe more “fearless” or whatever than I am now but you break your leg or get injured and you never wanna feel that again. You change the way you ski, learning that skiing technically well can translate to safer skiing and you need less of that young recklessness that puts you so near the edge all the time. I’m not afraid, I feel more calculated with what I am doing and like I don’t need to black out on course and just barely make it down alive. I can now think when I’m skiing and ski with more precision. I know at some point my technical ability is going to help me break through, it is unconceivable to me that I won’t. I have been building on my technical skills for over a year now and it is all going to come together.
After a longish break for the Christmas and New Year’s where I was able to “turn off” ski racing and disconnect from the ski world in Moab for a time we are back in Euro land eating pretzels and wiener schnitzel preparing for the races in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee in a week. Ah ha! I got it…maybe I just need more wiener schnitzel to go fast on the flats! Worth a try? Erm, maybe not, family history of high cholesterol. That fried stuff ain’t good for the ol’ arteries. Regardless 2017 is a fresh start and I’m ready to bring it on! Odd years have always been good for me… :)
It has been many moons...or months. However you wanna say it it’s been awhile since I have updated my blog. My apologies for those who take the time to read it...and who also like to follow along with my ski racing and life adventures. The main reason for my lapse in writing was the sudden end to my season at the end of February which ultimately left me confused and shocked as to what happened…I'll give a run down. It’s a bit comical really! Sort of...ehh
SOOO….I was racing World Cup as I do, but not a typical race for me. An Alpine Combined, a discipline I have not raced in many, many moons (years) so I started dead last as my ranking is quite high (yikes). It was a Super-G Combined event so I had just one run of speed to give it my all and then sorta fake it for the slalom portion. As I was racing and giving it my all, pushing myself and trying to take that risky line I blew out of the course and ultimately my day was finished.
I was a bit perturbed at how my day was so suddenly finished, and in general frustrated with ski racing...sooooo as I was making my way to the finish on the side of the course I had to pop back into the track to come over the last roll as that was the only route availible as there were coaches and people all over the place on the side of the track. Without thinking I pinched off a gate as I was coming over the final roll and my skis hooked up as I went over the terrain and I ended up hitting the gate way harder than I ever planned.
Immediately I had a dead arm and could not move my arm. I figured I just sorta stunned myself and would shake it off in a couple minutes. After a few minutes I wasn’t shaking it off and it hurt like HELL. I was trying to act casual but kinda thinking I should maybe get it checked out. Everyone was coming around for the slalom portion and wasn’t too focused on my DNF or me so I just stood there for awhile till our physio (Martina) came by and saw I was in some discomfort (like WOW, it hurt). She then took me down to get an x-ray at the small medical facility at the hill. At the clinic I had the x-ray and the doctor wasn’t “sure” so they did and ultrasound (red flag #1) of my elbow and declared I had a “hematoma”! “Ok, sweet!” I’m thinking this is "awesome" and I am going to walk away from this unscathed for the most part.
After the race we made our way to Barcelona to fly out the next morning. During dinner that night my arm swelled up like a balloon, I could barely fit it through the sleeve in my hoodie. I drank copious amounts of wine, so that helped with the pain though probably not the swelling so much. It was still hurting and I was trying to laugh it off as much as I could even though I was incredibly embarrassed, and honestly still am a little bit.
In the morning I flew to Paris to meet up with my sister for four days of exploring the city and fun having. We walked, we sightsaw, we rented bikes, we stayed out late and had an incredibly fun time. The whole while my elbow was hurting, and the bruising was insane, as was the swelling, but since the pain was a bit less each day and I could almost straighten my arm I didn’t think anything was wrong. A tiny part of me thought it might be broken but after having an x-ray in Andorra I figured that wasn’t a real possibility.
After Paris I took the train to Zurich, picked up one of the team vans. Of course it was a manual. (yes, a stick shift, a real treat to drive with my elbow), drove all the way to Innsbruck (a 3-4 hour drive), met my technician Miha, picked up my duffel bag, two heavy ski bags, my boots and Miha’s metal box filled with all his tuning equipment (that box was SUPER light, NOT) as we were headed to Aspen to race Nor Am’s and he was going to meet me there in a few days. I then drove 3-4 hours back to Zurich. Oh, and did I mention that 75% of the drive was in a blinding snowstorm? I also got a speeding ticket.
I then flew to Aspen the next day, lugging two ski bags filled with speed skis, a heavy duffel bag filled with all my racing gear and dirty laundry, two pairs of boots, and the metal Zarges tuning box through check in and customs. In the airport I kept carrying my boots with my injured elbow/arm as I figured the weight from my boots would provide some traction on my joint and loosen it up a little bit...ehhh. Jeez.
When I got home the bruising was still really bad and it looked like I had gangrene so I figured I should maybe get it looked at. I had another x-ray and met with Dr. Viola, all the time assuming I maybe had a little hairline fracture. He came in, looked at the bruising, looked at the x-ray for about six seconds and declared I was going in for surgery on Wednesday (it was currently Monday). WHAT.JUST.HAPPENED. “Oh yea Alice, this is a really nasty fracture, looks like you SHATTERED your olecranon” I went from thinking I was going to be racing Downhill in Aspen on Wednesday to having my arm sliced open and nailed back together with who knows how many screws in the time span of 15 seconds. At first I just laughed, seriously just laughed like a crazy person. Dr. Viola was just a little confused by my reaction. Thinking back over the whole season of struggles and how I had recently been gallivanting around Paris for four days(riding bikes!!), driving a junk van with a temperamental clutch through a snowstorm, all to fly home carrying my boots with my SHATTERED elbow was just too much. I had to laugh.
So, onwards. Let's do this. Initially I was thinking since it was only an “elbow” Dr. Viola would do his magic, and I’d be ready to go for April camp in Mammoth, but it ended up being more like two months till I was really able to do a whole lot.
The first hint that something else might be in store for me and I might not be skiing in April was right before surgery when Dr. Viola said “ ya know Alice, I bolted Ted’s (Ligety) hand back together and he won a World Cup less than ten days later, BUT that’s not what is going to happen to you.” Uh? Wait a second? Whaaaat? Oh, and I’m asleep. Let the slicing and dicing begin.
After surgery I wake up and find some horrid looking x-ray from surgery on my bedside table…"why are there soooo many screws in that photo?” Who’s elbow is that? Oh dear, my name is on that photo. WHAAATTTTT. Turns out the damage was worse than even Dr. Viola suspected from the x-ray in his office and he had to put in a plate and 12 or 13 screws (I’m still not certain how many are in there) and spent over two hours fixing it. Oh, and I was supposed to go into surgery at 2pm that day, I went in at 7pm. With no food or water all day. I was HANGRY. Gimme some graham crackers and saltines STAT.
The next two weeks my arm was locked in a splint at 15 degrees, with no motion at all. Then full gas, let’s get this thing to bend. NOT, honestly one of the most painful things I have gone through were some of the therapy sessions trying to get my elbow to bend again. Ok, shattering my tibia plateau was pretty painful but this was dang near close. Turns out the elbow is a really tricky joint and a fickle one, you kinda just have to force it at times. I might have cried a little bit during therapy. I might have bit my physical therapist at one point, but that’s a different story for a different day.
After almost four months and another quick surgery to pull one screw out and shorten another I am almost fully functional. I can’t quite straighten my arm all the way yet, but that will come with time. My tricep is a bit sad looking still but I am getting stronger by the day and will be good to go come New Zealand time (end of July).
At some point I will have another surgery either in the fall or next spring to remove the plate and screws depending on how things go.
Looking back on the whole scenario it is kind of humorous. Icing on the cake for a less than ideal season.
As frustrating and stupid as my injury was and still is there is not much I can do other than to enjoy the lovely summertime, work out, get fit and come back for the upcoming season rejuvenated and excited to race again! Which I certainly will be. Sometimes life is just plain hard, but that’s ok! We always find a way to carry on and still enjoy the process.
So that’s my funny/ dumb story about how I shattered my elbow. Lesson learned, next time I need to take a season’s worth of frustrations it will NOT be on a gate. Hahah ughhhh. So stupid. Oh well, we all do dumb stuff. Ain’t that the truth! Don’t you dare deny it… :)
Am I crazy?
This is a thought that runs through my mind almost daily during ski season…well, let’s be honest that thought runs through my mind a few times in the summer as well! I think it’s a valid question…and I’m about to go on a bit of rant on why I just might be crazy so buckle your seatbelts!
FIRST OFF, I am extremely lucky and blessed to live this life! I am chasing my dreams and have so many amazing experiences due to ski racing. But, it is not without struggle. My struggles are certainly petty compared to the broader and more troubling struggles happening in this world. My intention is to share some of the hilarity of the struggles relative to myself while also sharing some of the non-hilarity as well. So here we go!
Some of the most annoying things about travel…
Laundry: I actually wonder how many minutes and probably hours of my ski racing life have been spent looking for clean underwear and socks. It’s probably a frightening number, like ten hours of my life wasted looking for clean socks. When you can only do laundry every couple weeks’ things get, how should I say…interesting. Like the fact that it feels like a small victory when a shirt passes the smell test and you proudly tell your roommate “I have one more day left in this shirt” like they should be impressed (which they probably are). Or if the shirt doesn’t pass the smell test you hang it up for the next three days hoping that the smell and Spaghetti Bolognese stains will somehow magically disappear. I’ve yet to have that type of magic happen but it hasn’t stopped me from trying.
Sure, you can always wash some things in the bathroom sink and get ahead there, but then your room turns into some sort of wet, steam room type situation as your laundry dries, and combined with ski boot liners that can create an interesting smell. Not to mention if the maid comes to tidy up the room and you have 17 pairs of wet (but clean!) underwear hanging from every spot possible it sure can make things it a bit awkward.
I also get something I like to call “clothing fatigue” or better known by every woman as “I hate all my clothes” syndrome. This can happen when you have been trapped with the same clothing for three and half months. It gets to the point where you can’t even remember if you wore this shirt or that shirt or those pants last night to dinner. Or where is my “nice” dinner outfit? Do I even have a nice dinner outfit? Does this flannel shirt count as nice? How about these awesome sweatpants? Can I wear my slippers to dinner? I’ve worn my slippers to dinner for the past week…but I had my nice flannel on so it evens out. I think.
Hotels: Ah, isn’t it so nice to stay in a hotel? Away from the worries of your own home, no dishes to put away, no house to clean…just great. That feeling fades after a couple weeks and turns into a conflict of this bed is too soft, this one is too hard, do they really consider this to be a pillow?! What is that gross looking stain on the carpet? Will those noisy children ever shut up? Will those people at the bar ever shut up? Is the bar actually in my room? Because it sounds like it. Finally waking up every morning thinking “where am I?”. A major conflict is: “I am a 26-year-old woman, I’m an ADULT, why in the heck is there only ONE bed in this room??? I am not on my honeymoon and I DO NOT want to share a full sized bed with my teammate!!! OK?”. Well, that happens a lot, just have pretend I am 6 years old again (in case you forgot that I mentioned it already I’m 26) and that I am having a really fun sleepover with my friend and we are “choosing” to share a bed. For three months at a time. Yes, months and months of room and bed sharing. Starts to make cleaning the house and putting away dishes sound pretty good.
If you are lucky maybe there will be a set of the smallest twin beds ever so you at least get your own “bed”. Every time you walk into a new room it is with your fingers crossed hoping you will be blessed with your very own mini bed and if you happen to get that mini bed you look at your roommate and yell “SCORE, we get our own beds!”. Small things, it’s the small things in life that really matter. Right?
Did I forget to mention how much stuff we all have? Lots and lots of stuff, stuff upon stuff. Ski boots, duffel bags, back packs, poles, all crowding us into an even smaller living space in our hotel rooms. Many times I wake up with my face just inches from another human who I do not want to share a bed with and if I try to create more distance I might end up just inches from the teetering tower of stuff upon stuff that at any moment might topple over and suffocate both of us in a mound of ski jackets, speed suits and dirty socks.
Here are just a couple things about ski racing that make me question my sanity...
Speedsuits: Really? Why are speedsuits even a thing? As I prepared for a race the other day I realized (why it took me nearly 20 years of ski racing to figure this out I do NOT know) that I literally just had two different layers of spandex between my naked body and the frigid outside world and that I was about to send myself (of my own free will) 70mph an hour down a bumpy, icy, dark track on skis that are sharpened like razors and could slash through my layers of spandex like bits of tissue paper. As I continued getting ready I thought to myself, “oh I probably shouldn’t wear these arm guards under my suit, they kinda stick out and are probably slowing me down by like a thousandth of a second, but I’ll wear them because it hurts my arms really bad when I hit gates going 70mph and that pain might distract me for a hundredth of second which might cost me a tenth of second”. So in theory I should be faster by wearing the arm guards…This whole thought process in my mind also makes me question my sanity and why I am even coming up with theories like that.
The Agony of Defeat: Could there be a more brutal sport out there? I don’t think so. Not only are you risking your body on daily basis and at some point in your ski racing career you will likely suffer some sort of injury that will come back to haunt you in 20 years (or even right now), but you also have to deal with on an almost daily basis that unsatisfactory feeling that you wish you had done better. Well isn’t that nice, you dedicate yourself to this crazy sport and yet for the most part don’t ever really feel satisfied with it. I guess that’s life in general maybe, but ski racing really has a brutal way of showing you how unsatisfied you should be. With all the emotional trauma ski racing puts me through I am certain I will be prepared for whatever else life has in store. Example; I missed out on qualifying for World Cup finals (only the top 25 ranked athletes in each discipline qualify for finals) after starting 30th La Thuile in rutted, bumpy, deteriorating conditions, skiing my heart out and sending it as hard as I could, to finish 11th! At first feeling the elation of knowing I had just skied a clutch performance when I needed it, feeling so proud and satisfied with myself, to know that I rose to the occasion and did exactly what I needed to do! Having my teammates crowd around me telling me good job, giving high fives and seeing the joy in their faces as well as they knew I had just overcome a season long struggle and finally broke through.
Then minutes later looking at the scoreboard again and feeling my stomach and legs drop out from under my body to realize that even with my kick-ass performance, my best skiing of the season, a defiant run that overcame the conditions, that I missed it by just .07. The distance of 6 feet. Turned out one sneaky Italian ranked behind me in the Downhill standings came through with an unforeseen podium result, effectively knocking me out of the top 25 and crushing my hopes. I finished the regular Downhill season ranked 26th, just three world cup points shy from qualifying. After the struggle of the whole Downhill season, after fighting to overcome bad weather, crappy start numbers, my own mistakes, and to miss it by the length of ski. That satisfied, proud feeling replaced by overwhelming sadness and total helplessness. Clear the decks! Total melt-down about to ensue, and I can’t fight it anymore. I don’t want to be positive in this moment, I can’t tell myself anymore that its “going to be ok” and that I just have to keep working hard, keep my chin up, keep fighting. I don’t want any of that in this moment, I want to lay down and quit. Just give in to frustration and the feeling of total defeat. How could ski racing treat me like that? I feel like a jilted lover, giving ski racing everything I have and still not a lot in return. I have fought so hard to overcome injuries and whatever obstacles were in my way! Ski racing gives me this, a total freaking break down and the feeling of being a failure. Not to mention the stress of; will any ski company want to sponsor me? What will my sponsors think? Do they still want to support me after such a dismal Downhill season? How am I going to pay for anything since I have made like $6 this season? How can this happen after all my hard work? All my dedication and perseverance? What is even the POINT??!!
Ugh, ski racing can just be the worst! It can be so cruel, yet for brief moments so satisfying. Its an ugly battle most of the time, with shining moments of glory. So, I must be crazy along with every other ski racer to put myself through the emotional, physical, financial, trauma in pursuit of the craziness. It surely isn’t about the winning or glory, or most of us would have quit years and years ago. I’m not sure what it is about but something drives us on.
Memory of Goldfish: You would think after the last few paragraphs that I would have packed my bags up days ago, left my skis and boots behind, flown home and try to forget ski racing. But I haven’t! Still here, still fighting on, still going to make things happen somehow. Something inside me keeps pushing on, the belief that it’s not hopeless, that some time from now I’ll be on the other side of the struggle and look back and know that like all the other obstacles in life I overcame it somehow. That in my moment of defeat I knew somehow it was all “going to be ok”. Ski racers like much of the human race are amazingly resilient, and all must have very short memories to continue day after day with the struggle.
So now I continue on with my smelly socks, clothing that I am sick of, sharing rooms and beds when all I crave is some personal space, dragging bags and bags of endless stuff to endless hotels, to risk my life and body while racing down some insane slope darting around gates wearing practically nothing, worrying if braiding my hair is slower than wearing my hair in bun, all to endure the one of most intense emotional roller coasters I can imagine. All for this insanely difficult sport. This insane sport that I still love no matter what.
Maybe I'm crazy, maybe not.
Whew, fresh off of another jaunt across part of Europe! Six to seven hour drives have been the norm this season and it sure has been giving us plenty of time to listen to 90’s top hits playlists and Ted Talks! Nothing like jamming to some J-Lo, Third Eye Blind and Britney Spears for hours on end to make you tone deaf and delirious.
It’s been a tough season for me, with no real results to speak of. At times it can be overwhelming to think about where I am at right now in my ski career, after coming back from injuries that were almost back to back with back to back to back to back surgeries this was supposed to be (at least in my mind) a huge year for me. I’ve mentioned it many times but this was the first preparation period since 2010 where I wasn’t returning from a knee surgery of some sort. Finally feeling strong and powerful, poised for success and instead I am in the midst of my worst World Cup season to date. It’s tough to choke that sentence down and to really admit where I’m at. At times I want to have a complete melt down, roll around on the floor and throw a temper tantrum (ask any five-year-old, temper tantrums are best thrown while on the floor as its much more dramatic) complete with legs and arms kicking and screaming my head off. Unfortunately, I am a 26-year-old woman and those types of antics would be frowned upon, at least in public. What I do on my own time is my own business…hehe better turn the volume up on that stereo!
The rest of the time when I don’t feel like having a hissy fit is the feeling that I am on the verge of great success. With so many good training runs under my belt this season where even with mistakes I was top ten it is almost inexplicable to me why the races have been going so poorly. Yea, for sure I’ve had some bad luck…In Cortina having my poles over the wand two separate times with 10 seconds till kicking out the gate then START STOP and getting pulled back in the start house due to wind, then racing with a headwind anyway… to having what seemed would be a great start number in Garmisch by running early then blowing out of the course in the bumpy, gnarly “holle” section along with five other racers in the first seven starters. Yep, the rest of the racers for sure knew something was up in that section after most of us didn’t make it through there! Even in Super-G I feel like I am the precipice of breaking through, managing to score points in Cortina after some bone headed mistakes and just missing the points in Garmisch after even larger mistakes; turns out being out in the slush just before the uphill traverse isn’t too speedy then following with another mistake with a near straddle where I had to recruit some of my slalom quickness and cross-block a Super-G gate. It’s almost like I have to go through this phase of making huge mistakes till a I break through. Like some sort of painful, frustrating right of passage. Or at least that’s how it feels…
Overall it just seems like things haven’t been going my way…it can’t continue on like this forever though. I know my skiing is at its best right now, after every disappointing race I have watched my video and come away actually kind of psyched. Thinking “wow”, I am actually kind of ripping till I make a mistake or some other mishap happens.
For now, the battle continues, and there are still some chances left to turn things around this season! I am excited for the next few races in Crans Montana and La Thuile, they are going to be technically more difficult than what we have seen this year but I am looking forward to the challenge!
Tik toc, tik toc...the season seems to be clicking by so slow! I feel like I am on a roller coaster clicking my way to the top before starting the wild ride down. I know in only days that roller coaster will take off and I better hold onto my hat cause it's about to get wild. Wild with a two run World Cup Downhill in Zauchensee, Austria on the schedule this coming weekend, wowzers, won't that be something! I have never done a two run Downhill race before or been to Zauchensee so it will be a whole new and exciting experience for me. I have to say I was pretty sad when St. Anton was canceled...the spot of my World Cup victory and such a cool/challenging/intimidating course that I was really looking forward to testing myself against. Ah, well that is the nature of this crazy sport! Always changing with so many variables.
I am excited to get racing again, after a not so great start to the season I'm looking forward to stepping up and getting it done! Lake Louise was pretty much a total bust for me. After a training camp in Copper where I struggled much of the camp it was hard to put it all together on race day and feel like the pieces of the puzzle were even in the right puzzle box! I had some sections that ripped but individual sections of speed followed by mediocre sections never get you the results you want.
Val D' Isere was much better thankfully. Started to feel that rhythm again and was getting those puzzle pieces out of the box and sticking them together. One of the pieces that is coming into my skiing is the tecnical sections where racers can't just rely on guts and the ability to send it. You have to make those transitions and turns technically clean and fast. Surprisingly (or not so) my fastest section in Val D' Isere was that section that required less balls to the walls attitude and more finesse of making fast, clean Super-G ish turns. I'm not the same reckless racer I was five years ago and don't have the same attitude that I am indestructible and can risk everything, so it's perfect timing to be able to be finding that finesse and technique to where I don't have to be as reckless and sketchy to be fast!
It's new year full of new opportunities and possibilities and I can't wait for it to begin... It's time to saddle up for a crazy few months. Put me in coach, I'm ready to get wild!
Whew…what a summer! I hardly had time to blog…ahhh hmmm. Yea, I just made that up. I had plenty of time to write about my summer but I’ll be honest, I just never felt the motivation or desire to do it. SO now I have decided it has gone too far! I must update my blog or do something productive with this less busy time of year. So here we go…
Looking back on this summer I did the usual training in Park City, lifting heavy things, putting them down, picking them up again, spinning on the bike, running on the treadmill (boring!), mountain biking (not boring!) and going through the usual suffering of physical training. Not say it was a breeze or anything but I don’t need to bore everyone with the intimate details that I worked out a lot this summer as it is part of my JOB. I don’t deserve a ribbon or anything for it, I showed up and did it. I will say though (just to brag a bit) this is actually the best shape I have ever been in! After finally having a healthy winter that was injury free I was able to put the hammer down and get in shape. It’s great to feel strong and powerful, not like I’m sorta half way there and hanging on.
I also went to some ski camps…as I am a ski racer. Those were great! We had an awesome trip to New Zealand with great tech training; I even bashed a few slalom gates! It was fun at times…but at others just as frustrating and annoying as I remembered it to be (sorry tech lovers, slalom just ain't my thang). I also had the amazing opportunity to go heli skiing near Mt. Cook for an afternoon which was totally insane! Lifelong goal/dream of mine come true. I really “get it” now when people ramble on and on about heli skiing and how great it is. To be so far out in the mountains away from civilization doing your own thing and being in that moment of just loving skiing and the mountains is truly special.
Portillo was a good time as well! I love it down there. Yes, it is very secluded and life on the Portillo “cruise ship” can get a bit monotonous at times and there can be very few distractions from the daily routine but the training slope makes up for it. Some of the most fun days of Downhill and Super-G can be had there. We had excellent training for the majority of our camp and I was really feeling it, skiing some of my best skiing ever on the Roca Jack pitch, except for that one run I hipped in and proceeded to face slam then slide the rest of the pitch upside down trying to claw at the frozen corn to somehow stop which I eventually did after I nailed a gate or two. I was luckily unscathed for the most part only suffering a scrape on my chin and a bent ski. It was actually kind of nice to crash and walk away from it ok, it reminded me that I can fall hard and be fine! I have had a couple bad experiences of not walking away fine…hehe.
Finally…I must share what the highlight of my summer was, rafting the Grand Canyon in April! Just a couple days after US Nationals in Sugarloaf, where I was crowned the National SG Champion (there was no actual crown but I did get a pretty sweet imitation of a hatchet for a trophy) my father Greg, and my boyfriend Pat and I put on the river at Lee’s Ferry on April 1st. With our busy schedules we were only able to do a quick 9 day tour of the Grand Canyon. My father is somewhat of an ex-river rat having been down the “Grand” well over 20 times. It was my fifth trip, my first trip being 20 years ago when I was just a mini river rat at age 5. It was Pat’s first overnight river trip ever (really started him off with an easy one…haha) and I am sure the longest camping trip he had ever been on. But with Pat being a Vermonter he is all woodsy and stuff and did great. It was also key to have someone with some muscle (Pat) to get to work with the bail bucket, as my father would say “I’m too old for that s**t, make Pat do it.” Turns out there was a lot of bailing to had and Pat was very busy boy! For people unfamiliar with whitewater rafting the Grand Canyon ranks as one of the premier rivers to raft, not only is it some of the most incredible scenery but the rapids themselves rank very high up there in the size and difficulty, kinda like double black diamond type stuff.
In typical Mckennis Family fashion our rafting set up is a bit dated…we have a tendency to hold onto things forever as long as they work and upgrading before the equipment is in threads is not an option or thought. We have a 16 foot “bucket boat” from 1993; meaning we are kicking it old school and have to bail the boat ourselves not like the new fancy boats that are self bailing. It’s about the equivalent of running Downhill on Slalom skis. That haven’t been tuned in awhile. Coaching skis basically. You can do it, and will probably make it fine but it will be sketchy, a lot more interesting and a bit terrifying. As one old grumpy codger we met on the river remarked to us as we passed by “you find that boat in a museum?” Obviously he didn’t think our boat was up to par…lucky for him though with his old codger hearing he missed out on some less that complementary remarks from my father on how he belonged in a museum…ect. No one disrespects our rig, at least not on my father’s watch. Oh, and aside from our dated equipment we did the trip with just one raft and three people…not quite the typical group size you see on the Grand. Typically it’s nice to have a larger group and other boats in case something goes wrong but we like to live on the edge.
I was captain of our vessel the majority of the trip, and I did my best to navigate through all the rapids and amazingly we didn’t flip! We had some close calls; some that still make me cringe when I think about them, and we all came out of the raft at some point during the trip in a rapid. My Dad had a scary swim in Horn Creek (just below Phantom Ranch) but luckily was ok. Horn Creek is one of the several rapids where I thought we were done and going to flip but somehow our old “tug” of boat stayed right side up. Pat and I did a tandem swim in Upset rapid, but Pat really took the cake with a swim in Lava Falls which is classed the most difficult rapid on the river and certainly one of the biggest rapids on the river! It can be a bit terrifying when you get thrown out of the raft at the rivers latest whim but all you can do is try to grab on to the raft if you can and laugh about it later once you stop shaking…
One of the crazy things about white water rafting is how it can feel like ski racing in a way… Just like in ski racing you get to “scout” (or inspect) some of the bigger rapids from the shore and pick a line that seems best. The line’s never look that easy and are usually a bit daunting but you go with what you got and do the best you can. Naturally just like in ski racing unforeseen things happen and all of the sudden you could be turned sideways (or backwards, like I ran half of Hance Creek rapid), loose an oar from your oar lock or have the river pull you into a hole or wave you did not anticipate going into during the scout. You have to react in time to save yourself along with your raft, all your gear and most importantly the other people with you. It’s kind of scary but a total rush, especially in a bucket boat from 1993! I honestly feel a lot safer ski racing. Of course, when it comes to rafting in typical Mckennis fashion scouting all the huge rapids that genuinely deserve a scout tends to go to the wayside…we ran a lot of the big rapids blind with some variable results…eeeek! My father and I have different theories on scouting rapids, I’d like to look at all the big ones and know where I am taking our “tug” where he says it’s too unnerving to look at all of them and we just need to go for it. In the end he’s the old man of the river so I trusted him even when I didn’t want to and somehow we did it. Just like in ski racing, sometimes you are uncertain but yet you can go for it and make it through somehow!
We had SUCH an incredible trip, I think it would be pretty difficult not to have an incredible trip on the Grand. It really is one of the most spectacular places in the world, I’ve been a lot of places and it always ranks as one of my favorites. I have so many wonderful memories from raft trips as a kid with my family and being in the canyons is so natural to me and my being that at times I can forget what it is like to see the canyon with fresh eyes as Pat saw it. It was really special to bring someone on such a journey and open up a whole new world to him. I will treasure the memories from that trip like I have from so many other trips in various canyons. Somehow no matter what river I am on it is like a time warp at times, bringing back so many special memories and experiences reminding me how precious our time is together and what an incredible planet we are on. There is so much to see yet so little time!
For now the canyons and the exploration of new places will have to wait till the spring as it is now ski season! Wahooooooo! I’m ready and can’t wait for it to begin!
P.S. I made a really AWESOME video of our scout and run through LAVA FALLS! There is a surprise towards the end so watch it through! Check it out below!
Here we are again, back in Europe for the remainder of the World Cup season! I am in some town in Austria I have never been to and feel totally turned around and have no sense of direction to where I am in this little country. Somewhere near the Salzburg side of Austria is about where I think I am currently located…
It’s been a long few weeks since leaving St. Moritz after the last speed World Cups where the wind sabotaged a good Downhill run I had going for myself and where I earned some of my first Super-G World Cup points in several years then it was back to the states for the World Champs in Beaver Creek. As many times as I pictured the World Champs, thought about it, dreamed about it, fought for it and did all that I could to be there and show my skiing it was still a pretty disappointing week for me. All the great images I had in mind and great hopes were slowly dashed day by day as the speed week went on. It felt like missing Sochi all over again.
I had hopes going into World Champs that I could have some amazing Downhill training runs and show that I had a real shot at making the podium and that I should be given the chance to race. Unfortunately I did not show that spark in the training runs and things felt so stacked against me with not having ever run the Downhill course on the Raptor before, the second of three Downhill training runs being cancelled, the snow being soft and bally the third training run not allowing anyone to push the limit, to the final training run before the Super Combi being stuck on the chairlift for 15 minutes while I stared at the start and watched racers go out of the gate while my start number crept closer and closer till I was only getting off the chairlift when I was supposed to kick out of the gate. As I had the last starting bib of the day the start referee graciously(one of the many amazing workers,officials,organizers and volunteers that made the World Champs run so smoothly) gave me an extra interval to rip my clothing off, click into my Downhill skis, hear a quick scrambled course report and then seconds later kick out of the gate as the lights went out with clouds moving in and putting a dark shadow on the course top to bottom. Not exactly feeling prepared and ready to hurl myself down the Raptor after that ordeal…
In a way I know it was a huge accomplishment to qualify for the World Championship team but honestly it didn’t really feel like much, I know I “should” be happy with how far I have come in the past two years after I was injured but after a time you don’t really care that you were hurt, you want to be good again and reach for your goals and being injured doesn’t give you a free pass anymore. You just have to be fast again and show you deserve it.
I always knew Sochi was a long shot with my injury but really felt like I could be a contender by the World Champs and that was always my goal and I never doubted that I couldn’t do it. In the end I’m not upset with not being selected to race in the Downhill or Super Combi, I simply did not earn it or deserve it. Looking at the results there was no way I should I have been chosen for the Downhill, the numbers simply did not add up. I feel bad about the whole thing in general, but as I experienced with missing Sochi I know it will only be some less than happy memories and that I have the future to look forward to and that anything is possible in the future. One of the consolations I have is that I am actually healthy at this point and skiing and able to do what I love even if it is a struggle at certain moments and I just want to be over “being hurt” and forget the whole thing like it never happened.
As emotionally draining and disappointing not competing in Beaver Creek was I have really tried to pinpoint what I love so much about racing since it can cause so much physical and emotional pain. Sure, we all LOVE going fast, that is probably the most common and frequent comment from a ski racer when asked why we love the sport. That one sentiment doesn’t really do the sport justice though…like I can drive 90 miles an hour down 1-70 in my less than stable Nissan Versa if I want and that is pretty exhilarating in itself as it feels like my car might start self destructing at any moment… talk about a speed wobble. Yikes. Or I can get on cross country skis and ski down a bunny hill, feel totally out of control and like I might actually start my own self destruction at any moment. Point is there a hundred ways to go “fast”. Or is the lifestyle of ski racing that I love so much? From staying in amazing hotels all over the world eating incredible food to sharing a bed with one of my teammates that seems to be having night terrors and flops around in bed all night continually waking me or even mistaking me someone that might want to cuddle in their confused slumber of jetlag and sleeping pills. Or the sometimes interesting cuisine that is served as some sort of “meal”. No need to elaborate on the weird food choices that can be encountered during life on the road as there is not a blog post long enough to share these interesting circumstances… Or is it the winning? When you actually win a race the emotions of happiness, gratitude, and elation that all the time and work you have put in has FINALLY paid off? Let’s be real here, I ain’t Lindsey or Mikaela so my wins are few and far between, heck I won a dual GS race in Aspen over Christmas at the AJAX Cup and that felt like a pretty big deal. It was for a fundraiser for crying out loud! My point is its obviously not about winning for me…or I would have quit awhile ago. Could it be that I love the friends and camaraderie that comes with ski racing? That you spend almost your whole youth with the same group of people, and instead of partying away your twenties you go to bed at 10:00 most nights and know one of your teammates as Momma Stace as she goes to bed even earlier (how she does this I am still not sure…) and your feel like a “rebel” if you’re up past 11:00. That you complain about the loud band or discotheque a few doors down from your hotel that woke you up at 2:00am and you realize you are starting to sound like your father when you complain about the noise of those “kids”.
There are a million different aspects about ski racing that make it so interesting, fun, horrible, great, not fun, worthwhile, painful, fulfilling and at times stupid. It is some weird combo of all these things that make ski racing right or not right for each person. I get why people quit ski racing. Sometimes it REALLY sucks. Other times it’s the BEST thing you have ever experienced. So I understand why people keep ski racing when maybe they should move on with life.
Just a couple days ago I was in Davos, Switzerland for some Europa Cup Super-G’s where the first race I skied like a silly Sally and was over two seconds out (I still do not even understand how that happened, I swear I felt FINE) to the next day having a pretty good run and finally feeling some stuff on course that I have been working at for a long time. I actually felt myself skiing deep into the turn gate after gate, and not panicking and throwing my feet away from me and loosing that connection to the snow and ski, I just kept it going and it was AWESOME. I felt that feeling I have in Downhill where everything is linking and I felt so strong and trusting of myself and thinking “oh yea I’m gonna ski deep in to this turn, and wow, I’ve got like tons of time, I don’t need to hook the end of the turn cause I’m totally cool and confident right now, so I’ll just build the pressure up over my new outside ski, stick my ski right there, nice, and waaaaaaaa, sick turn, ok, now again,….blah, blah, blah,” or something like that.
For me why I keep trudging (at times it only feels like work and no fun) and at other times sailing and skipping along at the sport of ski racing is the love of going fast, the lifestyle of always on the go, the winning and successes you get at times, the comradery and friends, and those runs where it all comes together and a you say to yourself “YES! I felt it! Finally! It was incredible! I wanna do that over and over and over till the end of time! Or till I have to get my knees replaced, then I might rethink this whole skiing thing. But till then, YES! I got it. And I will do it again, I just know it.”
So after Beaver Creek where I felt so let down and crushed, like a total failure and like it was all pointless if I can’t even reach “plan B” as my goal (Sochi being Plan A) and that ski racing was giving me so much pain, stress, unhappiness and ski racing was being a total jerk to me and not being fair or nice that I got right back on that sardine can of an airplane, flew over to Switzerland and had one of those runs that reminded of the good and great things of the sport that keep me coming back. No matter how much a jerk ski racing can be…those great moments of skiing, friendship, camaraderie and sweet moments of success and happiness somehow can overcome all the crappy days when you want to give up.