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… 😊