Sadly enough it took me three years to fully put that realization into words. But once I did, things came together… real quick.
I spent one year on the D-Team, learning the ropes and trying to prove myself. I made the C-team at the end of that season, but spent the next year struggling through insecurities that spawned from the successes and failures I had experienced thus far.
Oddly enough, success, as it turns out, can be just as hard to deal with as failure. Confidence is a tricky mistress. It can’t be forced, and it can’t be summoned. You don’t necessarily gain confidence from a success and you don’t necessarily lose it from a failure. It comes from somewhere unique each time you feel it. My first year on the D-Team I had a significant amount of success from charging as hard as I could. But the next year when I called upon the technique I thought I had ingrained deep within my muscles, things didn’t come together. In fact they fell apart and I was at a loss for why.
At one point during the season I almost quit ski racing. It was a wet, warm, rainy, foggy day in Zell Am See, Austria. The snow had turned into a rotten slushy due to the constant rain and the warm temperatures. The course was the longest we would run all season, about a 1 minute 25 seconds at it’s fastest. And because of the significantly warmer temperatures at lower elevations, the conditions it got rougher and rougher the farther into the course you got. Running 80 something, the ruts weren’t just ruts. Then were sharp three-foot pot holes that would grab your ski and send it flying in what ever direction it pleased. Bone shuddering chatters preceded and post-ceded each turn like the aftershocks of an earthquake.
Basically it hurt. It just plain hurt. It wasn’t fun and the turns that I loved to make were simply impossible to perform. After each of the two runs I called into question my original motivation for being a ski racer. Did I need this sport? If I was going to feel like this, why should I do it? There are so many other things in life to experience. Like backpacking through the Canadian wilderness or somewhere in Nepal. Studying the brain and trying to unlock the power we all hold within us. Making cheap burritos to fill the hunger of ski bums or surfer bros wherever their passions lead them. Why waste time depriving my dopamine receptors of the chemicals they loved to receive?
I had a small break at home afterwards and these questions rolled around perpetually. The great thing about breaks at home is it usually means skiing some of the best powder on earth with friends and family at Snowbird Ski Resort. It was one of these days at the “Bird” that reminded me why I love to ski…. and ski race. I realized that even though I could be happy doing realistically anything else… I ski race because it’s challenging, tantalizing, maddeningly fun and frustrating. No matter how many gates I go around, or how many turns I get in chokingly deep powder, each turn, each moment, and each experience is different, familiar and new. It might not be easy sometimes, or fun, or even fair, but at the end of the day I still get to be on skis for over half the year. And that is something worth dedicating my life to.
By the end of the year I had managed to turn things around and get the results I needed to qualify for the C-Team once again. It looked like the next upcoming season would be a second chance to achieve the things I had set out to do the one before except for one big factor. FIS was throwing the athletes a curveball by deciding to change the radius on GS skis from 27 meters to 35 meters. (Here is link to the video put together by the one and only Warner Nickerson about what the athletes thought about this equipment mandate. http://warnernickerson.com/videos/)
To put this change into perspective a little bit, the radius of our old Super-G skis used to be 33 meters. Seem a little bit ridiculous?! I know right!! On the one side, SUPPOSEDLY FIS made the change in radius to make the sport safer for athletes by slowing the turns down a little bit. Apparently some guys were getting to good for the physics of a GS turn to allow the ligaments in their knees to stay intact. On the other side they could have saved everyone the hassle and achieved the same effect by changing the course setting guidelines so that course were slower.
Ironically, this change was the best thing that had ever happened to my ski career. On the old radius ski, you could “cheat”. Meaning that you could have less then perfect ski technique and due to shear strength, body position, or athletic genius, manipulate the ski at different points in the turn into doing what you wanted it to. With the new bigger, longer, straighter skis you couldn’t get away with anything. You could no longer muscle your way through a turn in the back seat because the ski would literally just go strait down the hill instead of turn. You could no longer stivet because if you did, you lost the race to Ted Ligety by over 3 seconds. So I would say that due to the excess of excellent technical coaching over my short career, and a lack of ability to “cheat” due to my skin
ny-ish body type and small relative strength, I progressed quickly on the new skis.
I couldn’t ski the way I had before, so these skis forced me to make the changes in my skiing that I had needed to make anyway. Within a period of two months starting in December, I had scored my first points in a World Cup at Beaver Creek Super-G, won my first Nor-am GS’s and Super-G’s, and made my first second run in a World Cup GS.
They say that all good things must come to an end. It’s a total bummer that “they” say that sort of thing because perhaps if “they” didn’t say so, it wouldn’t be. But for now at least, “they” were right all along. On Jan 21 two weeks after qualifying for my first second run of GS in a World Cup at Adelboden, Switzerland, I crashed attempting to stop in the finish if a Europa Cup Downhill training run in Val D’ Isere, France. Breaking the Fibula in my left leg, and tearing the Labrum in my right shoulder.
This is what happens when you fall behind on your pain meds after shoulder surgery.
My heart was broken. That might be aaalittle dramatic. My heart has never been broken in the real dying sense of the word. Or if you are a Romantic then the “real” sense of the words “broken heart” might mean that some dream girl had taken a dump on my dreams. Sadly this hadn’t happened either. I think it was more that I was in a place, where my skiing, my head, my coaches, and my body could finally work together to achieve the results I had dreamt would fulfill me and my quest for greater athletic achievement. Only to be cut off by an accident in the FINISH, not even in the race, but in the FINISH of an event that I wasn’t any good in, at race that I didn’t want to participate in. That was heart breaking to me.
It took a while, but I realized that learning to deal with injury is a huge, if not the biggest factor in being a ski racer.. or any athlete. Everybody gets hurt, and up to this point I had been extremely lucky to make it as far as I had with just the couple of broken teeth, a bunch of stitches, and one broken arm. Now I had a broken ankle and a befungled shoulder to add to the list. But I had lucked out on those as well.
The ankle was just a broken bone. Bones heal, simple as that. And the shoulder.. well shoulders are not sweet. Especially after having a pillow strapped to my chest holding my shoulder at a 90 degree angle perpendicular to my body for 6 weeks, I KNOW, shoulders are not sweet. But it wasn’t a knee or a hip or anything between “me” and the feel of my skis, so that again, I lucked out on.
I won’t bore you with the details of my rehab. But lets just say that I spent the better part of 6 months in a Gym trying to heal and get strong again. By the time I was skiing, I didn’t even want to look at a gym. I have always heard of people talk about skiing and how at the end of a long season they are burnt out from it. I have never felt this way towards skiing, but I know now what they are talking about when I look at a gym. I can’t stand the sight! Eventually I will have to learn to appreciate the power of improving personal fitness at a roofed institution. For now though, everyday on skis is a blessing from god… if he’s up there. If not, everyday I get to spend on skis is the best day of my life.
Woof. I made it to part six. Embarrassingly enough, this is possibly the second longest piece of writing I have ever attempted to put together. Sadly I didn’t appreciate the opportunity to expand my knowledge of language, words, and writing while I was in school. But now I wish I had created more space for information that pertains to expressing ones self properly. Its gonna be a feel it out sort of progression so get used to lots of improper punctuation and grammar usage.