Seefeld training camp over the holiday break was incredibly wonderful, and it was exactly what I needed. I found my happy again, and I re-kindled my joy for ski racing through easy fun skis with my boyfriend Wade, and taking a big step back from World Cup racing to just remember how much fun it is to be gliding through snowy wooded trails, enjoying the feeling of sending it on the downhills and appreciating how beautiful the scenery is. We also got a ton of fresh new snow, so it was a winter wonderland!
“But wait, what’s this need for finding the joy in racing again”, you ask? Well, a few weeks ago, I would have said “I don’t want to talk about it, s’all ok here”. But I changed my mind. I DO want to talk about it, because not every day of my life is filled with unicorns and glitter (just most days) and I think in this day and age of social media making everything look better than it really is, it’s important to share the downs as well as the ups in life.
I got sick again right after the races in Davos, and for a few days before Wade arrived I was amazed at how sad and bummed out I felt. I felt isolated and lonely because, of course, I was trying to keep all my germs to myself and not get anyone else sick. Being a social butterfly, I knew why this was making me feel alone. But I also felt a huge let-down from period one of World Cup racing. Ever since the Olympics, I have felt as though there’s been enormous outside pressure coming down on me. Maybe it’s the increased access to athletes that comes with much better broadcasting, social media, TV interviews and online reporting. Maybe it’s my own naiveté, thinking that cross country skiing would never have the same kind of press and pressure that comes with the “big sports”. Whatever the reason, this season it’s been incredibly hard for me to tune out the external pressure to (simply) “be amazing” all the time.
In Davos, for example, I finished 5th in the 10km individual skate race. That was a good result for me any time of year, but especially in period one. More importantly, however, it was a good race for me regardless of result, because of how I raced it. I was in the zone the entire race, pushed my body so hard I was tasting blood the entire second lap, focused on skiing with the most efficient technique I had, and paced it well. For those reasons, I was proud of that race. But it seemed that all anyone said afterwards was: “good. you’re on track.” On track to what, exactly? And for whom? I felt like I couldn’t enjoy what was truly a good race for me because it hadn’t lived up to others expectations for where they thought I should be. I should point out that these “other people” aren’t the people who matter to me; my teammates, coaches, family and friends, sponsors and home ski community all support me for the right reasons, regardless of how I’m racing. Still, it’s amazing how hard it is to ignore these other voices of media, reporters, commentators and other critics because theirs are the loudest voices.
***This, by the way, is exactly why I always tell parents who ask how to best support their young racers to never ask their kids about the result after a race. Instead, I think it’s important to ask how the kid felt about the race, if they had fun, and if they were happy with it. The worst thing you can do to another racer is to tell them what they’re feeling and assume without asking that you know how they should feel and react. The right to be proud of a race effort isn’t reserved only for the winner. ***
Feeling pressure isn’t exactly new, but the increased media spotlight since the Games has been different this year. As it turns out, getting everything you ever wanted isn’t exactly what I imagined it to be. There’s a downside to success in such a publicly broadcasted setting that nobody ever talks about, but over the last few months I found out what it’s like to be in a spotlight that you didn’t realize was part of the job. In the USA, the Olympics are such a huge milestone that if you win a medal, your life really will change.
Suddenly, you will be asked to do anything and everything. There will be events and galas and exciting opportunities, but there will also be times when you feel overworked, exhausted and used. You will feel immense pressure to carry the fundraising efforts for your team, but you’ll also have the opportunity to support causes that are incredibly close to your heart. There are big ups and downs, but if you’re not careful, you’ll look around and suddenly realize that you’re not happy because you never took any time for yourself to process what’s happening around you. You might feel like you need a break, but you can’t figure out how to take one.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing to complain about here, and I know that! Everything important in my life is going great; I have an amazing boyfriend who treats me like I’m the most important person in the world, my friends and family are all well, and I get to live my dream job every day. But our perception shapes our reality, and if you’re not happy, you’re not happy. Simple as that.
Luckily, I had Wade there to make me feel so loved and appreciated and help me forget about the pressure I was feeling with ski racing! We went out for some awesome skis together, and on Christmas Eve we hiked some sleds up the side of a mountain and then came screaming back down in the fresh snow. Cooking great food in our cozy little apartment and getting to spend some good time with friends, I finally relaxed and started to remember why I love this sport so much! I got into ski racing because I love pushing myself and the challenge of the race, and it was nice to be able to take a step back and remember that.
So my goals moving forward with the season are these:
Remember to have fun and race only for myself and for the joy of pushing myself as hard as I can.
Be the Steve Prefontaine of the Tour.
Whether or not I’m going to be the first one across the finish line is out of my control. I can’t control the weather, the course, wax, skis or my competitors. The only thing I have direct control of is my own effort and how much of myself I choose to give at any given moment. Choosing to give it all, racing with guts and pushing past my limits is what gives me that crazy endorphin-rush feeling of victory after a race. And that’s the feeling I’m seeking race after race, not a number on the results sheet.
Right now I’m with the team in Toblach, Italy, right in the awe-inspiring, jagged Dolomite mountains. I don’t have a great photo of how awesome it looks here, so here’s one I shamelessly stole from google. You’re welcome! Everywhere you look, there are these huge peaks lit up by the sunshine as you’re skiing around the race course, and this is one of my favorite courses on the World Cup!
Speaking of favorites…the Tour de Ski is, honestly, my favorite 9 days of the season. It’s hard to describe why racing day after day, fighting back the feeling of being deliriously tired, feeling like your legs are made of lead and your shoulders are too tired to lift your arms up, but racing anyways is fun…but it just is, ok? Racing is the biggest challenge we can give ourselves, and whether the race goes great or terribly wrong, you have to move on immediately to the next thing. Find the lessons to be learned from that day’s race, then start preparing for the next one. There’s no time for regret or wallowing in mistakes, just looking forward to the next opportunity to do something awesome. Maybe that’s what I love most about the Tour. It’s one big opportunity, one hopeful day after the next, one huge adrenaline rush!
You know what else is great about the Tour? Sleeping in. Check out NBC’s broadcasting schedule for the tour if you’re interested in following the action…and not getting up at 3am to do it! Click HERE for the race viewing schedule.