Make a decision
About 2 weeks ago my family got a frantic phone call from me saying, ďYou need to book your flights to Sochi NOWĒ. I had just been made aware of the fact that Sochi isnít a major international airport (duh) and that there was only 2 flights in and out each day. Couple this with the fact that there are so many thousands of people arriving and leaving at the same time and it was likely time to start planning.
All went well and they got their flights on the days they needed to, so assuming all goes well (final qualifications, nomination to the team, health etc) I will have my wife, parents, brothers and their significant others, two grandfathers, a grandmother and my in-laws in attendance.
When the dust cleared and I thought about it, it was amazing to me that my 87 year old grandfather is going to be with me in Russia.
This brought on astounding emotions for me. How is it that my decision to pursue a passion so many years ago will be bringing my entire family together in a place that Iím certain was not on any of their buckets lists to visit? I mean who goes to a summer resort in March?
I also had an overwhelming feeling of pressure. Partially because, yes, my family is coming and I want to ski well in front of them, but also because it made me think so vividly to that future moment when Iíll be standing in the gate at the Paralympic Games with a lifetime of training behind me and finally the opportunity to do what Iíve been training for in front of me. The great majority of the pressure comes from within me, and my competitive desire to be successful at that precise moment.
When you break it down it seems like an impossible task, and yet here I am so close to the possibility. I was at a training camp at the time this all happened and the next few days of training were quite poor, while the days before it were very good.
What had happened?
In reality, nothing had happened, a few plane tickets were booked. But with those bookings came a strange thought that NOW I needed to kick it up a notch, as if somehow I wasnít already doing that. Pushing more didnít help my skiing at all, instead of being quick on my feet, calm and fluid, I was jumpy, on edge (the bad way) and not finishing courses. I went from carefree, to caring, and from fast skiing to not finishing.
So how do you ski carefree, when the opportunity you care about so much is finally upon you?
I read an interesting tweet from former Head of Alpine Canada, and National Team Head Coach Max Gartner yesterday that seemed to sum it up, and really is a key to me heading into my third time around. He said, ďMake a DECISION to ENJOY the (Olympic) competition. The mindset will allow you to perform your best.Ē
Such a simple thought, and so very true, yet so very hard to do at the same time. When everything about your being is telling you to ramp it up, try and little harder, be a little better, it’s difficult to just smile and enjoy the ride.
I believe this quote completely, but my past shows that I donít always follow it. So just like learning a new skiing technique or training method, the next 113 days are dedicated to training this; making a conscience decision to enjoy the experience, with my family, with my teammates, and with the entire nation.
My first World Cup Podium
Power Wisdom and Strength
On August 21, 2013 at Coronet Peak in New Zealand I accomplished a long time goal of reaching the podium on the World Cup. I finished second in a highly contested slalom race that saw the top five competitors separated by 2 seconds and the top three finishing the second run within 0.01 seconds of each other. Four days later I followed that result with a third place finish in the Super Combined in Mt. Hutt New Zealand.
So why has it taken me so long to write this blog?
The truth is I still donít quite know how I feel about it. It took 12 years on the National Ski Team, hundreds of hours skiing and dryland training, hundreds of thousands of dollars, hundreds of volunteers, multiple coaches, staff, family and friends to help me get to this point. Blood, sweat, and a lot of tears when things didnít go well along the way, which happened a lot more often than the times they did go well. Pain, suffering, learning, change, falling down, getting
up and trying again were the norm.
Crossing the finish line was a great accomplishment, and it was an immediate relief; it was exciting, and giving huge hugs to my teammates and staff were some of the best moments Iíve had with the people I travel the world with time and again.
Calling my new wife, parents and family brought excitement to my voice; hearing their joy brought me more joy.
But I went to bed those nights the same way I had every night before then, and woke up the same person the next day.
The podiums have made me reflect a lot on what this crazy adventure has brought to my life. The struggle to be better, the work, the change, the hardships really make the story for me. Pushing myself beyond what I believed possible, failing, falling, getting up and trying again until I achieved that new limit, then immediately not resting on those laurels and setting a new out of reach goal, is what has defined this journey. Constantly living in a state where I need to push beyond my comfort zone is nerve wracking, testing, and intense. It creates doubt, fear, nervousness and excitement Ė while also being awarding and fulfilling.
When I started I thought there was some holy grail at the end of the rainbow. That achievement of some tangible goal was the ultimate outcome. What I realize now is that I loved the journey. No matter how badly it battered and bruised me, no matter how hurt I got, no matter how badly I felt, or how I sometimes just wanted to go home and hide, I have always cherished that struggle to be better, simply for the sake of getting better - to work so hard putting in countless hours to see some small nearly imperceptible improvement Ė then put it to the test to see if I could handle the pressure of the big stage.
Learning to perform when it mattered the most has been the greatest struggle. For some reason race day is not like training day; nearly all the variables of our sport remain the same, except for the fact that training days donít count, and sometimes everything rests on the results of one dayís racing. I look forward to continuing to practice high performance in all areas of life, because it is exhilarating, and makes me feel alive.
The medal I received for my third place finish in Super Combined is actually a New Zealand green stone, a form of Jade. Its shape is long and skinny, which symbolizes ďStrength, Wisdom and PowerĒ in Maori. I canít think of a better way to symbolize what this incredible journey has brought to my life and the lives of those all around me, and I thank each and every one of you for your help in achieving it.
Third time around
246 days remain until the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games (218 until the Olympics).
Take a breath, relax; time wonít go any slower if you worry about it passing so quickly.
Iím not so sure what is different about this time around, I will chalk it up to ďexperienceĒ and everything that that entails, but it is different. When I see 246 days to go, I donít run to the gym and lift and extra weight, stress that Iím not doing enough, obsess over a video of me skiing or run to the health food store to try something that might give me an edge. I see the journey ahead, with more knowledge as to what it truly means, understand that this is the calm before the storm, and know that no matter how crazy the storm might get the important things I need to do to succeed are very simple, and the important people who have and will continue to support me havenít and wonít go anywhere.
In the lead up to my first two games experiences there was a bit of a mad rush. As the ticker counted down there was a sense that the time was coming quickly and we needed to rush to get ready. There is still that rush this time around, but for some reason I see it from a different perspective. I feel like Iím in the eye of the storm, things are going crazy all around me, but I can calmly perform the task necessary to achieve greatness, while watching the world around me spin a little out of control, planning and hoping that all lines up when the moment comes.
I feel more confident in my approach to skiing, training, resting, traveling and living outside of sport. I no longer feel the need to please everyone and try absolutely everything in order to get an edge, but at the same time Iím patient enough to listen, analyze, and decide if the advice will work well for my skiing. And, then I make a conscious decision.
I am better prepared for life, and all the crazy things that come with it. If something comes up that forces a change in the schedule, Iíve dealt with the situation before, and so, I am more adept to relaxing in the moment and continuing on as planned when the time is best.
I have a better understanding now than I did 4 or 8 years ago of what the next 246 days will look like. I have an understanding of the demands on and off the hill, the questions that need to be answered and decisions that need to be made, the many races before the games, the time away from home, and the challenges that we canít possibly prepare for. I donít know exactly how I will handle everything thrown at me between now and Sochi, but Iím excited for the journey.
I think that can all be summed up by saying Iím living in the moment and enjoying those moments. Skiing in Sochi 2014 will take up 5-10 minutes of my life. Iím in a mindset at the moment where my only concern is handling this moment; Iíll deal with those moments, after much preparation, in 246 days.
Breathe, relax; the time wonít slow down by worrying about it passing so quickly.
My teammates and I recently ran an athlete to athlete based ski camp immediately before the National Championships in Sun Peaks.
In Para-Alpine skiing there are amazing learn to ski programs all across the country. There is also an elite National Ski Team program. One of the biggest challenges in our sport is that there simply arenít that many participants throughout, and there isnít much in between those two amazing programs to help young skiers looking to chase their dreams.
The jump from local program to National Prospect team is huge. Most young skiers will only be skiing once or twice a week, from Christmas to Spring break, and then if they are up for it they will race at the National Championships for 4 days at the end of March. If they show promise they might get an invite to a National Development team camp, and the expectations change. Now they are told if they want to make the next step they need to be skiing at least 60 days a year, travelling to train and compete, and the season doesnít start in December, but, instead, on May first. They might have planned to go to University, or go on the planned family vacation, or maybe theyíre not ready to leave their friends yet, have no idea how they will pay for any of this and have never spent a day in the gym in their lives.
The problem is none of these young racers see this coming; they have no idea really what these expectations are, and therefore they often struggle mightily to simply keep their head above water, far more often than I would like over the past 15 years Iíve seen this happen. Not so surprisingly we lose a lot of promising young athletes this way, many of whom leave bitter and jaded and having lost the passion they once had for skiing.
My teammates and I saw this as an opportunity to help. We have seen this many times and have an understanding of the jump it is to go from a learn to ski program to the National Team. We did it, have seen others do it and have an idea of why some donít make it.
So we started the Redefining Limits camp - a ski camp to help show young up and coming athletes the road that might lie ahead of them, should they choose to take it.
We aimed to be open and honest about the highs and lows of the life of an elite racer, and to be clear that there really is no wrong choice. The life of an elite athlete isnít for everyone, some might prefer to go to University, stay close to family, get a steady job or go on any of lifeís other adventures.
At one point (either today or down the line depending of their age) the participants of the Redefining Limits camp will be asked (directly or indirectly) to make a choice, to ski or not to ski. There really is no wrong answer, and both choices provide ups and downs. We just hope that those who attended are a bit more informed about the responsibilities that will follow their choices.
Overwhelmingly, the camp was a huge success, and we are excited to do it again soon.
Success and Failure Ė Black and White
There is no question that in the heat of competition I often view success and failure as black and white. The entire premise of my sport is to try and win, and if you donít then you have lost. Sure they award medals to the top three, and making the podium is a great goal and accomplishment, but is finishing 4th a failure.
When youíre immersed in the season, winning or getting on the podium feels like the only outcome to strive for, and everything else is failure.
Think of a tournament, say the hockey tournament at the Olympics. When you lose the gold medal game, it feels like a failure. In that moment you donít even want to see a silver medal, you likely just want to go away somewhere and hide. Winning the bronze medal however, while likely not your first choice, can seem like a great success.
Since Iíve been away from skiing this winter Iíve been pondering this distinction repeatedly. What is success? What is failure? Are they two distinct complete different entities? Black and white? Or is there room for grey?
Sport is strange when it comes to this. You win, or you lose. But now that Iím a little bit on the outside looking in, I feel like Iím seeing a wider perspective of what else it could mean. Iím seeing more grey.
While finishing 4th in a big event (something Iíve done) feels horrible at the time, and stings the longer you go without reaching the podium, it certainly isnít the end of the world.
If I never win, does that mean I never succeeded? Does that make the lessons Iíve learned any less valid? Does it make the failures or shortcomings Iíve had hurt that much more? Does it make my successes less valid? Does it somehow impact the friendships Iíve created, or the incredible stories Iíve shared with other?
Iím hoping not.
10 years after a loss in a head to head battle, does the silver medalist feel the same way they did immediately after the game? Does the gold medalist feel the same way? I know a few gold medalist who nearly hide their gold medals. Could a gold medal represent some failure to them in another aspect of their lives, maybe something they wish they hadnít given up in order to achieve the victory?
Iím starting to understand that success and failure isnít really two different sides of a coin, but more like and ball painted half black, half white that just keeps on rolling. If you stop, and take a picture at any given moment, you might only see black, or only see white. But in reality, the ball is always moving, and success and failure are always happening. In fact if the ball in moving fast enough maybe you see grey.
By one standard if I never win, I will have failed in my goal to win a gold medal. But if I step back and take a broader perspective, understanding that this isnít just one small snap shot in time, but a life that continues to evolve and grow, it is impossible to view my career as a skier as anything but a resounding success.
When to try and be a hero and when to lay low?
I went for 1 run last week to test out my knee. If all had gone perfectly and according to plan it would be healed and ready to start training. I felt 100% in the gym and I was optimistic about skiing. Having said that, I made 3 turns and knew it wasnít healed or near ready to be tested in any sort of training course.
This has unfortunately spelled the end of my competitive season, which I have spent the better part of a week trying to wrap my head around. I havenít had a winter season at home since elementary school and it has given me a lot of time to think.
First off, being home isnít all bad. Iíve been able to spend lots of time with my fiancťe and our dog doing all those things we always wished we had time to do but as I was never home, didnít get to. But I also think each and every day about when it will be right to get back on the snow? Sitting at home and watching the results on the computer each morning only fuels the fire to get out and give it a try. Is this yearís World Championships a possibility? Is the test event in Sochi a possibility? Will my knee ever heal again completely and allow me to do thing things I love to do?
Every day in sports athletes compete injured. Itís not an exception; it is the rule. The severity of the injuries vary certainly, but there is almost always a bump or bruise somewhere that you wish would just go away. For me I canít tell you how many times over the first 8 weeks of injury I thought, wouldnít it be great if I healed, showed up at the biggest race of the year having barely done any training and show everyone what I got; the Cinderella story pretty much writes itself.
But at what cost? The risk of further injury and then possible surgery is likely greater than the chance of beating the best competition in the world in the heat of their season. And in the big picture, one part being next yearís Paralympics in Sochi, and the other often forgotten about (in sport) fact, that we do indeed have lives after sport (it would be nice to ski then too), is it best to compete now?
If I was sitting here 1 year from now, feeling the way I do, thereís no question in my mind I would be on the plane to Europe and be giving it everything I had to compete at the Paralympics. My motivation would be fueled by that very same Cinderella story. Also, itís likely that there is no way I would tell anybody outside my close family and team that I was even feeling a hint of injury. Why make an excuse?
When athletes compete injured and we know about it there are generally two story lines. If they win, they are a hero. Look what they did AND they were not at 100%. Think Tiger Woods winning the US Open on a broken leg. Or if they lose, maybe they should have stayed home and rested? Given their spot to someone else? Or not been stupid and risked further injury for nothing. If they lose and we never find out about their injury, then we question them for seemingly not giving it their all.
I donít know the right answer. Everyone is different. Everyone can endure a different amount of pain. Everyone is in different stages of their lives and athletic careers. Everyone values their future differently and is willing to risk more or less today for some form of eternal glory (even if it is only in our own minds).
Today, my knee is not 100%, and to go to Europe and compete to maybe get in the top 10 of what is a very tough field doesnít appeal to me. Iíve done that. My goals are now higher. To accomplish my goals I need to wait and heal, allowing me that chance next winter. But that wonít stop my mind from questioning if Iím being too level headed or if I should just suck it up and get out there.
Irony of Injury
About 3 weeks ago I crashed while training Super G in Panorama. It was a pretty good crash, one I have walked away from before, but one that I hobbled away from this time around (unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, there is no video). I skied down but it was immediately evident to me that I had done something to my knee. Long story short, 2 days later, 2 physio assessments, and an MRI later I found myself on my couch at home, ice bag on, leg up, with a complex tear of my lateral meniscus.
First off, to clarify, I wrote my last blog after a team mate had gone down, and I really did have to pack his bag (turns out he was fine and didnít need the bag after all). But low and behold, and rather ironically, 2 days later I was the one packing my own bag home. Strange how the world works sometimes.
Over the past 2 weeks Iíve been going a little crazy. After being fully in the swing of things and getting excited to start the season, it came to a crashing halt, and instead of ramping things up for the first races, I found myself sitting on my couch resting allowing my knee to heal. Thankfully I donít need any surgery, the remedy for my knee is just giving it the appropriate time to heal (6-8 weeks).
Last night I couldnít sleep, so I got up after tossing and turning for a few hours and I started writing in my journal. What struck me was this, no matter where my thoughts start, they always, somehow or another relate back to skiing. Whether Iím thinking about life, love, the pursuit of happiness, my next vacation, my next job or what Iím going to have for breakfast they all somehow relate back to skiing. It was an astounding revelation in some ways Ė EVERYTHING THAT GOES THROUGH MY HEAD CAN RELATE BACK TO A SINGLE TOPIC.
This has led me to two very important conclusions that I will ponder over my recovery period, and likely over the next several years.
1) Clearly Iím still very passionate about skiing.
2) When it is time for my skiing career to come to a close, which inevitably it will (and this is even more apparent when you are stuck at home with an injury), it will be incredibly difficult to move on to the next part of life, and wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about ďthe next thingĒ.
For now, to me this just means Iím still doing what I love the most and Iím still clearly motivated for success. For the future, it means when it is time to hang up my boots, I need to be aware of just how difficult that will be, and that it will take a lot of time for something new to keep me awake in the middle of the night.
The worst part about skiing
I am constantly reminded about how privileged I am and how fortunate I am to be in the position Iím in. My job is to go outside in the beautiful mountains of the world, take what Mother Nature has given us, and try to slide down as fast as I can. It is exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, rewarding and simply one of the most special things to be able to do on this planet.
But it isnít always fun and games. There are tough times. Iíve spent more time on airplanes than I care to remember. Besides not being very good for the planet we live on, itís is taxing both physically and mentally.
Trying to be the best in the world at something leaves far more days when you fail, than when you win. Losing constantly when your only goal is to win is frustrating and challenging. It plays with your mind and when one day you seem invinsible, the next you can quickly feel as if you have no idea what you are doing.
Regardless of some of the downfalls of skiing, most of the headaches are well worth it. Only a skier knows the exhilaration of flying down the hill. Whether it be in downhill, feeling the incredible speed throughout the huge terrain or smashing gates through a jungle of plastic in slalom where you are constantly fighting to keep your ski pointed downhill as much as possible while jumping around from side to side using all the athleticism you think you have and more.
But the worst thing any skier can go through is packing up another teammateís bag for him or her because they have been injured and are unable to do it for themselves. Crashing and injury are an inevitable part of our sport; you canít travel at the speeds we do, push the limits of what you are capable of and not get hurt from time to time. But watching a teammate go down, seeing slings, braces, casts, boots, wheelchairs, crutches, bruises, cuts or seeing someone not remember their own phone number is scary and nobody in our sport ever wants to see it. But it happens. And we pack their bags for them so they can go home.
Injury always makes you wonder, wonder if the risk for exhilaration, to push your own limits is worth it. I donít know if there is a perfect answer to this question. We arenít crazy, daredevil, foolish adrenaline junkies, our risks are calculated and there are teams of people who spend countless hours ensuring that the environment we compete in is as safe as possible. But it does happen. And you reconsider the consequences. Today Iím still willing to take those risks; Iím still willing to risk injury to win. I guess the highs still outweigh the lows. But it is something we think about, and it is never fun to pack someone elseís bag.
How Competitive Are You?
I think that everyone is competitive when it comes to things they are passionate about. It could be trying to win a ski race, a baseball game, or a ping pong game with your friends. Or it could mean trying to get your children into the best school with the best teacher. Or, getting to the pool first on your holiday so you can get the best lounge chair. Maybe you race to finish your dinner so you get the first pick at dessert over your brothers. Everybody is competitive in different ways certainly, because everybody has different passions, but everyone knows on some level what itís like to want something, and theyíre willing to compete for it.
Having said that I think there are also different levels of competitiveness. There are those who are calm and quiet - donít talk much, but try and let their actions do the talking. There are those who will be smiling no matter what the outcome. And then there are those who would be willing to tie your shoe laces together in order to win the 10 meter dash to get to the open door first. And, there are those who arenít afraid to talk a little trash, and try and play the mind games as well as the physical game. There are those who go right to the very brink of what the rules of the game are, and those who surpass those rules and try and do anything they can to get away with it. The variations on competitiveness are enormous, and Iím sure we all know those in our lives who we love to compete with and those we just canít stand the sight of because of it.
I am certainly a competitive person. I love to compete with others and against myself to be better. There are those that I admire, can go toe to toe with for 12 rounds and shake their hands at the end, win or lose, and those who I want nothing more than to beat. I donít often express my competitiveness outwardly; I would rather win on the score board than in the mind game or battle of words. Those who donít know me might mistake this as not being very competitive at all, but those who know me well know that when Iím losing, they should get out of the way.
Being competitive is a fine line. You need to be there to win, certainly at the highest level. Even if it is only for a few short seconds or minutes, and then you go back to your jolly self. But I think most of those who win at the highest level get a jolt of energy out of competition and use it for their own personal betterment. But being competitive 24/7 can be exhausting, and being competitive at everything you do can be downright bad for you, draining all your energy for when you need it most.
I live in a competitive environment. The goal of what I do every single day is to be better, faster, stronger, mentally more sharp, more adaptable, more prepared, and more hungry to win. It takes an enormous amount of energy and it is really easy to race through the entire day, competitive for absolutely everything, and not gain anything because you never give yourself a single moment to stop and reflect Ė to reflect on lessons learned, areas for improvement, possible changes in strategy, and maybe most importantly reflect on what is truly important.
Competiveness can take that last one away from you. If you forget what is most important in life, then who cares if you win a game, there wonít be anyone there to celebrate with. And if you spend your whole day being competitive, and forget what is most important, you will likely be so tense, over amped, stressed, mentally and physically fatigued that when the time comes to compete at the one thing you want more than any other, you wonít have what it takes.
I am working hard to know when to compete, and when to let it go. Sure pushing out of the starting gate as hard as possible is a good idea, but if I have been competing all day up to that point, and not taking a moment to realize just how special a moment that is, to have that opportunity, to relax and smell the roses, then I am likely very tight, and performing nervously, cautiously, and slowly.
Enjoying the moment right before I head out of the start gate is a big key. The competitiveness kicks into play the moment I tip that wand, it always does, I need to remind myself of that, enjoy the moment for what it is, and let the skis run.