Last kick at the can.
Itís been a long while since Iíve put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in this case.
My summer has been filled with new adventures. Some much needed time away from skiing, and a look into what my future might hold. Much has changed on my team, some teammates and staff have hung it up, while there are some fresh faces on the hill.
In all likelihood this will be my last season as a competitive ski racer. Our World Championships are at home, in Panorama Mountain Village at the beginning of March. I will race mostly slalom this year, focusing my attention where I have the best chance at success.
Seeing the end, and finally writing about it doesnít come easy, while I have a long 3 months of competition ahead, itís different this time around. Is this the right time? Is it too early? Too late?
Since the moment I finished my last race in Sochi, not a day has gone by where I didnít think that maybe this day was the last day I considered myself a professional athlete. Iíve wondered what it would be like to make that call, today, walk away.
Thatís a very scary thought. What will I do tomorrow? I think I have a good plan for the next day, and Iím feeling as prepared as I can be for that next day, but nonetheless it is daunting. Iím leaving the one thing that Iíve identified with so strongly since I was a teenager. I left most of my friends behind way back when, but Iíve met many more great ones along the way. Once again I will leave them all behind. I sacrificed so much: education, work, relationships. Iíll have to start so many of those things back at square one. Going from the absolute top of my game and something Iíve spent my life perfecting, living on the edge full of adrenaline, fear, risk, reward, pushing the limits of what Iím capable of, and going back to basics seems like a far fall back to reality. It certainly wonít be easy.
Fear is a huge part of life. Everyone on the planet is affected by it every day. It affects so many decisions we make, dealing with it, measuring it, managing it, itís all a part of life. So often downhill skiers are called crazy, Iíve never known how to handle that really, never known what to say.
What Iíve only begun to realize lately is that putting your life on the line, taking such huge risk to both body and mind is really living. When I ski, with such risk, whether itís literally the risk to my body of flying down the hill, or the greater risk to any athlete, the risk that youíll have put everything you had into one thing, one race that will be over in 2 minutes or less, one thing that you have sacrificed all else for, and you may fail. That risk brings with it an incredible sense of consciousness, and in those moments I am truly living. Everything in my being is focused, in that moment. While time flies by, it also happens in slow motion, a lifetime of training has allowed me to realize every small move Iíve made, every millisecond that I gain or lose with every turn. There is truly nothing else that I have found like it. It is living, being alive.
Leaving that behind to start all over again scares me more than any race course. Going back to basics, being vulnerable in ways for which I havenít trained. Risking life once again. Knowing that success takes time.
ďThe fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.Ē
My sports psychologist has used an example from the Japanese Samarai at times, he talks about how the Samurai go into battle expecting to die. Heading into any battle where you may die, I can only imagine that your consciousness is clear and focused, your mind sharp and on point. From a skiing perspective, hurling yourself down the hill creates this same consciousness. There is something about that which makes you feel completely alive.
Heading into something, being completely prepared and content knowing the worst may actually happen is in many ways quite liberating. Yet, you may still be heading right into death.
Walking away from skiing creates many fears, much like heading into a big race. Iím as prepared as I can be; I can only hope that I will once again find something that makes me feel as alive as I do on the ski hill.
3 months of big races starts this week. Iím ready to go. Iím also ready for the day when it is all over.
There are those who give everything they have. Commit every part of their life. Jump out of bed each day with incredible passion. And donít make it.
I feel privileged to have made it this far in skiing, and to have recently come home from Sochi having skied my best at the event where we strive to be our best.
Leading up to Sochi we had an incredible plan and we executed everything to the best of our ability as a team. There are many key core members of our team, both staff and athletes, who went through two full cycles of the Paralympics, and I think that showed greatly in our preparation. Our successes from Vancouver were continued on, and our hard earned lessons were vastly improved upon.
Our entire season, every decision we made was made with the thought of success during one key week. No stone was left unturned.
We walked into Sochi uncertain of how the week would go, but fully confident we had done everything we could possibly think of from lessons learned in the past to prepare for this event. There were plans to cover every base.
I personally felt as prepared as I possibly knew how to be walking into Sochi, and I was excited to get going. I even had a plan for dealing with the excitement so it wouldnít take away too much valuable energy. The two weeks in Russia would in many ways be a marathon of emotions, as opposed to a quick two minute sprint of energy that is ski racing.
The biggest question on my mind which I knew could not be answered until the very moment I was on the race course was ďDo I ski solidly and take the result I get, or do I risk everything - risk falling, risk crashing and burning, in order to achieve greatness.
Itís easy to sit here afterwards and say I will take every risk. It is easy to do poster board interviews before saying we will take every risk possible to win. Itís an entirely different thing to finally stand in the start gate, after a lifetime of work to get there and push out of the gate willing to risk everything on a razor thin edge with an unstable surface underneath it.
Downhill ski racing is risky no doubt. Crazy is often the word people associate with it, maybe fairly so. At that moment when itís time to push out the gate, the biggest challenge remaining in my mind was how much to risk.
I could have certainly skied solidly, and finished in the top 10. A top 10 result in the Paralympics is an incredible achievement in a lifetime - something very few people have ever done, and something very few will ever even get the opportunity to do. But to achieve more than that, I had to risk more.
I had to risk not finishing, coming home and telling people I got no result at the games. I also had to risk getting hurt. The bodyís natural reaction is certainly not to put itself in harmís way; I had to push past that. The conditions in Sochi were warm, bumpy and challenging for everyone involved. This only added to the risk. At a lesser event, many people would simply gear down a little, take a solid result, and move on to the next week, nothing lost. But at the games there is no next week. Many will risk everything. There are more crashes at the games, more bruises, more broken skis, more broken bones, more concussions, more nervous moms and wives in the grandstands (for good reason), and a lot more medical helicopters.
There is more to be gained certainly too. The Paralympic movement continues to gain momentum and at home a medal can help gain you and your sport a lot of attention.
Success on any given day also depends a lot on the nature of the hill, the snow quality, the course set along with a number of other factors. I knew heading in that the nature of the snow on any given day and at any given moment throughout the ever warming days would play a big factor on the outcome of the race.
Honestly heading into the games, and even the day of my event I wasnít sure how much to risk. A good result is much easier to talk about back at home, than a DNF. What I kept asking myself was, when this is all over, what do I want out of this? When Iím old and grey, what do I want to remember?
I had also gotten over looking at the medal as the only measure of success. Certainly it is what I aspired to achieve, but I have met too many people who keep their gold medals in shoe boxes or sock drawers, to still believe a medal would change my life forever. Certainly it would give me a great 15 minutes of fame which I would undoubtedly enjoy, but asking myself the tough questions about what to risk, I knew that there was more to it than that.
I remembered that it was simply a personal challenge, a challenge to overcome all the odds, to beat cancer, to ski on one leg, a challenge worth the sacrifices. The sacrifices of having to pay for it, to miss out on the university experience, to leave my friends behind, to sacrifice relationships, to rest when others were going out to party, to, in some ways, cut myself off from the world to feel success for one fleeting moment.
A challenge for myself to be the best that I could be at one moment in time, simply for the pleasure of knowing for myself that I could do it.
I did it.
Many will see a 6th place finish in slalom and think it was my best result, which is true. Iím very proud of how I performed in slalom and Iím thankful the result shows it; itís as much of a relief as it is excitement. But Iím also incredibly proud of my performances in Super G and Super Combined, both of which I didnít finish. I risked everything I could have in Super G and made it through until two gates from the finish. Devastating? Maybe. But, after picking myself out of the net and realizing I was ok, it was uplifting, I had done my best.
Waving to the now silent crowd where I knew sat twelve members of my family, I felt proud of what I had done, and excited that they were there to share it with me. They cheered nonetheless.
I didnít make it to the finish in the slalom of the Super Combined either, but I learned something about myself that was key to my success in slalom two days later. On the score board it was a loss but it helped turn slalom into a win.
I didnít come home with a medal; I canít carry one around for the next few months and let the incredible Canadian people hold it. They will ask how I did and after saying 6th place I wonít get the same reaction that others will get when they hold out their medals. I would love to do that.
But I learned the lesson. I feel like Iíve accomplished what I was meant to in this journey. I was fortunate enough to make it this far along; many were not so fortunate. I was able to learn what I needed to when it mattered.
For that I am thankful.
43 days to go
Iíve been struggling to write a blog recently, mostly because I donít quite know how to put what Iíve been feeling into words.
There are just 43 days to go until the Sochi Paralympics. A lot will happen in the next 3 months that will be a big topic of conversation for the rest of my life. My entire family is coming to Russia - who would have thought that? I havenít put myself out there in the media or for speaking as much as I did prior to 2010; Iím not sure why exactly.
My skiing has been great, overall. I recently had a tough downhill series on home soil in Panorama, but I was very excited to turn it around quickly with one scheduled day off, a great debrief and chat with my sports psychologist. I followed it up with a solid performance in Super G the following day.
The best way I can describe everything that is happening is that there is energy, and rather than battle that energy going into the big events, Iím learning to ride the waves. Rest when it is calm, and ride it when it comes.
The next 3 months will undoubtedly bring some huge waves of energy, and with those huge highs come huge lows in energy. All the while the task at hand to be executed remains simple and the same. Last week in downhill I got a little wrapped up in my old ways, really over analyzed everything didnít recognize that the nerves were natural and chose to fight them instead of riding those waves of energy. It caused me to make really simple mistakes, lose trust in myself, ski safely, and ultimately underperform.
On my day off I was able to sit down, use the calm energy of a day off and reflect. Certainly my ability to ski hadnít disappeared overnight, so what happened? It was then that I recognized all of the hurdles Iíd tripped over, and was able to make changes to move forward.
In the past such a start would have crippled me for a long time, maybe even an entire season. But I was able to recognize what went wrong, and make changes.
Heading towards Sochi the energy will pull me in all different directions. Iíve got a great plan laid out and am excited to tackle the task at hand. For better or worse Iím confident that if I continue to recognize the various energies that each day brings, ride the waves to the best of my ability, and perform the best that I can, I will have success.
Wish me luck
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.