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.
Most would say that downhill ski racers are adrenaline junkies. There is no doubt that thereís something addicting about seeing an intimidating ski hill, with uneven terrains, rock hard snow, jumps and high speed turns, that gets our hearts going. When I first see a downhill course there is always a feeling inside that I canít quite describe - a healthy respect for the mountain and what it is capable of, and a mix of fear and excitement that must be managed with surgical precision in order to work with the mountain in the best way possible. Working against the mountain is always a losing battle.
Adrenaline is amazing, enlightening, frightening, tiring, humbling and if used just right, rewarding. I just returned from Chile and had the opportunity to train both speed disciplines, Super G and Downhill. While our downhill courses had only 19 or 20 turns each day (compared to 60 in a slalom course) downhill is both physically and mentally taxing. If you were to take my average speed of skiing during that time it would be about 80-90 km/h average, and at times reaching well over 100 km/h. Put in some 110 degree turns, extreme side hills, bullet proof snow, a lot of adrenaline, and itís not hard to see why my leg is more than a little tired. But the mental game is what I really start to feel with such swings in adrenaline.
Adrenaline can help a lot if I use it right. Starting a downhill, the adrenaline is pumping. If I allow it to consume me it becomes very difficult to think, the world seems to rush by and I have no ability to take any of it in. However, it also seems to give me super human strength when I need it. I have found I need to really embrace adrenaline, but also learn to control it, calm myself at times during the run, but also allow it to take over when I need that little bit extra. Adrenaline helps me to charge down the hill, take risks to be fast and somehow pull them off. If instead of adrenaline I only had fear, I most likely would end up getting hurt.
After any run adrenaline keeps pumping, and it takes time for my mind to catch up to what just happened, and really reflect. If I donít deliberately stop, breathe, wait for my heart to slow a little, and take a moment to reflect, I really donít learn anything from my mistakes or successes. It is really easy to just hop back on the chair continue to race to the top, and miss an opportunity to learn. Adrenaline also has a way of lingering around. It is amazing how I catch myself some days after training, racing back to the room, then racing to lunch, racing to nowhere at all, but the adrenaline stays with me and if Idonít take a moment to be aware of it and slow down a little, it will exhaust me.
Am I an adrenaline junkie? Maybe, but learning to control it is what allows me to train and compete at the highest level.
Like many of you Iíve been glued to my computer watching every single different feed of Olympics that I can. Watching all those sports that we donít get to see every day is always cool.
One thing I have noticed, is the difficulty for some athletes of competing under pressure. Why is it that some athletes thrive with the crowds, media, Olympic rings hanging over head, and the weight of their countries flag draped across their backs, while others seem to crumble and look like beginners at a sport they have played their entire lives.
Iíve noticed myself feeling pressure at times over the summer, certainly not the same kind of pressure that you would feel at the games, but pressure nonetheless. I feel the most pressure not from all of those outside factors, but from within myself.
In all honesty, this summer I bit off more than I could chew. I have been taking a few classes at school, and I have really put huge emphasis on my diet and training to prepare for next winter. On top of that I was carrying an engagement ring around for a month (that is a whole other kind of pressure Ė she said Ďyesí, by the way). Now by my nature Iím a competitive person, competitive with others, but probably more competitive with myself. I feel the absolute best when I push myself to the brim, when I know I couldnít have done any better, either academically, athletically or otherwise. Now this works well when you have one area to improve on, but trying to be a straight A student, and change my summer dryland and diet routine to be better, is hard. Iíve set myself very different and difficult tasks. It isnít that I canít be a good student, and a good athlete, itís just that there
isnít enough time in one day to be the best at both.
If you were one of my professors this summer, I apologize; you didnít see my best. My body on the other hand has seen a great transformation. However, in the dog days of summer when I felt the pressure to be an A student and wasnít achieving that, I spent more time studying, and thus for a couple weeks my training wasnít as top quality as I would have liked. Therefore, I felt another kind of pressure, again from myself, knowing that I needed to get back on track into training and give it my all.
The latest training camp, the timing of which really could not have been any better, and a week of hanging out with my team, and competing to be better every day in the gym brought about some good changes. I feel better about myself.
Pressure is a strange thing. There is a lot of talk leading into the games about handling the pressure. Our team has talked a lot about the pressure coming from external areas: media, crowds, Olympic rings, family, personal bests, world records, and wearing your countries flag.
But I see now, the pressure I feel, and the pressure the people on TV feel is the pressure from within. If you are at peace with that pressure, you can have peace knowing youíve done everything you could to prepare, then you can deal with the pressure from the external sources. If you donít deal with the pressure from within, understand how it affects you, why it affects you, the ways you react versus the way you want to react, then the pressure from those external sources will eat you alive.
The one thing I see in those Olympians who are succeeding, is that they have accepted the pressure from within, they are at peace with it, they know it will be there, they know they want to win more than anything, they know theyíve trained their entire lives to be there and that this is their moment, but it doesnít consume them, they are at peace within, and they thrive.
GO CANADA GO.
Do you want to win?
This is a question that is asked of every athlete. Of course we want to win. We all want to win. Even if you find a quiet, modest Canadian, who isnít willing to come right out to the world and say it, if you flip the question around and ask that same person, ďDo you want to lose?Ē What do you think he/she would say? ďOf course not.Ē
Do you want to win is really an easy question for an athlete to answer, because it has a straight forward answer, yes or no. And an athlete that says noÖwell Iíve never met one.
The question to me is no longer, do you want to win? It is much more complicated than that. Itís more like, am I willing to do everything that it takes to win? And do I have the resources and background necessary to do that?
The resources are a big one. Maybe the potentially greatest skier to ever live was actually born in India, or Africa, and he/she never had a chance to ski. No mountains, no skiing, no winning. There is no doubt in my mind that I have the resources it takes to win at my sport. I am extremely fortunate to have some of the best skiing resources in the world in my backyard. For me, I can check resources off the list.
So it comes down to, am I willing to do EVERYTHING that it takes to win?
What does this mean for me? It means putting a lot of things second, a lot of very important things like my girlfriend, family, friends, manís best friend, school, career, adventures off the mountain, and just doing things I want to do when I want to do them. It means being away from home 7 months of the year; it means constantly being in a state of change and dealing with the stress of travel. It means planning, and more planning, to make sure I have everything I need when I need it. It means not eating what I want to eat, but eating what I need to eat to be my best, and eating the right things at the right times. It means training, training, training and more training. With that comes pain, failure, disappointment, injuries, crashes, many questions and few perfect answers.
Maybe, above all, it means doing all of those things, and being completely uncertain about the outcome. I may fall flat on my face when the time comes. It happens - such is life. Am I willing to make all those sacrifices knowing the outcome may not be what I want?
As a young athlete I had no idea what I was getting into - probably like most people when they start their first job. I thought I was going skiing, and of course I wanted to win. I thought I was willing to do everything it took, but that was just my youthful oblivion, because I really had no idea what it took. Do I know now? I have a better idea, sure, but Iíd be lying if I said absolutely. If I knew for certain, I would have won by now. We are in a sport that is constantly changing, and what wins one day, might be 10th the next.
One thing is for certain however; Iím willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices right now. One day, I may no longer be willing, but today, Iím willing to do what it takes.