January 29, 2014

Learning to Fail

First, I suppose I should apologize for the hiatus in blogs. I know this is the time of year when everyone is most excited to hear about racing and results. However, I felt I needed this time to put some thought into what skiing and racing means to me before I could write about the past month. As a result, this is a lengthy blog…

I enjoyed a lovely Christmas as home with my family and boyfriend in a mostly white Park City. I could feel the pressure of Nationals building and I was excited to see what I could do. I finally started feeling better about my race fitness and it seemed like maybe the stars would align. I started out hard in the first race remembering the feelings I had from last year’s nationals, only to fade until I finally crossed the finish line, crushed. I struggled with my skis, my body, and my mind, leaving me, well, a puddle of tears. I’m not sure I have ever felt failure hit like I did that day. I literally bawled as I drove the 30 minutes from Soldier Hollow to home. It didn’t take me long to realize that after that performance, making the Olympic team was going to take a miracle. I felt as if the whole world had come crashing down on me. I wanted to quit right there. I did not understand how I could have failed that badly in the season where it mattered the most. I generally pride myself on having a very good “race head” never letting pressure get to me and always racing rather consistently regardless of the situation, but I realized in the coming days that this was not the case. I had succumbed to the Olympic craze along with much of the country. I noticed it early in the summer with the feeling of high tension at all training camps and even training sessions. I thought I was doing a good job of avoiding it, but I think being in Europe and racing World Cups got the best of me and I became engulfed in the pressure, wanting the result so bad, but missing the process.

I am proud of myself for one thing however. Even if I lost my head for the first half of the season, I found it following that terrible race. I realized that I had taken all the fun and joy out of skiing. I was not enjoying what I was doing, I wasn’t enjoying training, I wasn’t enjoying racing, and I certainly wasn’t taking the time to enjoy time with others, I was completely consumed in getting the results I wanted. I decided, even if all hope was lost, I needed to find a way to make the rest of the week fun and if I couldn’t manage that then I probably shouldn’t be ski racing. I started just by saying hi and being friendly to all my competitors, making jokes and laughing with my teammates, soaking up some sun while gossiping with the girls. Whether it was that or just a little pressure being lifted off my back, I found joy in racing, and I found myself able to push myself harder than I had been all season. I found myself competing for a National Championship in my worst event. I finished the week with 3 podiums, one being a National Championship in the Classic Sprint and I left with hope.

I have to say, my former coach, Gordon Lange, probably would tell you he knew all of this was going to happen. In fact he told me at training before the races even started that I needed to keep it fun, clearly sensing a weakness, and after I came running into his arms in tears following that first race, he told me I had to let the good races come to me. I think I will hold this advice with the rest of my life, 2 very important things to learn.
20k Mass Start, most brutal race of the year.  (Bert Boyer Photo) 
Skate Sprint (Bert Boyer Photo)

More Sprinting (Bert Boyer Photo)

I skied most of the race alone and a lap or 2 with Chelsea Holmes, making for a grueling day. (Bert Boyer Photo)

Quarterfinal heat (fasterskier photo)

Semifinal Heat (fasterskier photo)

A Final (Fasterskier photo)

Over the top in the A Final (fasterskier photo)

Mass start Action (fasterskier photo)

Alone in the 20k (fasterskier photo)

Finally skiing with Chelsea (fasterskier photo) 
Up the massive climb (fasterskier photo)

Last time up, literally doing all I can to move. Erik is always there cheering us on through all of it. (fasterskier photo)

A Final of the skate sprint right across the line (Tom Kelly/USSA Photo)

20k Skate Mass start Podium (Tom Kelly/USSA Photo)

A Final (Tom Kelly/USSA Photo)

Skate Sprint Podium (Tom Kelly/USSA Photo)

Finish line of the A Final in the Classic sprint. I was 2nd overall, but the winner was from Russia so I was crowned National Champion and next time I will try to lunge... (Tom Kelly/ USSA Photo)

Classic Sprint Podium (Tom Kelly/USSA Photo)

Even though Nationals ended weeks ago, it wasn’t until this last week that they named the Olympic team. While I knew I had little to no chance of making it, it is hard to let go of all hope, which really made things tough. I would find myself moving on, happy and enjoying life one day and feeling really disappointed and upset with myself the next. I have to say my biggest “failure” or “regret” in anything before this, had been not winning a race at NCAAS, but seriously, how silly? I still was an 8x all American and had a wonderful 4 years racing NCAA. So in the last month I have challenged myself in learning how to fail. I think of all the people I know, the most amazing ones are those that have struggled, failed, and pushed through, making them the outstanding people they are so I can only hope that learning to fail will make me a better person in the long run.

Eventually, I did get that email informing me I was officially not on the team so I could fully accept my failure and find the next challenge in life. I am such a goal-oriented person; it is really not easy for me to say I tried to make the Olympic team and I failed. And, yes, I am being hard on myself, I failed in some ways, but in many other ways I have grown and hopefully come out better because of it and that certainly is not failure. While I was still home in Park City, I raced in a local Wasatch Citizens Series, where when I arrived, my entry fee was waived simply because I was me and just about every person I talked to thought I had basically already made the Olympic team. These are the moments when I realize it is about so much more than making the team. I have made some impact on my community if they are willing to support me in such ways and that impact matters a whole lot more. If that day, I inspired even one person to get out skiing more or train a little harder than I am satisfied and if I can continue to have an impact on people around me than I have been successful.

While almost everyone notes the travel and opportunity to see new places as a key part of the journey, regardless of whether you made the Olympic team or not, I think of the countless things skiing has taught me. I am nearly positive that every essay I wrote in high school somehow was related to skiing, not just because I loved it, but because of the relatable lessons I learned everyday at ski practice. I learned dedication, discipline, goal setting, being a teammate, leadership, how to succeed and how to fail, how to be a good sportsman, how to push myself, how my brain works, how to focus and countless other lessons. It completely changed my life and gave me opportunities I never would have had otherwise. Skiing brought me to Dartmouth, it has brought me all over the world, it has brought me new friends that I will have forever, it brought me my boyfriend, and it has brought me pure joy time and time again. Even today, I am still learning lessons from skiing. Every race I do, I learn something new about myself. I am certain I will draw on these lessons for the rest of my life. Olympics or not, those lessons, those adventures, those people can never be taken away form me.

This is not a goodbye. I am still racing! I am currently in Craftsbury, VT preparing for 2 weekends of racing in New England. Then I will head to the Midwest for a weekend of SuperTours and the Birkie. Then, it’s off to Europe again to race some Continental Cup races before finally heading back to Anchorage for the last set of US Nationals.

As I am sure many of you are wondering, I am also planning to continue racing next season as well. I have my eyes set on the World Championships and hope to capitalize from the lessons of this season to better prepare myself for next year. 

In the meantime, I am ever thankful for all the support from friends, family, and people in the ski community around Park City. No one has ever made me feel like such a rockstar.

There have been a plethora of thoughts floating around on making and not making the Olympics, just jump on the blogroll if you are interested, but my friend and former teammate Erika Flowers, wrote a particularly nice piece on her blog that I very much agree with. Read here: http://erikaflowersski.blogspot.com/2014/01/that-olympic-thing.html