Getting a Grip on Expectations

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This past weekend a few friends and I ventured down to Southern Utah for a weekend recharge filled with camping, mountain biking and a bit of climbing. Winter in Park City has been lack-luster - limited snowfall has everyone down in the dumps and my knee has officially made its protest to skiing. My normal weekend adventures of skinning and climbing up a giant mountain, then skiing down it, got replaced with couch and computer time. I suspected it had taken a toll on my fitness but was hopeful that there would be some semblance of my former self when I hopped on my bike. Regardless, making the 5 hour drive south for a dose of vitamin D, was exactly what the doctor ordered.

If you've never ridden mountain bikes in the desert before, the riding can be quite challenging. Rugged, punchy terrain, comprised primarily of grippy burnt orange sandstone, littered with varieties of cacti and complemented by loose sandy dirt.  Spring riding in the desert is always a litmus test for where your fitness is at the end of the winter. The short yet steep bouts of uphill will bust your legs and lungs and the relentless technical terrain will test your patience. The first time that I rode outside of St. George, I grew enormously frustrated. The fun I was having rapidly dissipated as I watched my more experienced friends ride off into the horizon. Over the years, the frustration morphed into obsession, but every year I raise the bar for how I believe I should perform.

Heading down south, I knew I'd have to come to terms with my fitness level. While I had set an expectation that my cardio might not be superb, I also expected that my technical skills and abilities could overcome it. Unfortunately, that was not the case as my performance fell short of the expectations that I had set for myself.
Sections of trail that I once easily powered through, I meekly walked up pushing my bike alongside me. Feeble attempts to sneak in one last pedal stroke ended fruitlessly. I figured things I could ride before might seem more difficult, but not impossible! The inner critic started sounding off. You've let yourself get so weak. Why don't you set your priorities better? How could you sacrifice your health and fitness for your career? No wonder your jeans are fitting tighter... You might never be able to ride this again. You'll probably just have to accept that.

ex·pec·ta·tion

ekspekˈtāSH(ə)n

noun

  1. a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
    • "reality had not lived up to expectations"
  2. a belief that someone will or should achieve something.
    • "students had high expectations for their future"

Expectations. They can either serve to lift us up or they can pull us down a rabbit hole of self doubt. I've been sucked into this narrative before and have fortunately learned to combat it by shifting my perspective. While it's important to acknowledge where we are in life so that we can find areas to improve, we need to learn to acknowledge without judging critically. The reality was that I was not powerful enough to ride certain sections of steep punchy terrain. Instead of criticizing myself, I can use this opportunity to set an intention for my life to create meaningful change.

3 things to remember when reality doesn't align with your expectations:

1) The only moment that matters is NOW.
You've heard it before: "it is, what it is," or "you are, what you are." It might drive you crazy to hear, but it's true. The only moment in which we can impact our lives is through the present one. You can only improve your life by choosing to do so NOW. Lamenting and complaining that things didn't go as you expected won't actually get you anywhere! “Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
2) Your "expectations" were never real.

We created expectations to manage the source of many of our fears: the unknown. Writing the script for our future can provide some comfort. It makes us believe that we have a plan, that we know what's going to happen and provides us a sense of control. Expectations are the adult version of "make-believe." We've gotten so good at make-believe, that we experience complete disarray when reality turns out different. Remind yourself that your expectations were a fabrication, that there are always unforeseen, uncontrollable forces at work. All we can do is adapt.

3) Expectations can become intentions.
Failing to meet expectations is like shining a flashlight directly at an area of life we wish to improve. If we haven't met our expectations, we're most likely not prioritizing that part of our life or are being unrealistic about the amount of time we're able to dedicate to it. This is a great opportunity to look at your life and ask yourself what's most important. You may find you were holding onto old ideals that no longer serve you, therefor you've created unrealistic expectations. Or, contrarily, you've set achievable expectations, but haven't shifted your time spent to accommodate them. You can simply turn these unfulfilled expectations into intentions or goals for your future.

What expectations have you set for yourself? Are you spending all your time living in the future imaging what may happen? What fears are you trying to alleviate by creating these expectations? What goals can you set for yourself to get you closer to making your reality match your expectations?

Finding Contentment & Resetting Priorities

How to find contentment in your life by examining your priorities and values, so you can find time for life's simple pleasures.

Ever find yourself muttering things like, “I wish I had time to read a book” or “I really admire people who can send out holiday cards,” then later wondering how you could be more like those people who do those things? I certainly do. I have an aunt who remembers everyone’s birthday, sends out handcrafted cards and considerate gifts for every occasion. There’s part of me that wants to simply dismiss this – who has the time for that?! – however, I’m always moved by her thoughtfulness. I love the way these cards & gifts makes me feel, even if the gifts are sometimes hit-or-miss. (Know what I’m sayin’?)

Lately, when I’ve had these thoughts, I’ve found myself doing a deep dive into them. Asking myself why, if I want to be like those people, I am not. I’ve been following up on such thoughts with a very important question: What needs to be in place in my life for x-y-z to happen? Take the book-reading example. What is missing right now, that keeps me from reading a book?

Possible Answer 1: Time

The obvious reason that I am not able to read more books, despite wanting to, is that I don’t have enough time. Okay, well Jen, if you magically had more time, would you choose to read a book?

Hmmm, maybe not, I’d probably have other things I’d need do with that freed up time. Clearly, I don’t have enough time because I’m prioritizing other things in my life.

Possible Answer 2: Priorities

So, what would it take for you to prioritize reading a book over the “other priorities” in your life? Complete and utter boredom? No, not exactly. I’d need to feel that things are settled; that my projects and to-do lists are handled; that the other things that I’m striving for in life, that I’m trying to achieve, are being attended to. So, to be able to use my time to read a book, I need to get through all the stuff on my to-do list? Here’s the real problem: MY LIST NEVER GETS SHORTER! Does yours? For every item that I cross off my “to-do” list, I add 2 more. In all my years, this has been true. Which leads me to another question: WHY?

After taking a good hard look at the conundrum, it’s quite simple. Throughout my daily existence, there is an underlying essence of needing to do and be more. I feel I am not enough. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, stable enough, settled enough, accomplished enough, successful enough to deserve to sit back and read a book. So, what is missing right now that keeps me from reading a book?

Root Cause 1: A sense of contentment

I long to sit and read a book. The thought of cozying up in a window seat, overlooking the aspen trees on my property, with a fire roaring in the corner, a hot cup of coffee in one hand, and a great book in the other, brings me a sense of peace. To be able to do this, I need to find contentment in my life before-hand, even if it means I’m leaving some things partially undone.

One of the downfalls of being a highly ambitious (insecure?) person for whom where they are, what they are, and who they are, is just never quite enough is that we don’t allow ourselves to do the things we merely want to, because we’re too busy doing all the things we think we need to. But the reality is that there will always be another need-to-do that sneaks up on you. That is life. Some of the items on our “need-to-do” lists might never get attended to and that might be just fine. Because, as it turns out, you (and I) are already enough. Where we are today is not a permanent representation of where we will be in 5 years, and where we want to be in 5 years won’t manifest overnight.

I’m not saying that you need to abandon your drive, ambition, and complete to-do list, but simply to reflect upon it. Are your ambitions in line with your values? These are two distinct things and don’t always support one another. If you don’t know what the root cause is to your lack of follow through in a certain area of your life, you’ll never be able to change it.

I haven’t quite cuddled up with a hot cup of coffee and a book just yet, but I did mail my holiday cards. One of my most important values is making those whose lives I’m a part of feel loved. So, this weekend, my writing took a backseat to my loved ones. Today, I’m back to writing.

  Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.
― Steve Maraboli 

Conquering Mountains - SheLift Retreat Aspen

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Self-acceptance and body confidence is something with which most women struggle. Popular media bombards us with images of “perfect bodies” and, more recently showcases the perfectly smooth and proportioned “full-figured” body. Yet, the polarity of this spectrum neglects most of the population. To say that these images convey an inaccurate picture of what our real bodies look like, would be a massive understatement. And people with physical differences, for example, missing limbs or bones, are becoming more alienated than ever.

Sarah Herron was among them. Born missing the lower half of her left arm, she struggled to find anyone she could relate to. Wanting to find love, Sarah signed up to become a bachelorette on ABC’s The Bachelor in 2013. Though she didn’t find love on the show, she realized, that before all else, she needed to love herself. Over the course of several years, Sarah started to push her physical limits through skiing and hiking. Sarah states, “I soon realized that with each new run I came down faster and better, my confidence skyrocketed. This confidence translated into a new-found self-acceptance that didn’t come from anyone else’s approval or acceptance of me, it was 100% self-made.” So, after hiking the 782 vertical feet to the top of Highland Bowl with skis on her back, she decided she needed to share the power of this experience with others. Shortly thereafter, SheLift was born.

Our Mission

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”  ― E.E. Cummings

SheLift’s mission is to help young women and girls realize their own worth and to generate self-compassion through outdoor adventure, so they can boldly step into the world as their authentic selves. This mission is built around four foundational concepts. First, to provide a safe supportive environment for girls to connect with peers facing similar life obstacles. Second, to motivate one another to try things that take us out of our comfort zones to grow and overcome personal insecurities. Third, to bridge the gap between girls and influential mentors who can change their lives. And finally, to create a more accepting society that inspires young women to live authentically and be proud of their bodies.

The Retreat

On March 18, 2017, a group of seven women stepped onto the tarmac in Aspen, Colorado for the first time. Near strangers, brought together by their physical differences and united by Sarah Herron’s courageous vision to challenge the status quo, would partake in the inaugural SheLift Retreat. For four days, they would connect, reveal their deepest secrets and greatest insecurities, and conquer personal mountains by taking on the challenge of learning to ski or snowboard. 

Upon arrival in Aspen, the SheLift ladies ventured to the Strafe Outerwear storefront at Highland Mountain to hand-select their ski clothes for the weekend. This all expense-paid trip, was designed to remove any barriers to participation including the financial burden of getting all the gear. Strafe is “inspired by a dedication to living life in the mountains” and their vision fits hand-in-hand with that of SheLift. They were generous in donating their top-of-the-line Cloud Nine Jacket and Pant to each of the women.

As for skis, Icelantic Skis’ founder Ben Anderson, graced the group with his presence, sharing the company’s vision. “The Icelantic community is an inclusive gathering of those seeking connection, exploration and innovation in all aspects of their lives.” With that in mind, they equipped SheLift with a quiver of Maiden 101 skis with custom graphics, so that this experience could be shared for years to come.

On The Hill

“We don't know who we are until we see what we can do.” ― Martha Grimes 

When we face challenges, we often surprise ourselves. So much of our fear and doubt is self-created because of things we do not understand. Once we take on learning a new skill and realize that it was within our abilities, it opens-up a world of possibilities. If this is possible, then what else can I do? By giving these young women the opportunity to overcome the challenge of learning to ski, we open them up to the power within themselves. A force that cannot be stopped.

By partnering with Challenge Aspen, SheLift paired each girl with an instructor of her own, dedicated to her unique needs and learning style. The staff was hands-on in taking each girl through a steady progression. Starting on one ski, feeling how it glides and moves across the snow, learning where the edges are and moving on from there. By the end of day two, every girl had progressed to riding the chair lift and descending a full run, but that’s not to say it was without difficulties.

Every girl crashed at some point during their experience. For Kimberlee Johnson, who lost the lower part of her right leg as infant, being on skis required the use outriggers and the learning curve was slightly harsher, but her perseverance was astounding. Or Catherine McCain, who took a big hit on day two, despite a rapid learning curve her first day was reminded that not only are we capable of more than we often realize, we’re also a lot more resilient.

The Revelations

 “If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”  ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

When the girls arrived in Aspen, they didn’t know what they were getting into, but they certainly had expectations about the experience. Perhaps they wanted to rid themselves of self-doubt, shame, or body-image issues or perhaps they simply wanted to learn how to ski. Undeniably, they were looking for change. What likely surprised them all, was that this retreat wasn’t so much about changing who they were, but realizing who they already are and embracing it.

Though this retreat was built around skiing, most of the connection happened at the house over home-made dinners and fireside snacks, as the ladies reflected on their day. To be introduced to one another in an all-accepting space allowed for instant bonding. Conversations flowed effortlessly from pop-culture and body-image, to how to cut vegetables or curl your hair with one hand. Witnessing the growth and transformation of these women in an environment that simply encouraged them to try new things, without fear of judgement or worry of failure, was awe-inspiring. As Kim Jozefiak reflected, “The retreat encouraged me to live authentically, be kinder to myself, and not be afraid to share my story.”

As the week progressed, not one woman in the house had spoken without tears in their eyes – mentors, Sarah Herron & myself, included. Hearts opened, and the most confident seeming among the group began to shed layers to reveal that even they have self-doubts. Sarah prompted conversations to get each girl to think about what makes her feel the most confident. For some, like Alexis Graham, it was perfecting the art of makeup, for others like Lillian Martinez, it was going hiking. The SheLift retreat was a reminder to do what makes us feel most alive, regardless of what societal or familial expectations may be.

What’s Next

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”  ― Brené BrownDaring Greatly

Despite feeling separated because of their differences at home, their differences were the one thing that brought them together in Aspen. In the end, these women were united by their physical differences and learned that underneath it all, we’re all seeking the same thing: a sense of belonging, love, and acceptance. Michelle Polanic shares that “this retreat taught me that I am worthy of love, beautiful inward and outward, and that I can move mountains.”

We are not who others say we are. We are not our bodies, nor our minds. We are not made simply to live and to die, but instead, to give and receive love. As SheLift rolls into its second year as an organization, these 7 women will become foundational to our future efforts. Going back to their homes, across the expanse of North America, they will become pillars of support for younger women facing similar challenges. The grass-roots initiatives of SheLift will be integral for the continuation of our efforts and are at the core of changing the world for the better. We want more young women and girls to feel as Chris DeLeon does; “I now have a new found confidence, a new passion for snowboarding, and a group of lifelong friends that I can depend on to continue to push me to grow and encourage me to love myself everyday.”

Want to empower young women and girls to conquer their personal mountains? Click here to donate or share this link and spread the word! To read about our inaugural retreat attendees and their experiences, click here.

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” ― Heath L. Buckmaster

  teeki

Finding Purpose In The Little Things

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In 1955 a young girl named Susie Williams asked her friend Billie Jean King to play tennis. Billie responded, "what's tennis?" 17 years later, Billie Jean King championed the effort to get Title IX approved so that women in an educational institution could have equal opportunities to play sports; a year later, she beat Bobby Riggs in the infamous tennis match dubbed "The Battle of The Sexes;" and a year after that, Billie founded the Women's Sports Foundation. Billie had purpose. Billie Jean King

Living on Purpose

Fall used to be my favorite season.  It's a transitional time that used to represent all my hopes and dreams and now just represents all my short-comings. Maybe that's a little harsh, but it's how I feel. Over the last year I've struggled to make the transition away from life as a professional athlete. I miss my skiing career. I miss doing something that I feel I was born to do, I miss challenging myself, pushing the limits, living my purpose and exploring my potential. I miss it. All of it.

My insides ache for flexibility that once defined my daily existence. It aches to live a life that I was meant to be living, to live my PURPOSE. In attempt to fill that void that skiing so adequately filled, I started taking on a million small projects. I've been attempting to add more purpose to my life. So, I've been mentoring young girls in mountain biking, sitting on the board of another non-profit, fundraising for a third non-profit, finishing my college education, getting a "big-kid" job in an office from 9-5, racing professionally in a sport other than skiing, taking on freelance writing assignments, and helping my husband start a custom teardrop trailer company. My days have become so "full" of intention and purpose that they leave me depleted.

How Did I Get Here?

When my dad died, I reflected a lot on the quality of life that he lived. The delicate balance that he struck between work and play. My dad was brilliant, ahead of his times. Got his master's degree from MIT in one year, taught computer science at Yale for 32 years, and wrote a progressive computer programming language. My mom is brilliant in her own right. Valedictorian, got a perfect score on her SATs, and went to Yale School of Management for her master's degree. Oh, and don't forget about my sister, she was no slouch either. She gave the class-address at her high-school graduation, got a PhD in clinical psychology and now helps kids and families live better lives.

You see, when I was skiing, I felt okay being so different from the rest of my family, because I was making a difference in the world. I had a purpose! But now that I've made the attempt to "transition" out of it, I'm confronted with the reality that at 30 years old I'm supposed to start over at an entry-level job while I juggle trying to finish my bachelor's degree and maintain my 3.8 gpa, while still living a life of PURPOSE by making a difference in the lives of others. It's a heavy burden to carry.

Finding Purpose

For some reason I've felt that I'm only worth what I'm contributing. That at the end of the day, if I'm not making a massive difference to someone somewhere, then I have no value. The little things don't ever feel like enough.

I began this post with a story about Billie Jean King, but the story was really about the young girl who first asked her to play tennis. The world doesn't know Susie William's name in the way it know's Billie's. Yet, without Susie, Billie never would have found the sport of tennis, become the first female athlete to earn a six-figure income, broken more glass ceilings than we can count, and created one of the most influential non-profit organizations for female empowerment: The Women's Sports Foundation.

Susie was 11 years old when she asked Billie to play. She wasn't overanalyzing her actions or trying to force her life's purpose out into the world. She was simply following her heart, doing something she loved and sharing it with someone else. This action had a powerful ripple effect.

I've spent the last year trying to leverage this next phase of my life to make a massive difference in the world, but perhaps that's not my role. We can't all be the Elon Musks, Billie Jean Kings or Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. But we can help them flourish. It takes all types of people to make this world go round.

As I continue navigating this transition, I'll be mindful of how my small actions may have unforeseeable effects. I'll feel good about doing what I can and stop worrying about whether it's enough.

I always love to hear your thoughts! Let me know where you find purpose in your life and how it has changed for you over the years!

When Your Dreams Begin To Haunt You...

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Most kids are taught to dream big.  When we're young, we bravely think anything is possible. But as the years tick by and we see failed dreams all around us, we begin to doubt the truth in that. Society begins to beat us down. Eventually, those dreams begin to haunt us.

It Starts With A Dream

I have wanted to be an Olympian since I was 12 years old.  Initially I thought it would be in mogul skiing, but when I found a halfpipe in 2002, I found my true calling.  At the time there were no Olympic Games for halfpipe skiing. It was so impractical to become an Olympic Halfpipe Skier that it made the dream easier to have.  In essence, I couldn’t be accountable for “failing” to go to the Olympics, if there were no Olympics.  There were so many external obstacles that could make this dream impossible.  So, I focused on all the other contests as potential stepping-stones for what I ultimately wanted to achieve. All the while, I was softly focused beyond those goals.  It was like Les Brown says, “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” 

As I began to achieve these smaller goals, one-by-one, I found a deep satisfaction with my ski career.   Sure, there were ups and downs, but gradually goals were being crossed off my list of “to-dos.” Win a world cup, check, win US Open, check, win WSI, check, win X-Games, check.  But this one goal always remained: win the Olympics.  When the sport officially gained acceptance in 2011, my dream suddenly began to feel daunting instead of motivating and I couldn’t understand why.

Having the Olympic dream as my larger goal, made all the smaller goals easier to achieve. They never overwhelmed me, because they paled in comparison to what I was really trying to accomplish.  But now this is it. We are getting down to the wire. There is a clearly defined timeline of when I need to be performing at my best, and my best suddenly needs to be better than a lot of other amazing skiers.  What is bigger than the Olympics?  How can I reach the mindset that I had when I was younger with this one last dream of mine? Perhaps I need to dream bigger, not just dream of being an Olympian, but reinstate my dream of being an Olympic Gold Medalist.  To do that, being an Olympian will have to happen, so I will begin to see myself as an Olympian, before I even get there. 

The Haunting Begins

When you get close enough to realizing your dreams, when you can visualize yourself standing atop that Olympic podium, national anthem blaring, grinning ear to ear, proud before the millions of people you’ve inspired - that's when the stage is set.  As we get closer to the Olympics, I look around the US Ski Team gym and realize that every athlete in here is aspiring toward that same goal.  Suddenly, I can see that person on the podium being someone else entirely - not me.  What makes me so special, what should I be the “chosen one?”  A sinking feeling in my gut overtakes me. 

I start to imagine myself on the sidelines watching another person realize my dream. The future that was supposed to be mine now belongs to someone else.  And that was when my dream began to haunt me.  It was as if my mind was preparing to deal with the potential “failure,” that might ensue.  “Disappointment management” I like to call it.  My father does this all the time, while watching sporting events on TV.  Towards the end of a game, if my his team is down, he’ll say, “That’s it! It’s over...” even if there is a reasonable chance for a comeback.  He’ll prepare himself for the disappointment that he might feel if his team does loose. But if they win, he’ll be that much more elated! 

To take this approach as a spectator is one thing, but to do that as an athlete, is another.  If you think you’re going to lose you will, more than likely, lose.  So, as scary as it is to see yourself as the winner because of the possibility that you will fall short of your expectations, that is the only way to achieve your goals.  See yourself where you want to be.

Look Beyond Your Fears

In moments when your dreams feel overwhelming, your mind begins to play tricks on you.  It will attempt to minimize your goals, “What do the Olympics matter anyway?” It will actually try to convince you that your dream is fruitless and superficial, “you’re a fool to be attached to such a lofty goal because there is so much luck involved.”  Yes it is true that timing can be everything—so rarely does an opportunity like this come around.  But we can’t be afraid to dream. 

If I never dreamed of being an Olympian I don’t think I would be able to say that I am X-Games Gold Medalist or a World Champion.  It was the courage to look beyond what was directly in front of me that carried me so far.  It’s like climbing a ladder. If you're only looking at the rung directly in front of you, it’s not overwhelming, but as soon as you look behind you and realize how far you’ve come, how high you’ve climbed, the thought of falling becomes very scary.  The closer I inch toward my Olympic dream, the closer I get, the deeper the wound will be if I don’t make it.  There is much further to fall now than when I began this journey as a wide-eyed, naïve teenager.

Pressing On

The last few years have been extremely humbling. Many of my worst fears came true, and somehow I was still okay.  I know that I want this, I know that it is worth the fear and the doubt to continue in this pursuit.  I hope to rise to my potential in time for the Olympic Games, to have my comeback moment occur when it matters most, but I also know that what is meant to happen will unfold.  This is my path, and I must believe it is the right path—I will follow it through the brush, until it ends.  From there I will find my way. 

"Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it."  Bill Cosby

I'm Not Done Yet

The alarm went off at 6:15 as it has every morning for the last week and a half.  It’s dark outside- winter’s dawn won’t be for over an hour.  My bed feels too hot, and I struggle against the tightly tucked layers of sheets and blankets, to free my left leg and expose it to the crisp air.  Ahhhh.  At first I forget that I don’t need to be awake; it’s finals day for the New Zealand Winter Games, and I failed to qualify.  But my roommates and teammates, Anais and Anna, need to get up, as does our coach Elana.  We are sharing quarters for the month down here as we train and get ready for the biggest potential contest of our lives, The Olympics. For the last week we have been on the same schedule: 6 a.m wake up, slow crawl out of bed, immediately turn the electric kettle on to boil water for our French Press coffee, whose plunger is currently held together with medical tape (it’s all we have on the road).  I prepare 2 eggs mixed with a bit of milk; the gas stove in our kitchenette burns hot, so the eggs cook quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them and getting my gluten free bread toasted perfectly by the time my eggs are done cooking is always a challenge.  After a week, I’m beginning to get it down.

My eyes and head feel heavy.  Abruptly leaving behind the long days of summer for the stunted days of winter in New Zealand makes mornings seem darker than usual—we’ve been cut off of our sun addiction cold-turkey.  My 2 other roommates awaken around the same time and we awkwardly dance through the small living-dining-cooking space, as everyone prepares for the day ahead—Anais with her yogurt and muesli, Anna with some toast with an egg, ham and cheese, Elana with a cup of coffee.  Slowly ski clothes find their way out of the bedrooms, ski pants climb their way up our legs, excess coffee is poured into to-go mugs and we tumble out the door toward our cars.

Elana drives the Ford Ranger—it’s 4-door truck with a short bed, but it seats 5.  All of our skis and poles go in the back of the Ranger (11 pairs in total) and 5 people load into the cab.  My car, as I like to call it, is a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado—“The Prado”.  It’s a huge, wide, very American looking SUV.  We have one of the rear seats up, so that we can fit 6 people, 6 backpacks and 6 pairs of boots.  I climb into the right side of the Prado as the rest of the kids fight over shotgun and bitch.  The auxiliary cord gets passed to the backseat somewhere and Lil Wayne begins to sound.  I’m always shocked at how good rap can make me feel before the sun is even up.

We pull out of our drive, remembering to stay left.  Some days Elana is the lead car, and other days I am; some days we try to break ground speed records and other days we try to practice the skill of patience as we sit behind a car going a mere 90 kmh in a 100 zone.  Elana is typically more aggressive on the pavement in the first part of our drive, while I prefer the dirt of the second half.  Getting up to the base of Cardrona Ski Resort takes between 28 and 40 minutes (depending on how we choose to drive) and the pipe is open from 7:30-11 or 10 or 12… New Zealand isn’t the best at creating a consistent schedule.  But, this morning is a contest day, so the schedule will be a little different.  And then I remember, I’m not competing.

Yesterday was the qualifiers for the World Cup.  Going into it I was feeling really good.  My skiing was progressing nicely, training had been on a steady incline and I was prepared to peak for contest day.  My warm-up runs felt solid, and I was done with about 5 minutes remaining of our 35-minute session.  There were 26 girls competing and I felt confident about being in the top 12 to qualify for finals.  The run that I was competing was fairly basic compared to my best skiing of 2 years ago.  Big straight air, alley-oop mute, 540 safety, alley-oop 5, cork 7 tail, switch 180.  That run earned me 2nd place at this exact contest 2 summers ago.

In my first run I landed really low on my alley-oop 5, I didn’t touch the ground with any part of my body and I fought through, determined to stand up and finish the rest of the run.  I was really proud to have skied away from that trick and glad to feel the strength in my right leg after all it has been through.  Last winter, stepping into my binding was a challenge and now I am able to pull off landings that would be tough for anyone of any age, gender, health or strength.  My score was a 68 and put me in 9th.  I was happy to at least be in finals, for the time being.  I made the decision to keep my alley-oop 5 in for the 2nd run- my thought process being that I’m not going to the Olympics without it, and I felt that I will land it better and improve my score from run 1.  Most of that statement was right, I landed the trick better, but still low and somehow felt really slow going into my 720, last minute I thought to do an air to fakie instead so that I could still do a switch 180, but I decided too late and ended up just flailing on a straight air.  I didn’t fight.  My stomach sank, and I felt that I had just made a big mistake.

My intuition was right.  4 girls managed to land better 2nd runs and I moved from 9th place to 13th—one spot out of finals, one short fight away.  But sometimes that is how the cookie crumbles.  My intention for this first event was to do the run that I did.  My skiing is exactly where I had wanted it to be at this time, but adjusting to where that has placed me was tough.  As I said, 2 years ago that run landed me on the podium (granted it was a little cleaner) and now it didn’t even make finals.  It is a proud moment to observe the growth that this sport has gone through, but an intimidating one.  The path that I have laid out for myself has me peaking in December, taking every step, and pausing there for a moment, one new trick in training, one new trick in a contest run; not skipping ahead just for the sake of a competition.

I'm feeling reconnected with the sport that I once loved greatly and drifted away from for a while.  It feels really good to be motivated again, to want to learn new tricks, to be able to focus on the elements that are in my control, no longer distracted by the doings of others. The Olympics won’t mark the end for me whether or not I qualify to compete, so I will just continue look ahead.  I will progress on the timeline that I lay out, not forcing anything based on the looming event that has us all on pins and needles.  I’m not done skiing yet.

Staying focused on your future goals in times when you fall short of your immediate goal is imperative to success.  Know that you have what it takes to get there as long as you are patient.  Often we are only one trick, one day, or one moment away from being where we intend to be, but we give up just before we can see over the horizon.  Do not quit too soon,  “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”  Thanks for that, Helen Keller.

(Side note: I watched finals that morning.  It turned into a one run contest because the fog was so intense.  My US Freeskiing teammate Devin Logan, ended up winning.  It was her first contest back from an ACL tear she suffered in New Zealand one year prior.  My good friend Angeli VanLaanen got 2nd, her first podium at a Platinum level event since her return to skiing post recovery from Lyme Disease treatments.  Anna Drew ended up in 5th after crashing really hard on a right 900 in training (her unnatural way of spinning).  I was happy to see her healthy and skiing.  And Anais did a beautiful 900 first hit and went a little big on her alley-oop 5 resulting in a crash. She ended up 12th, but is skiing really well. On to the next one.)

So Much To Be Gained In The Struggle

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jen_hudak_crouches Hello everyone and welcome. I am here to tell you that anything you want to achieve in life is possible and not only is it possible, it is entirely worth pursuing.

I grew up in the suburbs of Hamden, Connecticut.  I have one older sister, two amazing parents, and always seem to have a pet of some kind.  As a kid, our dog was a Golden Retriever named Rusty, and as an adult, I have a dog, Milo and two cats, Bella and Bucky.  Life was pretty simple as a child as I look back on it 20+ years later.  My family encouraged my energetic nature and I played many sports; traditional ones like soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, and the less traditional ones like climbing, kayaking, and skiing.  My parents loved the mountains and for as long as I can remember, our weekends involved a 3 hour drive up into the Green Mountains of Vermont, where we had a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere, our closest neighbors being coyotes, deer and trees.  Spending time up there was always magical- it gave me awareness from an early age that there were alternative places to live and alternative ways of living.  I often felt like a different child when I was in Vermont, a more liberated version of myself.  I could play outside in the backyard tracking gardener snakes and frogs and bring them proudly inside to my parents who were generally frightened and appalled!  But there was a spirit inside of me that really came alive in those mountains and as I grew up, my desire to spend more time up there increased.

Through my time in Vermont, I also found a passion for skiing, alpine skiing, the adrenaline filled kind.  From an early age I took to the sport and would often leave my dad bewildered as I took off straight downhill at top speed as he helped coax my sister one pizza wedge turn at a time.  I would always wait at the chairlift for both of them, ready to head back up and do it again.  By the age of 9 I was keeping up with my father on all of the terrain at Okemo Mountain, and where we both would truly come alive was through the mogul fields.  What could be better than a snowfield of hundreds of mounds of snow—unrelenting obstacles asking to be overcome?  We would chase each other like cat and mouse, beaming extensively, smiling ear to ear.  Our days were long.  We would ski from 9 until 4 in the afternoon, with only a short lunch break of chicken tenders and the world’s most delicious curly fries.  And upon returning home to our cabin, we would collapse on the floor in front of the fire in our wood-burning stove, trying to rejuvenate so we could do it again tomorrow.

Eventually my dad encouraged me to join the Freestyle Team at Okemo so that I could utilize the knowledge of coaches.  We would see the team training, and though I had a desire to get better I was scared about meeting new people and not being able to ski with the comfort of my dad every day.  Ultimately I took off my training wheels and joined the team, but my first year was very challenging.  I was the new kid, and as all the other skiers went to each other’s slopeside houses for lunch, I would meet up with my dad and continue skiing moguls, continue training.  I felt that the only way for me to really be accepted into the group was to come out skiing really hard, to earn respect through my talents and my skill, perhaps why I still feel I need to be good at everything that I do.  But my talents and skill were not shining through under such pressure.  I began to fall a lot more than I ever had.  By the end of the season I was pretty discouraged and doubted whether or not I should continue.  Again, my desire to overcome the obstacles in front of me, the moguls of snow and emotions, convinced me to push on.  The next year went a little more smoothly and as my skiing began to give me confidence, my personality started to shine through.  Soon enough I was being invited to lunch at the fancy slopeside houses, where we would watch ski movies and make assembly line grilled cheese sandwiches.  It was at one of these lunches where I would fortuitously see a girl, Marie Martinod, do a 540 in a halfpipe, on a TV screen.

I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from there, but it wasn’t.  That season, it was suggested that I learn how to jump so that I could eventually enter a mogul contest, which consists of 3 sections of moguls with a jump in between each section.  One of the best skiers on the team told me to go straight toward the jump, no turns, make a few pole plants for extra speed, lean forward and when I get to the end of the jump pop really hard.  He didn’t realize that even at the age of 11 I was very analytical and I took his commands verbatim.  As I left the jump, I began to flip, I tucked my head intuitively out of fear and landed on my back, after executing ¾ of a front-flip to ironic perfection.  Instantaneously both coaches were standing above me, very concerned, there were gawks and gasps from everyone on the team, and I knew I did something unexpected.  I was mortified.  I wanted to crawl in a hole, to turn back the hands of time and do it right.  But that wasn’t an option.  I just had to carry on and my embarrassment didn’t stop there.

Once I started skiing better with the team, I was encouraged to start competing.  Again, I was put under pressure to perform my skill, alone.  There is no one else to hide behind when you are competing in ski competitions, no one else to blame for your mistakes.  In my first competition I fell 4 times in one run. I even fell as I was crossing the finish line, sliding dramatically into the fencing at the bottom of the course just narrowly preventing me from catapulting into the trees.  I was off to a bumpy, pun intended, beginning.

But for some reason, I kept going.  It must just come back to LOVE, right?  I just loved skiing so much that I kept returning to these difficult situations.  No, that wasn’t it.  If it was just love and all I wanted to do was have fun, I would have gone back to my 9-4 days of skiing with my dad.  I wanted to overcome this. I wanted to conquer my demons, stare fear in the face and win.  I wanted to master my craft.  And when I would make it through one of these obstacles, the feeling that I would have afterward was virtually indescribable.  It was (and still is) a feeling that suggests that everything at first seems impossible, but actually, nothing is impossible!  How empowering.

I realize today that I am the same as I always have been.  I am the same girl that wants to overcome, the same girl that saw obstacles and trouble as a place for growth and opportunity not as some horrific unconquerable mess.  There are so many parallels to my journey as a young girl just entering this sport to my journey now as an accomplished pro.  Setting aside the ego, ignoring feelings of embarrassment and shame, feelings of not fitting in or being understood, feelings of doubt, these are all issues that I continue to manage, just with a greater awareness now.  As a kid, I did so instinctively, and now as a socialized adult I have to do so consciously.

This process becomes more familiar with age, but not really any easier.  Now, there is a lot more to lose- a career, a house, a lot of money, but just as much to gain.  The longer I continue down this path, the more I learn about myself and the more I have to share with others; I gain pride and a sense of accomplishment with every passing day, I have more opportunities surrounding me, more doors waiting to be opened than ever before.  I continue to look past my doubts and fears because I have confirmed over the last decade that focusing on those is the fastest way to make your doubts and fears your reality.  I suppose that my mission in following my dream is to pass along the word to others, that if it’s easy, it’s not worth it.  There is so much to be gained in the struggle, so much to be gained in following your heart.

Don't Let Your Dreams Define You


 

“Don’t run from your monsters because I hear they can heal you.” Jayson Haws

The last 3 months have been the most challenging few months of my life.  Without rehashing the details, but still informing new readers, I’ll catch you up.  On January 10th I sustained a severe knee injury, a season ending and career threatening injury, and that same day, my friend, greatest idol and rival sustained a life ending injury.  The following weeks and months were relentless.  I endured surgery on my knee as numerous friends and teammates also sustained season ending knee injuries.  Another friend was caught in an avalanche that took 3 lives, hers being spared because of a life saving airbag backpack.  My father has continued to battle the aftermaths of a non-optional stem-cell transplant needed to cure him of leukemia.  And my mother continues to bear the stress of our entire family, while being my father’s primary caretaker.  I should be broken down, unable to get out of bed, certainly not able to crack a smile.  I was for a while, but I am no longer.

When life gets this hard, we often collapse.  But sometimes it is within that collapse that we experience our greatest growth.   I hit rock bottom around the beginning of February.  I began questioning my path, what my goals and intentions were for this life, if the risks were worth taking.  At first I was extremely overwhelmed, too many thoughts of the past and fears for the future were bogging me down.  But then I had a realization about the importance of staying present. (I wrote about that here.) After living with the intention of staying present, I have begun to see some serious improvements in my well-being.  My life hasn’t dramatically turned around but I feel more emotionally stable and happier overall.

By focusing on this, I was able to resign myself to the present moment, to let it be.  I stopped keeping track of time, I stopped placing a timeline on my healing process, I stopped having expectations of where I should be.  I began to accept my circumstances any given day. Living by the motto: where I am, is where I am supposed to be.  I started making the best choices in every moment to encourage healing; I work as hard as I can when things feel great, and I back off when things don’t feel good.  And now, I am flowing with the tides; I am no longer fighting the current.

But there was still a part of me, deep inside, that wasn’t ready to completely let go.  The part of me that brought me great success in skiing, the competitor, my ego, it wasn’t ready to surrender- until yesterday. Friday morning, mid-workout, I had another epiphany.  One that led me to this thought: Don’t let your dreams define you.  Believe in your dreams, chase your dreams, but remember that YOU ARE NOT your dreams.   My competitive spirit was afraid to let go, because of the fear of not reaching my biggest goal: Olympic GOLD.  This is something that I have aspired toward for my entire life.  I always saw myself as an Olympic gold medalist, before my sport was even an Olympic event.   For a while, namely before my sport got added to the Olympic schedule, I wasn’t afraid to shoot for that dream.  There was a buffer there, something that I could always blame my “failure” on.  Hey, if my sport isn’t in the Olympics then it’s not my fault if I don’t go…  My mindset changed, or at least, my emotions changed when my sport got into the Games, and after this injury I began to feel even more doubt.  This “Fear of Failure” demon has been haunting my dreams, day and night.

It seems that people with big dreams all suffer through this in some way or another.   We attach ourselves so thoroughly to our dreams that the idea of not reaching them makes us sick to our stomachs.  Our sense-of-self feels threatened, our self-worth devalued, because we are unsure what we have to offer if we don’t reach that ultimate goal.  What we are missing, and what I just realized, is that it’s the way we choose to live in each moment that defines us, not the goals or dreams we are working toward.  It is the work that we are doing, not the work that is to be done, that makes us who we are.  So, for the first time, I feel at peace with what I am doing.   I will live with the intention of going to the Olympics. I will continue to make good choices, to try for that gold, but whoever said, “there is no such thing as try, there is either will or will not,” they lied.  Trying is worth a whole lot.  Trying is everything.  And trying may get you to your final destination, it may land you elsewhere, but if you are doing your best every day, then I believe you will finish where you were meant to.  Your value is in how you work, not simply in the work that you do.  So, try to be with yourself in every moment, and feel proud to be where you are. You are on the right track.

Overcoming Loss and Surviving Plateaus

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Loss: what a powerful four-letter word.  Loss is one of those inevitable uncontrollables that we all, at some point or another, have or will experience.  Whether it comes in the form of losing a job, your health, a loved one, or even your motivation, loss packs a punch.  In a matter of two rough weeks in January, I lost all of the things that I just mentioned.  On January 10th, I blew out my knee thereby losing my health and my ability to partake in my job (skiing professionally); on January 19th I lost a dear friend, my mentor and my idol, Sarah Burke.  Quickly following, my motivation to return to the sport I once so loved seemed to be drifting away.  I found myself entering a seemingly devastating state of hopelessness and knew I could not stay there for long. So how do you overcome loss, grief, and the long plateau of stagnation that often accompanies these times?  It is a question I asked myself repeatedly until I began to find my way out.

Last October I was in a really great place in life.  I had made some changes over the preceding months that made me feel as if I could do anything, achieve anything and could live happily for the rest of my life.  Reading Ekhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” enhanced the effect that these small changes had on me. Tolle presents the concept that anxiety and guilt come about when we stop living in the “now”.  That is to say, when we begin thinking of the future we rouse “what-ifs” which in turn create anxiety and stress.  What if my knee doesn’t heal… What if I can’t ski again… What if my Olympic dream is now awash? Thoughts of the past create feelings of regret and guilt.  If only I didn’t hit that jump… Why Sarah and not me? Neither of these thought patterns is productive since we cannot foresee the future and we cannot change what has happened in the past.  We can only ever truly be in the current moment; we are where we are, NOW.

Living in the now is an easy philosophy to live by when things are going smoothly.  When the present moment feels good, staying there is simple.  So last October, I readily embraced this way of living.  “Why bring undo stress into my life, when my current moment is going great,” I pondered.  This philosophy worked then, but got drastically harder when life got harder.  What if your present moment is not pleasant?  What if it is filled with constant reminders about what your life “used to be like” but no longer is?  (Like when I could walk and run with ease.)  When your “now” is filled with pain, how can you tolerate living in it?  Your brain tries to find a quick way out.  Instinctively we think about the past, retrace our steps and find that pivotal moment that would change it all, as if we could somehow defy the laws of the universe and turn back the hands of time.  When that notion fails us, we think about the future and remind ourselves of what is to come.  For a moment this provides hope, and gives us something to which we look forward. But as the long road winds on, and we are not noticeably closer to those goals, we begin to DOUBT. Will I ever get there? Will I ever feel like me again? Will I live with ease and smile at the simple things, ever again?

Last Wednesday, February 29, 2012, marked the 4th week post-surgery on my right knee.  With that came some freedom that I haven’t experienced for a while: I was able to drive my car again and I was allowed to begin partial weight bearing.  But the gift of “being able to walk again” was a double-edged sword.   When I was non-weight bearing I was able to tell myself “okay, things are hard right now because of all of the limitations on your knee… the swelling won’t go down until you can move your knee through walking and some biking… once I hit the 4 week mark things will improve!”  Well then I hit the 4-week mark and began to put some weight on my right leg after 7 weeks of non-weight bearing.  Reality, I am nowhere close to being able to walk…the road ahead of me looks longer than I imagined: bring on the DOUBT, bring on the fear.

I had stopped living in the now after my injury and Sarah’s passing, because it was too painful to just be here.  What I didn’t realize was that by projecting myself into the future or dwelling on the past, I was making my present moment that much harder.  By setting my sights on what was to come, I was setting myself up for disappointment.  Sure, my “now” may currently be tough, but it isn’t ever going to be any better or worse than it IS.  As the present moment changes it drifts away into the past and brings me to my next “now,” and nothing exists in the future, until the future is now.   The only way to get past hard times is to live through them.  Though that may seem disheartening, look how much there is to learn.  And just know that you are strong enough to get through this moment, and if you can get through this one, you can get through the next one, and the next one and the next.  Soon enough, that future will be your now.  In the words of Francis Bacon Sr., “we have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.”

To all my ski friends: shred on, and enjoy every moment out there.  We never know when it will be our last.