From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.11.12

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episodes 11 & 12: "It's Just A Million Dollars, No Pressure" - #TeamExtreme Recap

To put our experience on The Amazing Race into words is a near impossible task. The feelings of pride and joy, of disappointment, of overwhelm, and of gratitude, are welling inside of us and will be for weeks to come. But the outpouring of love and support that we have received following the final episode has truly been beyond comprehension. We set out to accomplish a difficult goal and that goal allowed us to spread a message far and wide, that women can be strong, smart, kind, and relentless. The Amazing Race gave us an incredible opportunity not only for that message to be heard, but received. For that, we are eternally grateful.

Kristi and I traveled to 8 countries that we've never been to, we got to experience new cultures, eat some different cuisine (ahem, scorpions), step outside our comfort zones, and push ourselves to the limit for 23 straight days. It was an experience that I'll remember for a lifetime and I was lucky to take it all on with Kristi by my side. While the final two legs of this race presented some challenges and the final result wasn't entirely what we set out for, we are still extremely honored to have finished this season with the lowest average of any all-female team in The Amazing Race US franchise. As a team, we never fell below 3rd place, a feat that has never been achieved by any team, male, female, or combined. It's a badge that we hold with great pride. Read on for our final recap and reflections of The Amazing Race Season 30.

Leg 11: Hong Kong

Where did your taxi take you when going to the Peak?

For the second leg in a row, we had some misfortune with our cab driver. The language barrier was thick, and our cab driver unfortunately took us to the pedestrian access area. We saw a sign that pointed to Victoria Peak (an 8-minute walk), so we decided to hoof it as our cabby was having a difficult time simply turning around. We just said, "you stay here and get turned around, we'll be right back!" I left my bag in the cab and pointed at it to make sure he understood.

The fortunate part about getting lost on our way there was that we were halfway down the mountain when it was time to race back to the detour! Haha! Also, I don't think Indy or Jody were able to retain their taxis at Victoria Peak, so that gave us an advantage getting to the detour cluebox. That's how we were able to catch up to those two teams.

What was so difficult about tying those crabs?

The crab challenge was deceptively difficult. First of all, learning how to pick up the crabs and not get pinched, then wrangle all their legs, then wrap the tie around them without a leg getting loose, was a tall-order! When we watched the demo we were told that we didn't need to do it the exact way, so we were perhaps a bit hasty when we started tying the crabs.

After a bit of difficulty we went back to rewatch the demo. That's when we started figuring out a better technique. There was a trick to twisting the rope (like when you're tying a present) so that it doesn't come loose when you change direction of the wrap. Unfortunately, the crabs that we tied at the beginning all came loose since they were wriggling to try to get free (poor little dudes). So we had about 15 crabs to retie out of 50.

Why didn't you switch detours?

Well, I suppose I should start with why we picked crabs in the first place. After our choice of detours (and switching detours) in Thailand, we felt like the crabs might be more straight forward. Especially knowing that Henry spoke some Mandarin (yes, I know that the restaurant challenge was in Cantonese) we felt that they may have an advantage. Kristi and I weren't racing to play safe and stay in it anymore. We were racing for a win.

When we switched detours in Thailand, we ended up quite far behind the other teams, so we felt it was a smarter choice to stay with the crabs. Certainly, that wasn't the case here, as Indy switched detours and still got out of the restaurant before Big Brother or Team Extreme.

What were you thinking when you saw Big Brother leave the boat?

We were freaking out. Well, I was freaking out. We knew that Indy Car switched detours. We knew we had been working on crabs for a LONGGGGGGGGGG time, we arrived to the boat slightly in front of Big Brother, so for them to overtake us was a terrible feeling. But there was nothing else we could do at that point. Kristi was staying more optimistic at this point and redirected my negative thoughts. We had about 12 more crabs to untie and retie when they left, so we just hunkered down. Kristi was less fearless with the crabs, so she did all the untying and then I'd start retying them as efficiently as possible. Our only option was to stay calm and finish strong.

How about when you got to the Roadblock?

Ugh. After we left the crab detour, we just kept saying, "we hope there is another challenge that can be an equalizer." Something akin to the song and dance in Zimbabwe, something skill based, that we might be able to gain time on. When we go to the roadblock and realized that it was a pure brute strength task and that Kristi basically had to go up against Cody, we were discouraged. We could hear Cody grunting. If it was hard for him, it was going to be really hard for us. That said, Kristi crushed it.

The reverberations through the bat into her hand caused sever pain, swelling and bruising. For two months after the race, she would wake up in the middle of the night with shooting pain in her hands. She broke two bats during that final challenge and bent a third. I was blown away by Kristi's fight through this challenge. It was so painful for her. Also, forgetting to read her clue barely affected the timing. She still had more bashing too do once she read her clue. When I saw BB leave, I started a timer on my watch. We were about 13 minutes behind them when we left the Roadblock, which was about the same gap leaving the crabs. We were just hoping our next clue didn't say "go to the pit stop."

How did you miss the Arch from Washington Square Park?

The first two images we found (the bull and the fez) had the colors of the race, so we were looking for yellow and red. We were repeating the locations of each leg to try to conjure images. Where we failed is we kept thinking Iceland for leg 1. We neglected to think about the fact that we started leg 1 in New York. When we saw that arc we thought it was l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which we hadn't been to. Looking at that black and white arch didn't register a THING! Now had it been yellow & red? Potentially a different story...

As for us being dismissive of the guy pointing the sign out to us, we were convinced he was drunk and had no clue... I mean, he was drunk, but apparently he had a clue! That was a big miss on our part. There were so many drunk people in this area. It was quite a mess of scene. Another drunk guy had given us terrible directions earlier, so we were a bit hesitant to trust anyone.

How did you finally solve the combination?

This was a point of contention for Kristi and I. We found the bull and the fez in less than 10 minutes of arriving at Lan Kwai Fong. Kristi had been trying combinations, in a systematic order in the cab. At this point, having two of the three numbers wouldn't have taken long to figure out. Unfortunately, we abandoned that strategy after a few failed attempts.

It can be hard to maintain your composure under that much pressure and stress. Kristi had just been put through the wringer in the Roadblock and I was trying to be sensitive to her wishes. Ultimately, it led me to unfairly implode. I just wanted to try numbers in a methodical way in case there was something weird with the locks. There wasn't. Eventually, I agreed to letting her try it her way and she was right. You didn't have to do both sides at the same time. And we got the combination: 3-1-5.

Did you know you were in 3rd place and ahead of Indy when you got to the mat?

We were hopeful, but we weren't sure. We hadn't seen Indy for about 10-15 minutes prior to getting our combination unlocked, so we knew there was a possibility that they had gotten out of there ahead of us. We also had no idea we were running to the pit stop, so we hadn't been thinking about our placement that much, we just continued focusing on racing. That's why it was so important for me to hug Kristi before Phil said a word. I just needed her to know that I loved her, that she was the best partner on this race, and that I was proud of everything she had done, regardless of the outcome.

We were devastated to see Indy get eliminated. It was a sad moment for us. We got very close with them during our time on the race and wanted to race in the final leg with them. But things can turn at any point in this race and unfortunately, this was the end for them.

Leg 12: San Francisco

Why was it hard to find the balls with the right numbers on them?

When we first paddled out to the cove, there were already hundreds of balls in water. All of us started paddling around, grabbing baseballs, trying to find some with numbers. They were all blank. At some point, Kristi noticed that there were balls splashing into the water from the ball park above. Really paying homage to Willie Mays & his home runs!

Both Kristi and I have paddling experience, so we positioned ourselves at the back of the cove facing the stadium. When we saw a new ball fly out of the stadium we paddled there efficiently. We knew the exact numbers we were looking for, but it still took some time to find them all.

You were first to get the number correct, but you made it to the bridge second. What happened?

The other teams figured that the only numbered balls would be numbers you needed in the answer. Unfortunately for us, Yale & BB got lucky in more than one way. Yale had found two 6s before they even knew the number they were looking for.  And, somehow BB managed to ask someone on the pier in the middle of the night to look up the answer for them. They managed to find their numbers quite quickly after that!

When we got our number approved by the umpire, he told us to "go to your team zodiac before you open your clue." There were no instructions about getting into the Zodiac. There were no instructions on what to do or where to go next. Nothing in our Roadblock clue, nothing in our ARI clue. We thought we had to paddle back to the pier and started to do so, until we saw BB getting into their Zodiac. Sooooo, that sucked. That's when Jessica and Cody jumped in front of us on the way to the Bay Bridge.

Did Kristi gain on Cody climbing the bridge?

The ascender wasn't just about strength. There was a lot of technique to it as well. Kristi made up some ground on Cody during the climb. She was less than 2 minutes behind him in the end. We started a timer (again) to figure out our lead on Yale as well. It's good to know what kind of time advantage you do or do not have. It was only about 12 minutes, so it wasn't a comfortable lead, but a lead none-the-less.

How did you pass Big Brother?

As I said on twitter, apparently we can now put Fortune-Cookie-Making into the life-skills-we-posses category. Haha! I don't know where that skill came from, but I was grateful to have it. We had no idea how far in front of other teams we were when we finished, we just knew we needed to get moving Asap.

The cookies were coming straight off the press, so they were HOT! Kristi was the first one to start and wasn't using gloves. It was definitely burning her fingertips, but she wasn't about to stop to put on gloves. In watching her, she was moving much more efficiently than Cody, who was wearing gloves. I figured the gloves were impeding his dexterity. Regardless, I decided to start with gloves on, since taking them off would be faster than stopping to put them on. But I was having a hard time grabbing the fortunes, so I ditched one glove.

What happened in that final challenge?

When Kristi and opened our clue, here is what we read: "Search the U.S.S. Hornet to find 12 airplane parts. Then, ONE of you must assemble your plane to show one image from each leg of the race. When you think your plane is "properly assembled," ask the Captain to check your work. If it's correct, he'll clear you for takeoff."  We read through the additional information and immediately kicked into high-gear to search for the parts. We were thrilled to see that this was the final memory challenge and that our strategy worked to put me in the position of solving the puzzle.

I have a mechanical mind, so when asked to “properly assemble” a plane, I instantly took took this to be a two part challenge. 1) Build a functional plane and 2) solve a puzzle with the images. Unfortunately, my ultimate failure was in paying too much attention to the first part, because in the end structural plane assembly didn’t matter. The big wings were actually dimensional meaning they had a thick edge, what’s known as a “leading edge,” that faces forward on a plane.  I therefore quickly deduced that I had two left wings and two right wings, which should have helped me solve the puzzle even more quickly.  This was my fatal error.

Compare this to the pieces for the tail wings. They were constructed on flat panels of wood and could all be interchangeable. Any of them could have gone on the left and any of them could have gone on the right, from a functional standpoint.

In the end the only thing that mattered were the images.  In fact to “properly assemble” the plane, I had to put two left wings on it.  One wing facing forward and one facing backwards.  A possibility I didn’t even consider until an hour or more after the others had finished and I had deemed the challenge impossible.  See below:

Why was it a plane if the only thing that mattered was the puzzle? How could a plane with two left wings be cleared for takeoff? Why was I the only one to notice the dimensions? These are questions I repeatedly ask myself and questions I cannot answer.

Admittedly, it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster but in the end I can confidently say I have absolutely no regrets.  Short of wishing for a new brain, there is no amount of studying or preparation that would have made me interpret that clue any differently. There's nothing I could have changed or done better. Kristi and I are so proud that we got to compete in every leg of The Amazing Race. It was an opportunity we had only dreamed of, and we couldn’t be more thankful to everyone that made it possible.  We had the trip of a lifetime. We are thrilled for Jessica and Cody, and continue to send them our heart felt congratulations.

Oh, and since I know there's just enough other nerds out there like me, here's the breakdown of my plane parts. I drew it as soon as I got home to try to figure out if I had missed something. I had not...

General Race Questions:

How many times during the race does luck of cab driver come into play? How many times did it benefit or hurt you?

Cab drivers are always a variable. Any time you need to use public transportation with a driver (taxi, songthaew, tuk-tuk), there is luck involved. We had seen so many seasons of this show where strong teams ended up eliminated because they got a bad cab. We didn't want to be one of those teams. After our bad cab in Morocco, we made sure to always get a map of our location so I could be navigating along with our driver to ensure that he/she was taking us where we needed to go. Here's the breakdown:

Belgium: Indifferent, not great, but not stellar. Still should have kept him at the Roadblock.

Morocco: Bad. Got out of there as fast as humanly possible.

Prague: Good. Best cab driver that we had the whole time. Kept him the entire leg. We profiled a few drivers to find a young driver who was more likely to have a cell phone and speak English. It helped for the former. Wish we could tip him more!

Zimbabwe (Imire): Bad (from Train station in Marondera to Imire). Despite production providing us all with vehicles, our driver was super slow. We were ~7 minutes behind all the other teams until Indy car's suspension went out and Ocean Rescue passed the Safari vehicles.

Zimbabwe (Harare): Good. He knew just enough English to get by, also knew Harare quite well. Combined with my neurotic obsession with using his phone on google maps, we were able to sneak in front of some teams. Kept our driver the rest of the leg.

Thailand: Bad. Would have gotten out if we had stayed in the city, but had no other option. Didn't speak any English. Didn't have a navigational device. Didn't know where either Detour location was despite me showing him on a map.

Hong Kong: Mixed. Started off bad, but stayed with us the rest of the night. Once we were back in the city, he was a lot better.

San Francisco: Indifferent. Made no difference in the outcome of our race. We were just glad we found him so quickly leaving the cookie factory. Still wish I could tip him more.

Did you know people were intentionally trying to give you wrong directions?

We didn't know at the time, but when the race ended, we learned that there were quite a few Big Brother fans out there trying to mislead Kristi and I. Jess and Cody's fan base protect them like it is their life's duty. When they were tracking us around the world, a lot of their fans would gripe about how much they disliked us (simply because we kept doing decently and seemed to be sticking around). In both Hong Kong and San Francisco people attempted to give us wrong directions. Fortunately, Kristi and I have enough common sense to realize that what they were telling us didn't make any sense with what we were trying to solve and where we were trying to go.

If you had the opportunity would you do the race again?

100% without hesitation, YES, OF COURSE WE WOULD! Regardless of all the ups and downs, the difficulty along the way, the trip up on the final challenge, this was the experience of a lifetime. It tops the list as the coolest thing I've ever done, and I've been fortunate to do a lot of cool things in this blessed life of mine.

What was the hardest task you had to perform during the entire race?

Jen: You really need to ask? The final challenge. It was physically demanding to find all the pieces of the plane, it was mentally exhausting trying to figure out the puzzle. It would have been difficult even if the wings weren't tripping me up.

Kristi: The TV’s in Hong Kong were by far the most difficult.  Some of the TV’s were from the 50’s or 60’s and were exactly like hitting brick walls.  I hit them dozens of times as hard as I possibly could only for the bat to bounce right back into my face sending reverberations straight though my hands.  I actually broke 3 bats, including a metal one trying to break through those TV’s.  When I got home I went for an X Ray because the pain in my hands took weeks to subside.  It’s the only challenge where I felt a disadvantage to the men on the other teams.

When did you feel most proud of your partner during the race?

Jen: I felt most proud of Kristi when I watched her doing the Roadblock in Hong Kong. She was in so much pain, there was nothing I could do to help and she never gave up. That would have been a really easy moment to throw in the towel, to say "I'm done." But she never did. She just battled on. And honestly, when I was watching her build that trebuchet in Chataeux Les Baux. She was up against 7 guys and got out of there in 2nd place. It was a shining moment. I was so proud.

Kristi: Gosh, I feel like we passed other teams every time Jen did a Roadblock.  She was brilliant in Iceland, Morocco, Prague, and she definitely carried our team in Thailand.  I was proud of her in all those moments, but I was actually most proud after the finale was over. Despite frustration Jen accepted the defeat with grace and humility and I am so proud of her for that.

How does it feel to know so many fans were rooting for you to win?

Jen: It feels incredible. On one hand I do still feel like I let people down, but on the other hand, I feel completely humbled by how much fans respected how we ran this race. We're honored. The greatest gift we could possibly get out of this experience was the chance to inspire even just one person. Money can never top that.

Kristi: It’s truly touching.  The letters from fans have certainly been the best part of taking of the race.  The messages explaining that we’ve inspired people, and especially women to be more fearless and face life’s challenges is the greatest gift we could ever receive.

And, for one last time, THANK YOU for being a part of this journey! We were blessed to experience The Amazing Race and sharing it with you has made it that much better. I hope each of you can find a little inspiration to dig deep when it matters, to pursue your life's purpose, shoot for your wildest dreams and break down barriers around you. YOU inspire US. So thank you. The World Is Waiting.

 

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.7.8

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episode 6: "All's Fair In Love & War" #TeamExtreme Recap

Woohooo we went to Zimbabwe!! Kristi and I have still not finished below 3rd place AS A TEAM after 8 legs of this race. Our consistency is something that not even Kristi and I can fully understand, but we feel very fortunate to have continued to perform well. Neither of us has been to Southern Africa at all and if my face didn't give it away at the start of the episode, we were so excited! I LOVE animals, so I was thrilled to be heading to a wildlife conservation.

How long did it take to get from Prague to Zimbabwe?

After we ripped our clue at Letna Park in Prague, we had to make our way to a travel agency to pick up our tickets. Yes, once again we were all on the same flight. Understandable considering how much of a venture it would be. We walked from the park to the travel agency since we had plenty of time. From the city, we took the metro to a bus to the airport. Then we had a sequence of three flights, including a 12-hour overnight flight from Zurich to South Africa. Once we landed in Zimbabwe, we had to take a taxi to a train station to a shuttle bus to a safari vehicle before arriving at bushcamp. All-in-all, it was about a 32-hour travel day, so we were fried when it came time to assemble that tent.

Aren't you and Kristi supposed to be good at setting up tents?

Hahaha!!! Yes, we've both spent a fair amount of time in the outdoors. I camp a ton with my husband, though thanks to Escapod, we don't camp in tents any more. That said, I've assembled many a tent.  From the train it was full on taxi race to Imire. The first 3 teams managed to stay together and cruise down a super sketchy road. Indy Car's suspension went out during the drive and they veered off the road right in front of us. We knew we were behind the other teams quite a ways, but rolled with it considering the potential outcome. We managed to assemble the tent pretty quickly, but we started about 7 minutes behind the first three teams (Yale, BB & Firefighters). Ocean Rescue impressed me more than anyone. They finished that challenge in 2nd despite arriving there last (10 mins behind the first three teams).

What did you think of the partner swap?

Besides potentially messing with Kristi and I never finishing below 3rd place, we're alright with it. (I still stand by the fact that we have all top-3 finishes to this point as we weren't racing together on leg 7 - have I said that yet?).

We are fully accepting that the Amazing Race creators can do anything they want. However, there was very minimal information provided at the time of the announcement. We didn’t know how long we would be racing for, what would happen to the last team to arrive at the pit stop, and when or IF we would be reunited with our partners. It was pretty stressful. Kristi and I had been racing really well together, so we weren’t thrilled to have something potentially disrupt our momentum.

Were you surprised that Jody picked you?

Kind of. We had been getting along with Jess & Cody really well on the race, but I don’t think Kristi and I quite realized how much teams were paying attention to our performance. Especially being athletes, we’re always looking for ways to improve our performance. We knew we had the best finishes of all the teams, but didn’t necessarily think of ourselves as the “team to beat” until this moment.

How did you decided which partner would switch with whom?

We were very much put on the spot. Since Cody & Jess chose us, Phil asked them who would race with whom. Cody pretty quickly said that he’d race with me and Jess with Kristi. At this point, Kristi leaned over to me and said, “I think your strengths would better match up with Jess and mine with Cody.”

In hindsight it’s always easy to play the “if-only” game, but Kristi is a better paddler than me, so on the rafts, I think it was good to have Kristi with Jess.

Did teams have to do opposite sides of the detour?

No, teams were allowed to do the same side of the detour. There were only 3 stations on each side, so if you arrived early, like we did, you could go choose the same detour. That might’ve been a game-changer for this leg. Or, it might not have made a difference, given how much the Firefighters struggled with the singing later on.

For the record, Kristi does know how to drive stick. However, should she and Jess have gotten stuck, Jess would have been the one doing the winching... they'd still be stuck in that mud puddle.

Then why didn't you switch detours to go with Jess & Kristi?

When the girls switched, it was my initial instinct to go with them. My thought was that 4 brains are better than two. We could potentially work together to get through it really quickly. Cody said that Jess is good at puzzles, so I let it go. That’s not to say that Kristi isn’t, but memory & puzzles are more my thing, physical is more her thing. Had we switched, that would have forced Evan and Daniel to do the 4x4, which could have been interesting… If Daniel were driving, Evan would have had to winch. Evan took stick driving lessons before coming on the race, but these trucks were really difficult to drive. (Hence why I switched with Cody at the water crossing).

Cody & Jen flew through the 4 x 4 challenge. How did they do that?

Cody & I worked really well as a team. The only "mistake" we made was not switching to help Kristi & Jess, but hindsight is 20/20. Originally, I started out driving with Cody in the back, so if we got stuck, he could do the winching. But when we got to the water crossing, I got a bit nervous about me doing the driving. The vehicles they provided were VERY difficult to drive. I kept accidentally starting in 3rd instead of 1st and it made for a very jerky ride... So, I switched with Cody at the water, which was the best decision I could have made.

The second water crossing was intended to get you stuck. We found a good route across and Cody knew a secret about this kind of the driving. Apparently you need to keep wiggling the steering wheel left and right so that you don't dig a giant rut. Welp, it worked! We nearly beat Phil to the mat. LOL. Production was scrambling when they saw us get our pit stop clue.

How did Jess & Kristi get so stuck on that puzzle?

There were a few factors that went into this. Partly, not fully understanding what was expected of them. The clue doesn’t explicitly state “remember the location and order in which you find the evidence.” Some teams read between the lines on this and realized it before getting to the puzzle. Regardless, Jess & Kristi got the first 5 correct and just scrambled the final 3 on their first attempt. Let me tell you one thing about getting a puzzle wrong on The Amazing Race. IT SUCKS! You very quickly start overthinking it, which I think they did.

They thought that they path may have been in a crisscross pattern instead of in a circle. Also, not knowing your new partners strengths and weaknesses makes it very difficult to know when to sit back or assert yourself. Once Evan & Daniel came through and got it on the first try, they realized it must be simpler than they were making it out to be. That's when it all came together for them.

Why didn't anyone U-Turn #TeamExtreme?

Though it sucked to finish at the back of the pack in Leg 7, we were very fortunate that Ocean Rescue and IndyCar were the two teams to finish about 20 minutes before us. Had it been Yale, we would have been U-Turned 100%. Because, according to Evan, that would have been the "strategic calculation" to make. And, she's right. If you were looking at the U-Turn as an opportunity to get the best team out of the race, we would have been it. However, Kristi and I were very close with Indy & Ocean Rescue. We were racing the same way and had a lot of respect for one another.

How did you and Kristi make up so much time through that Detour?

When we were in the cab from Imire Wildlife Conservation to Harare, we weren't able to exactly locate the haberdashery. We knew the street, but not the exact address. I asked our driver which end of the street the "fabric district" was on and he led us there. We made a left when a lot of other teams went right to arrive at the U-Turn board in 3rd place.

Rolling those tires through that marketplace was no easy task. It was about 92 degrees outside and we had to put those suits on over our clothes. Not to mention, we were instructed to "roll the tires like the locals do." The dirt roads had giant holes and rocks everywhere and the surface was extremely uneven. I just knew that the crux of the task would be locating the hardware store, so I kept my eyes peeled. That's ultimately what allowed us to jump in front of Indy & Ocean. We sprinted back to our cab to make our way to the garden.

Why was Kristi mad at you for helping #TeamYale?

Kristi wasn't really mad at me for helping Yale, but it wasn't the smartest race move. If you're going to help a team, it should be a team that will reciprocate that down the line. Henry & Evan gave us no reason to believe that they'd ever help us. They absolutely 100% would not. And I don't blame them. Kristi completely understood why Evan didn't help with puzzle in the previous leg. You can see that she moves past it quickly and shifts attention back to solving the puzzle. But it wasn't absurd for her to ask. If you don't ask for help, you generally don't get it (unless your Yale, and you pass me...oops). So, she was razing me a little bit. Especially because we had strong working relationships and loose alliances with some other teams at the time (Ocean, Indy & BB).

How long did it take you to get the singing challenge?

Kristi and I handily arrived in first place to the singing challenge. We were there for about 15-20 minutes before Ocean Rescue showed up and had already made 1 or 2 attempts on stage at that point. Every time we got up there, they'd tell us we had to another little thing different. First it was pronunciation, then it was keeping pace, then it was not using the paper, then we needed be dancing and grooving more, then my mic got unplugged, then they couldn't hear me well enough... It was like, seriously guys?!

The edit made it seem like we were all more stacked up than we were. The only other team we saw get on stage was Ocean Rescue. Brittany & Lucas very quickly realized it was more about putting on a show than nailing the pronunciation or pacing. Once they got it, we hopped back up and did our best to play to the crowd. We got it immediately after Ocean Rescue got theirs correct. At this point, the other teams were there and learning from our failings, so IMHO it helped them move through after fewer attempts.

What is the name of the song?

For your convenience, I've added the lyrics below. For now, you can watch this YouTube video of the song. Haven't been able to find it on iTunes or elsewhere.

Jen:      E’yay yoi-ye e’yay Ho-ye ba-bá

Pasi pã-no ka’ni pa-ne zee-edzo

Kristi:   E’yay yoi-ye e’yay Ho-ye ba-bá

E’yay yoi-ye e’yay ini n’do-da kwen-da

Jen:      Mwari’uyu akasika wo zwee-no tapira

Dokosi-kawo zeenovava

Kristi:   Musika akasika zweeno-fadza

Dokosi-kawo zweeno-su-weeza

Next week:

We're off to Baharain for the first time in Amazing Race history! We'll do some heavy lifting, make a splash, get up-close-and-personal with multiple mammalian creatures, eat some bugs and more. This is going to be an insanely action-packed two hours of adrenaline pumping RACING! Join us from 8-10 pm MT & CT (9-11 pm PT & ET) or DVR this sh*t and watch it later!!! Preferably both :)

 

From The Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.4 & 30.5

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The Amazing Race, Season 30, Episodes 4 & 5: "Gotta Put Your Sole Into It" #TeamExtreme Recap

My, oh, my! I think people are finally starting to understand why they're calling this season the "most competitive" season yet. Out of 30 seasons, that's quite the statement, but in the first 5 legs of this race, we haven't seen a repeat leg winner! ***Spoiler Alert*** Kristi and I did technically arrive at the mat first, but grrrrr... those head-to-heads. Guess we needed to have spent more time playing yard games like bocce ball instead of doing cool sh*t like skiing, mountain biking and wakeboarding (#NoteToSelf).

Read on to learn a few behind the scenes details about legs 4 & 5 of the Amazing Race. There were quite a few details missed in these episodes like a fender bender (our cab driver hit a car), a skipped active route info clue, half of a detour, a close call with our sound guy, and a few injuries.

Leg 4: St. Tropez, France

Why was every team on the same flight leaving Morocco, AGAIN?!

Before I get into this, I just need to tell you a little story... Leaving the palace in Morocco, there was a line of cabs along the driveway waiting for teams as we started this leg. You could hop in any old cab that you chose, so Kristi and I found one that looked a bit newer and hopped right in. Our cabby started to pull out and WHAM! Smashed into another car driving by... But, we're in a race, so we can't wait for them to get sorted. We just hop out, run to the cab in the very front of the line and tell him where we're headed. At this point we still think there's a chance of getting on an earlier flight so catching Yale & Indy was priority numero uno.

We were told we could book a more advantageous flight if we found one. Unfortunately, upon arrival at the travel agency, we learned that there were no other flights. The airlines that you can fly and the countries through which you can travel are limited. I think there are logistical and security reasons for this and in the end there were no other available flights. We asked at the travel agent for quite a while and then double checked availability on a computer later. We even discussed trying to take a ferry to Spain (only 8 miles across the sea) to catch a flight from there, but we weren't allowed. So, once again we were all bunched up.

Why couldn't #TheFirefighters figure out how to reverse their car in France?

The stick shift had a ring that you had to pull up on in order to move it into the reverse position. If you didn't know it was there, I'm sure it would be confusing. And maybe the driver's manual wasn't in english?? I had driven a stick shift like that previously, so it didn't trip me up. But they figured it out by the Les Beaux leg. I'm just glad that they didn't get t-boned while pushing their vehicle into position!

Kristi seemed to do really well at the Roadblock. Has she sailed before?

Kristi has not sailed before. She did grow up on water, but this activity was not intuitive. She understood what she was supposed to do right away, but the wind was blowing straight into the shore. They didn't show much of it, but she paddled most of the way out to the first buoy. Fortunately, she was able to catch the wind and tack all the way back into shore.

How did some teams get so lost leaving the detour?

The edit on this episode was cut somewhat short because they needed to allot more time for the head-to-head. One major detail that was missed was the second half of the detour. There was a second half, you ask?!?! Yes. After we finished making sandals (or baking bread), you had to deliver a finished pair (or baked loaf of bread) to a person in a restaurant in St. Tropez. This meant, we had another location to which we needed to find before arriving at the Place de Lices.

*There was also an additional route info clue, leaving the roadblock, that was edited out of the show. I suppose it didn't change the order at all, so they eliminated it.

What are your thoughts on the Head-To-Head now?

Ugh. The head-to-head. Blah. Well, this was a frustrating one, as you can imagine. To have run a really strong race leg and then have a few rounds of bocce (pétanque) determine your entire day, really sucks. Our thoughts remain consistent with what we said after the Belgium leg: we would be fine with the head-to-head if there was an opportunity to pick up time after it.

Kristi and I were waiting for about 25-30 minutes before IndyCar showed up. But our start times for the next day show us starting about 20 minutes after IndyCar. Had the head-to-head been upon arrival at the Roadblock, we would have had to play the same two teams, in the same order. Even with the same results (a loss to Indy & Jody) we may have been able to overcome it and still win the leg... Make sense? Another alternative would be to leave the head-to-head where it is, but if you're there for more than [xx] amount of time (say 10-15 minutes) before another team arrives, then you can check in. If there is a team right on your heels, you have to play them in a head-to-head.

Ultimately, I like the head-to-head, but think that there are better ways to implement it as to not nullify virtually everything else that had happened in the leg.

Leg 5: Les Beaux, France (Pronounced 'Lay Bow', not 'Lesbo')

Did you have any issues finding the castle during your drive from St. Tropez?

We had a great map of France, but it was of ALL of France. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite zoomed in enough to provide a comfortable level of detail to Les Beaux. Kristi did a great job navigating and found a route there, but it was not the most direct. We decided to take it anyway because the more direct route had road junctions that we couldn't clearly identify because of the scale. KRISTI & I DIDN'T WANT TO GET MAJORLY LOST. We arrived in 2nd, about 35 minutes behind Indy. So we lost a little bit of time, but still jumped in front of Jess & Cody. Guess they should have continued following us after they followed us to the highway ;).

What did you do when you arrived at the castle at 5 a.m., but it didn't open until 8:30?

When we arrived and found the IndyCar guys, we tried to hunker down and sleep on the cobblestone. That lasted for about an hour. It was FREEZING! Chomp arrived, then Well-Strung, then Jody (something like that)... we all discussed the idea of going to sleep in our cars for a couple hours and honor our arrival positions. It was very broken sleep as we kept waking up when other teams would arrive. Finally, around 8 am, we noticed that Yale was just arriving and decided to walk toward the gate. Holy bananas, they got REALLY lost. But they seemed to maintain their composure through all this adversity (frites race, chipped tooth, lost for 3+ hours...). Props.

This roadblock seemed cool, how did Kristi get it right on the first attempt?

This was a fun roadblock. Kristi joked on twitter that she "trained" for the Amazing Race by assembling IKEA furniture. It certainly wasn't intentional, but it probably did serve as excellent practice. There were no instructions, just a pile of parts and one complete trebuchet that you had to replicate. Kristi was thorough in examining the finished product before she started assembling it. Not just looking at what parts needed to go where, but in what particular order.

She also made a smart move with the big basket thingy (see photo)... Kristi anchored the long arm down with chains before trying to slide it on. She appeared to be neck-and-neck with some of the other teams at this point, but jumped way ahead with this move. I think we actually got out of there in 2nd, but I can't be certain.

Was it difficult to find the bull Arena? How cool was that place?

It was a bit challenging to find the Arena. The clue that we received from Cafe de la Fontaine only said the name of the arena and the town. According to google maps, it was about a 25 minute drive if you navigated directly there.

We found the general area quickly, but we wasted about 15 minutes just looking for the marked parking area... Turns out, the marked parking is easier to find when there are teams in front of you. Ocean Rescue saw us park and then the 4 of us started running through the town to find the arena.

The trickiest part was that the main staircase drew you straight up, but all the arches were gated closed. We ran all the way to the back of the building before realizing we weren't getting any closer to finding the entrance. At that point, I figured we should go back toward the main entrance to see what we missed. On the side of the stairs, there was a marked entrance, but it was quite hidden.

*This part of town was mainly a walking village but some of the roads would alternate between walking & driving paths. When cars were allowed in or out, these cylindrical barriers would get lowered into the earth. Then when it was back to a walking path, would pop up out of the ground. One of these popped up right in front of our sound guy, Mickey, and totally took him out! These guys are the most badass people I know. Mickey just got right back up and kept on running.

Were you in front of OceanRescue after the detour?

Once we completed the challenge at the Arena in Arles, it was a footrace back to the parking lot. Kristi and I went out a different exit and got in front of Lucas & Brittany. But we made the ultimate Amazing Race error and didn't fully read our clue. We were so used to being given very little information about where we were going, that we stopped to ask someone for directions. You can see it happen in this BTS video here. I guess we don't have compasses in our hearts, Brittany!

Brittany & Lucas realized that they had directions all the way to the pit stop, so they cruised on by and got themselves a well-deserved W. It was only upon getting back in our car after asking directions that we realized we had all the information in our clue. Our bad! Won't be making that mistake again...

What do you think about Brittany & Lucas' engagement?? Jen, why did you ruin the moment?!?!

Kristi and I are so happy for Lucas & Brittany. I love how clever Lucas was with his hiding spot for the ring and that he asked for his headphones at such an awkward time. Haha! I still want to know why Brittany thought this meant he must be cold?! They had a tough few legs leading up to this, and it was great to see their strengths shine.

I don't know why, but I knew as soon as Lucas opened his mouth that was about to propose. Brittany didn't even register what was happening. She was just gazing at Lucas in awe. That's when I realized that I shouldn't be gasping out loud and tried to hide my face by turning toward Kristi. Ooops! Too late :) Selfishly, it was an honor to be there to witness this. It was a beautiful moment. And even if Brittany wasn't fully listening, the words Lucas had to say about her truly melted hearts. I'm glad they have it on tape!

Quick Summary of Legs 4 & 5

Overall, legs 4 & 5 of The Amazing Race were incredible. The South of France is one of the most stunning places I've ever been and I hope to return to explore the mountains at greater length. We've still managed to stay in the top 3 for 5 legs (the only team to do so) and are feeling stronger with each step. We know that there is only one #1 that we need and that's where we're focusing our attention. We made one major mistake in Leg 5 that likely cost us the win (e.x.- not reading the entirety of our clue, which gave us exact directions to Hotel Benvengudo), though we have no regrets considering how that leg turned out!!

On To The Next!

Next week, The Amazing Race heads of to Prague, Czech Republic (my great-grandparents moved to the US from here), so I couldn't be more excited to see this country up close and personal. There will be a lot of beer references and a throwback to a legendary roadblock from season 15. Tune in 8/7 c on CBS!

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.3

The Amazing Race Season 30 Episode 3: "It's Gonna Be A Fragrant Day" #TeamExtreme Recap

Hope you had fun watching Amazing Race Episode 3 - and if you haven't yet had the chance to watch yet, you definitely should! This was my favorite leg so far. There were so many lead changes, the scenery was stunning, and the Roadblock was really well thought out. Once again, Kristi and I end up in country we've never been to (no skiing challenges yet) and got to cross another one off the list! Morocco was stunning and the architecture was so intricate. I'd love to go back and explore when I'm not running around with a gnome under my arm ;) ***Spoiler Alert*** Kristi and I are now 3 for 3 with top 3 finishes and are learning from our mistakes in every leg. We're the only F/F team left and are stoked to keep on running! Share your favorite moment from Leg 3 in the comments below!!

What was the deal with your cab driver?

Great question. He definitely didn't speak any of the languages that we speak, and I don't think he much enjoyed having the cameras in his cab. According to some Race experts, if you're in a bad cab, you should get out and find another one. While agree with this, it's not always that easy. We left from a hotel 10+ miles from the medina/fish port area of Tangier. It was mostly residential and cabs weren't aplenty, so hopping out to find another cab was a tall order. We tried communicating with him in French, Spanish, English & fish-face...to no avail.

Once we got to the Petit Socco, we decided to jump ship and ask the locals. We obviously knew we weren't at the port, but needed to separate from our cabbie. Using sound reasoning, we decided that fish ports must be on the water, so our first goal was to run down the hill to the shoreline. Once there, we found a gentleman from Spain who spoke English and was able to point us to the fish port.

TeamExtreme cruised through that fish challenge - what was your strategy?

Well, arriving in last place readily adds fuel to the fire. There was literally no time to be squeamish about the smell or texture of the fish, we just needed to get in and out asap. Kristi saw other teams there, but I didn't, so I thought we were in last, last, last the whole time. We quickly fell into our roles at this challenge. Kristi just started scooping out masses of fish and I started arranging them. I noticed that the example was extremely precise. Not only were the heads facing up, but also their bellies, and the fish were formed into very neat layers and rows. We made a base layer with fish so that the angle of our presentation layer was a bit easier to form.

Fortunately, we got the task done before Indy (love you boys!) and Kristi's french proved to be very helpful for getting directions to the next location. We actually lucked out, in that the Souk was up near the Petit Socco where our cab driver wrongly let us out earlier in the day. Also, we got to run up some hills, which I think is one of our strengths compared to other teams. We were the 5th team to get the Roadblock clue.

What did you think about the situation with Jess, Brittany and the Gnome?

Listen, it's a race. Both Kristi and I bonded with Jess and Brittany on this race. They are fierce, strong, smart women. Things get crazy in this race. When you are out there, it's pure survival. This was the first leg in which there was a TON of interaction between the teams during a challenge. We were all collaborating at various points and somewhat leapfrogging off of each other.

For example, I started out at the back of the pack on the Roadblock and worked with Brittany to get to the first zip line. After that, I spotted a sign for the Kasbah, which allowed us to make up serious ground. Arriving to the Kasbah, we ended up with EVERY OTHER TEAM (except Cedric, who was still out front). When I saw everyone else, I had to split from Brittany and run my race. Then I linked up with Chris from Well-Strung to find the tele-boutique and after that, Conor from IndyCar to make our way back to the Souk.

In the case of Jessica and Brittany, I don't think that Jess took the gnome from Brittany's hands with the intention of having her forget her gnome. If they weren't at the back of the pack, maybe Jess would have said something to Brittany. But, you never know what's coming in this race. For example, your next clue might tell you to run to the Pit Stop or it will send you into a challenge that doesn't play to your strengths. Every second counts.

Simultaneously, I understand where Brittany is coming from. It's hard to not be suspicious of another's intentions when you're competing against complete strangers in a game with very vague "rules" for $1,000,000... This race certainly brought out paranoid thoughts in me. Only Jess knows her own intent.

What didn't we see during the Roadblock?

First of all, Kristi and I had no idea that we were in 5th when we got to the Roadblock. Since Brittany was right there with me, I asked her if she wanted to collaborate to find the American Ligation Museum. To which she responded, "as long as you don't run off on me once we find it." Fair enough, I thought. It took us forever to find the museum, but Brittany found someone who spoke Spanish and was willing to show us. Except that he was about 75 years old and just walked (walking might be generous) the whole way there. I was freaking out. I think we were the last two teams up to that first location, and I sent my Gnome off first and stood by my word and waited for Brittany to send hers off. Then we worked together to retrieve it and find the Kasbah.

When I split from Brittany after we got meshed in with the other teams I was so worried that she was going to be pissed that I ran off. But, then the whole gnome thing happened... After retrieving my gnome from the 4th rooftop, we had to find the tele-boutique. I worked with Chris to find the phones. What they don't show is that I used all my coins on the first call and then was trying to juggle the gnome and the coins and hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder... The recording played, then there was a dial tone, and I was like, "uhhhhh, I have no idea what that just said and I have no more coins."

Fortunately, Conor showed up right then and didn't know where to get the coins. So, I told him that I'd tell him where to find the coins if he told me what the phrase was. He agreed. Then we worked together to find our way out of that crazy maze and to find the detour.

Why did you choose "Shake It Off" and not "Drop It Off"?

Honestly, despite being tired from the Roadblock, our decision was more about the complexity of the tasks than physical exertion. Running around that town during the Roadblock, made me very aware of how difficult it was to navigate in the medina. However, Kristi does not dance (I mean, neither of us really does) and we weren't sure how stringent they would be with our dancing. But, I didn't feel like getting lost anymore, so we opted for "Shake It Off"... Fortunately, they weren't too strict with our dance moves! After seeing the show (and talking with teams that did the other detour) it's clear we made the right decision. But, as I said on the show "no one will ever cheer for my dancing like this again!"

Oh, side note. Funny story, Amazing Race production gets our measurements before we come on the show so that our costumes "fit." However, my hip to waist ratio is a bit insane because of my skier's booty. So, when pants don't have a zipper, it's really challenging to get them on. It was quite the process to get those pants on. Kristi was attempting to lend a hand, but I basically had to do hip circles for a few minutes to make it work...

Amazing Race Episode 3 #TeamExtreme Summary:

We got to the first task in last, left there in 8th (2nd to last) surpassing Indy. Then we arrived to the Roadblock in 5th, hopped around from 2nd to last to tied for first. We finished the roadblock in 2nd. Then we went to the detour where I had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. Ultimately, we finished the leg in 3rd. Our third top-3 finish in a row.

Next week we head to St. Tropez, France! Kristi FINALLY gets to play in the water and I get to continue working on my cheering game.

From the Cutting Room Floor - TAR 30.2

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The Amazing Race Season 30 Episode 2: “You’re The Best French Fry Ever” – #TeamExtreme Recap

Another leg down, another country we've never been to, and Kristi and I landed on the podium during The Amazing Race once more! This week's episode was able to capture a lot more of the "real" action from the race (i.e. - the action that played a major role in any team's performance). Without needing to spend as much time introducing the teams' background's and only covering 10 teams' journeys, allowed for this. However, there's still a few details to fill in about our race.

Why were you in such a hurry leaving the mat in Iceland if all the teams were on the same flight?

When Kristi and I opened our clue, it told us that we had flights reserved for that afternoon, but that if we found a more advantageous flight, we could take it. So we were in a hurry to get there to see our possibilities! When we got to the travel agency, we found a flight that would arrive about 30 minutes earlier than the original itinerary. We were likely the ONLY team who could make this flight as it left in just over 2 hours (which would mean we had to race to the airport). It would be a longer day of travel with a connection through Oslo, but an advantage is an advantage, right?

Why didn't you book the alternate flight?

Going into this race we told ourselves that if we were the only team who could get on a seemingly advantageous flight, that we SHOULD NOT take it. We learned from watching this show that it's sometimes safer to have other teams around you, especially early on. However, adrenaline (we're on the Amazing Race) and ego (we want to maintain our lead) played a role and we were VERY close to pulling the trigger. Jody came in and left, calm, cool, and collected, so we could only assume that they took the original flight. Then we realized that the airport was not the one for which I saw the sign close by, but actually 50 minutes away. (This was when I realized we had directions from the wrong airport in leg 1).

By taking the second flight, we ended up with hours to get to the airport. So, we decided to take a bus to save money. In the bus ticket office, we took off the boots given to us in Leg 1, and asked them to take them to goodwill. Hopefully they ended up there! We took the bus with Yale, Well-Strung and Indy, while other teams, with later starts, took taxis. This was the first opportunity that we had to actually talk with Trevor & Chris, since we were on different flights to Iceland.

When did you arrive in Belgium?

We landed in Amsterdam around 7 or 8 p.m. and had to take a train from Amsterdam to Antwerp. All the teams got in an unnecessary footrace to the train station to all end up, yet again, on the same train! When we arrived at the station in Antwerp, we had to find the chocolate shop. It was after 10 p.m. at this point, but we had to assume that were going to be thrust into a challenge as soon as we found the shop. So, we started running, again. Well-Strung got their first, followed by Indy, followed by Kristi and me. This is when we learned that the shop wouldn't open until 9 a.m. the next day. Time to hunker down.

Where did you sleep?

We slept on the floor of an old hotel? Not entirely sure what the building was, but we were in a large open room that had a small kitchen/bar in one corner, and one random couch in the middle. Everyone found their spot and set up camp. Amazing Race production was kind enough to provide teams with  light foam sleeping pads, but we didn't need them since we brought our own. Or so we thought...We gave Indy our sleeping pads, so they could double up, but it got really COLD overnight. Kristi and I kept adding layers until we had nothing left in our bags. Turns out inflatable sleeping pads don't hold heat well. Poor Cedric, however, didn't sleep a WINK that night. But it didn't seem to impact his performance the next day.

Kristi crushed the Roadblock, what was her strategy?

We arrived to the Sky Climb in 8th place...not where we wanted to be. Fortunately, there were 4 spots on the sky climb, so Kristi was able to go on the second ride, tying us up with the teams who arrived in 5th, 6th and 7th. Though most teams successfully completed the challenge on the first go (some of that is questionable though...), Kristi was able to get up the ladder and back down to the bottom before the ride was over. She wrapped her leg around the ladder, which helped keep her more vertical, thus making the climb faster. This enabled her to jump off, jet over to me, to read our next clue. She crushed it, passing 3 teams and putting us in 5th place, but you should have seen the bruises on the inside of her thighs!

Why did you choose to do "Old Print" and not "Diamond Glint?"

This was a very easy decision for us to make. In the description of the detours, there was an element of Diamond Glint that was very subjective: determining color and clarity. I don't think the mathematics element was actually the problem for any of the teams, but determining those values. Both of these factors changed the formula, so if you got them wrong, your answer was wrong. You'll have to ask a team who did it, but that's my guess. Old Print sounded much more straight-forward. Once we figured out that it needed to be a mirror image, we were able to move pretty quickly through it.

You left the detour in 2nd place, why did you arrive at the square in 4th?

When we got our clue leaving the printing press, we found a very nice woman who spoke flemish to translate it. Then we pulled out our "trusty" map of Antwerp and asked her where Silvius Brabo square was. We had a tourist map, which had images of historical buildings on the map. She pointed to one on the shoreline (or so I thought) and we navigated there quite smoothly, but it was the wrong building. We got hung up a little longer because we saw production equipment for post-race interviews. Eventually, we found someone who pointed us in the right direction and we made our way to the square.

What were your thoughts about the "Head-to-Head?"

For the first time in Amazing Race history, teams had to go head-to-head in a challenge. We knew signing up that the masterminds behind The Amazing Race could do anything they wanted, anytime they wanted. We were warned on the start-line that there would be twists this season, but I don't think any of us ever anticipated this. Kristi and I benefited from the head-to-head in this episode. Arriving to the square in 4th, Kristi beat Evan in the head-to-head, thus leading us to a 3rd place finish. The exciting part of the Amazing Race is that it tests racers as all-around competitors, from physicality, to grit, to intelligence, to social prowess.

The head-to-head nearly nullified our performance in all other challenges. Sure, getting there early gives you more opportunity to stay in the race, but continuing on in the race comes down to whether or not your good at the head-to-head skill. The argument can easily be made, however, that is true for any challenge you face. If you get stuck on one challenge in one moment of this race, it can be the end. Ultimately, I thought it was quite exciting to watch the Frites Race on TV. I thought it would get old after a while, but it kept me on my toes and I even knew the outcome!

Kristi's Thoughts on the Head-to-Head:

Kristi, however, felt more strongly about it. She was saying as soon as we were done, that there was only one team who would be going home that day: Goat Yoga. I was hopeful that the skill element would play more of a roll, but I wasn't the one who did the Frites Race, so I have to defer to her. Kristi asserts that if the head-to-head was in the middle or beginning of a leg that led into other challenges it would be better. That way, you would have other challenges through which you could potentially make up time. She was not a fan!

On to the Next!

Kristi and I race off to Morocco this week! We've never set foot on African soil, so we're excited to go there. Episode 3 is going to be action-packed, so hope you can tune in! 8 pm ET/PT, 7 pm MT/CT on CBS!

Being Thankful After Loss

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I suppose I'm a few days late on my post, but Thanksgiving (the being grateful part, not necessarily the eat-til-you-pop part) is a way of being that I aspire toward as much as possible, so consider this the start of a movement.

The last few years have been particularly brutal for me. I've experienced more consecutive loss than I ever imagined possible, I've felt less control in my life, more confusion, and less hope. Losing my father was by far the worst experience of my life. It did, however,  help to put the other "losses" of my life into perspective. Honestly, sometimes, the greatest loss is the quickest way to make you realize what you do have. As someone wise once said, if you can't learn to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy once you get what you want.

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The Depression

Early in the fall I found myself in a deep depression. For weeks I had inescapable feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. Feelings of missing my father and needing him more than ever completely overwhelmed me. In hard times like this I am so grateful for sports, not just for the endorphin and adrenaline-releasing aspects, but for the lessons I've learned through competing, from setting goals and failing (not succeeding) to reach the desired outcome.

Everyone talks about how valuable participation in sports is, and there are many tangible reasons that partaking in physical activity is beneficial to one's health. I don't think "experiencing failure" is one of the reasons mentioned often, but of all the things sport gave me, resilience was by far the greatest gift. If we aren't exposed to failure, we cannot prepare for it, we cannot become comfortable with it, and we cannot let it move us forward.

A competitive halfpipe run takes somewhere between 30-45 seconds to complete. and in that time I probably make a million decisions. If I make a mistake, there is no time to dwell on it, if something happens that is out of my control, I cannot sit back and feel bad for myself, I need to recover and move forward, adjust my plan along the way. It was one of my strengths as an athlete, I never gave up on a run, I always finished if I was physically able, attempting to get the highest score I could, even in the face of a mistake that I knew would cost me the win. After years of this practice, I would so seamlessly adjust in the face of adversity that many people didn't even notice that I had made a mistake.

The Loss

After losing my dad, my attention had been shifted to all that I had lost, not just in losing him, but all of the disappointment in my ski career and its impending end. This put me in a downward spiral, spinning out of control. I was forgetting to just continue moving forward, even if I would need to change course again, even if it was a mistake that would need to be corrected later. Instead I just let the thoughts of what I didn't have and of what I had lost and what I would lose in the future pull me into the darkness.

In life, we are tortured by time. We have so much TIME to think about what we should be doing with our time, that we drive ourselves crazy. I think that's the nicest part about sports: they're time-bound. Your win or loss is in a finite moment and then you move on. Adapting this into my daily life has been much harder than applying it to sports, but lucky for me I have some pretty amazing people in my life who help get me navigate these murky waters.

What I Have

Once I shifted my mindset from what I no longer had to making the most of the scraps in front of me, my scraps started turning into something substantial. Soon enough, I was guided in a new direction. I was able to see how I wanted to be living my life, and I was much happier because I was now focused on all that I did have: my health, a supportive fiancee, an incredible family held together through love that deepened when we had to say goodbye to my father in April, I had a roof over my head, I was in school, I was still finding ways to pay my bills and I was alive.  I remember thinking in the final days of my dad's life, that the only positive about the discomfort he was in was that it meant he was still here, his heart was still beating, I could still hold him in my arms. I'm glad that he is finally at peace now, but when life gets hard, try to remind yourselves that the pain you are experiencing simply means you still have a fighting chance to create the life you've always wanted.

This holiday season I am so thankful for all I have, for this community built around the written word, for skiing, for my family, my dogs, the mountains, bicycles, fresh air, hot chocolate and love. It keeps the world goin' around.

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UA ColdGear Infrared Vailer Jacket | UA Storm Queen Pant | Hestra Fall Line Mitten | RAMP Sports Shebang | Salomon X Pro 120 Boot

 

Farewell Halfpipe, I'll Always Love You.

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Last February, when I went to help my dad while he was in the hospital I told him I was going to announce my retirement from halfpipe skiing at the Park City Grand Prix. I could tell that he was relieved. I have to imagine it's been stressful being my parent for the majority of my life, as a lot of the things I love to do are *relatively* risky. But just before I was to fly back to Utah for my final contest, my father fell and broke his hip. I was overwhelmed with a sinking feeling, I could sense that his end was near, and saying goodbye to two of the most important components of my life was far too much to handle all at once. So I stayed silent.

Riding my favorite pipe at Park City!

I feel like two different people as I sit here writing this, attempting to make sense of it all. There are two distinct voices in my head: one saying "you're done" and the other saying "no, you're not." But fall is swiftly moving toward winter, and decision time is upon me.

I have grown up a professional skier. I didn't grow up first and then become a professional, I became a "professional skier" and through that, I eventually grew up.  Despite my efforts to live a balanced life throughout my career, I identified deeply with the self-concept I've developed through this sport.  Almost all formative experiences in my life have been trials and errors in my skiing career.  It is not an easy thing for me to say goodbye to the sport that has molded me into the woman I am today; I like who I've become and hope to continue to evolve into a better person every year. I know how to do that through halfpipe skiing, I know what I have to offer in that realm. What do I have to offer outside of it?

Injuries and loss have taught me so much, but at the same time, I wonder if they've taught me enough, as I sit here struggling to "let go."

I'm still uncomfortable with the realization that I'm not entirely in control of outcomes, including injuries & death, but also of new opportunities and successes. I like to have my compass pointed toward my destination, so even if I get off track, I always know where I'm heading.  Right now, it seems my compass is somewhere near a magnet... as I face an uncertain path. In vain, I try to keep doors of my past cracked open, but doing so keeps my heart and mind looking in the wrong direction, not focusing on the possibilities that lie ahead. And they are infinite.

The reality is, halfpipe skiing has already given me more than enough. Of course I can look at my career and see what remains to be achieved, but there will always be something left to be desired. Accomplishing a dream just gives birth to a new dream; I will never feel I've done enough in my career and at the same time, it's already been more than enough. I've acheived a great deal in my career and I've sacrificed a great deal along the way. It's time for a new way of living.

So with no further ado, I am officially announcing my retirement from professional halfpipe skiing.

There is so much weight behind those words, but just because I've chosen to retire (and it most certainly is my choice), doesn't mean I need to be done with skiing pursuits entirely.  I'm scrapping the "only-way-I-knew-how-to-be-a-skier" model and starting over. I've asked myself exactly what it is that I want to do with skiing. And the answer is simple: just SKI!

I want to ski for myself without feeling the pressure to push myself out of my comfort zone day after day (maybe just on occasion). I want to ski with loved ones and I want to share skiing with others. I want to coach clinics and continue supporting the next generation of athletes climbing the ranks and navigating the crazy world of being a "professional" anything at an undeveloped age.

What I want to do in life is a touch less clear, but I'm going to roll with what I can grasp right now as the rest will unfold over time. I want to write, about skiing, about transitions, about hardship, about love and about chasing dreams even when they seem to slip out of reach.  Some of the most cherished moments that I have from this life, are when YOU, my treasured readers, share how I've touched your hearts and made a genuine difference in your lives through my written word. So thank you.

Thank you to everyone reading this- to my sponsors old and new, this journey wouldn't have been possible without you. Thank you to my team & family. My coach Elana Chase, agent Mike Svenningsen, my mom & dad, Cathy & Paul, my sister & brother in-law, Cristina & Scott and to my husband, Chris--you all have held me up through your unconditional love.

xo,

Jen

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Happy Holidays. Dream BIG!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

er pressure, to leave people in awe of what you have just done, and the glorious feeling of taking home the win.

My Father, A Dynamic Man

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IMG_1489 Dad was a dynamic man, a man of few words who always managed to teach so much. He was a man of great intellect—a genius, or gen-yi, as our family would say. I always knew this about my dad, but that aspect never defined him.

When people asked what my father did for a living, I had a routine answer. I was careful to delicately and slowly allow all of the pieces to surface.

“He’s a professor.”

“Oh. Well, what does he teach?”

“Computer science.”

“Really?! Where?”

“Um, at Yale.”

—Awkward silence—

On paper and without knowing him, my father’s résumé made him sound unapproachable, like he must exist in a different realm than the rest of us. This, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth. What defined Dad were not the specific lectures that he gave, or the programming languages that he wrote, but the love that he shared, and the belief that he had in each and every one of us. My father was not just a mind and an ego, but a heart and an adventurous soul.

One of the greatest memories that I have with my dad was a mountaineering trip that we went on together with two of his colleagues. I was 12. The trip took place in April of 1999—we climbed Forbidden Peak in Oregon, which involved traveling on glacial terrain. I recently looked up some information about the peak to refresh my memory and laughed at what I learned. The website suggested taking 3 days to make the climb. We did it in two.

The hike in to the base of the climb involved some stream crossings and ultimately landed us on an open glacier with Forbidden Peak towering above. We found the surface of an exposed flat rock about 20’ by 6’ and made that our base camp. We pitched tents on the hard slanted rock because it would be warmer than pitching a tent on snow. In the morning we woke before the sun to begin our summit. It was my first time using an ice axe and crampons and the first time I’d been tethered to someone while “hiking” in case one of us was to slip. I’m not sure that my 110-pound self would’ve been much help to my dad then, but it certainly made me feel safer. The final approach to the summit was an exposed ridgeline with 1,000’ foot drops to either side; I can still generate the butterflies that I felt in my stomach by just thinking back to that view. Standing on the top of that mountain, breathing in the thin fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun on our face made it all worth it.

But things got interesting on our way out and we came to understand why they recommend taking 3 days to complete the route. As the snow warmed up during the day, it melted into the streams that we crossed the previous day. Those streams had turned into raging rivers by our exit that evening. I remember being passed from shore to shore by my dad and his two friends, one of them would stand in the middle of the river on a semi-stable rock and would transfer me from one river bank to the other. We didn’t get back to our cars until well after dark, but we did something others may have said was impossible. We improvised.

Most fathers wouldn’t think of taking their daughter on such a trip, most wouldn’t imagine their 12 year-old would be up for it, but dad didn’t see me as a young incapable girl, he didn’t look at what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do, but at what would be possible. He saw me as his equal, even at that young age.

Dad believed greatly in human potential. He got you to understand the world better by encouraging you to try a little more, to push a bit harder, to take a leap of faith and attempt something you’d never done before. He facilitated our learning by motivating our trying. This was true whether it was computer science, soccer, lacrosse or jazz.

He lived this philosophy daily as he battled a terrible disease and tolerated relentless side-effects to his treatments. He just kept on trying. I was in awe of his perseverance and courage; I was baffled by his ability to remain positive and to remain kind, to his doctors, nurses, aids and all of us, at least most of the time.

My dad was my hero. Not because of how smart he was, not because of his accomplished career, or for being coach of the year, but because of his ability to love deeply and to share his zest for life with thousands of others—to prove that success in life is so much more than what society lets on. Success is about living passionately, cherishing the little things and reveling in the beauty and light that surrounds us.

My father’s death has left a great mark on my heart. But so too, did his life.

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Strike A Balance

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Life is all about balance.  In the sport of halfpipe skiing, quite literally, balance is the key to success. Finding center on my skis not only makes what I intend to do possible, it allows me to carry my speed and momentum through crushing G-forces allowing me to explode out of the top of the halfpipe with efficiency, going as big as possible.  Balance is the only way to say upright regardless of what we are pursuing. Early on in my career, my sport demanded that I prioritize: ski competitions over family events, US Ski Association meetings over prom, and training over socializing.  But as the years went on, I began to realize that constant hard work, left unbalanced, didn’t always yield progressive, successful results. I had let skiing become my everything. It was no longer just something that I did for fun, but what I did for my job; it provided my income, my recreation, my value as a human being—it became, not only what I did but also, who I was.  This was unsustainable.

I found myself burnt out, not loving skiing as I once did, and sought an alternative. Yoga has provided me with just that. Instead of always going to the gym to lift weights and focus on traditional, western, strength training, I began to supplement with yoga.  For me, the benefits not only came physically, but mentally. Like skiing, yoga offers a meditative experience. An entire hour and a half class would go by without thought of “should-haves”, “should-bes,” or “what-ifs.”  My mind remained still, focused on my breath, my movement (or stillness) in the moment, and the energy that my body possessed.

Balance is central to yoga. Sure, in the obvious sense, standing in half moon pose, staying in a headstand, or extending in dancer, all require balance. But there is a more complex phenomenon here that helped me see my life and where I was placing my efforts in a new light. In dancer pose for example, we only reach our potential by kicking our leg strongly into our hand and reaching forward with the opposite hand as we let our chest open. There is a “give” and an equal, but opposite “take” that makes extending into this pose possible. I realized that this was the same for my life, and the same for my skiing.

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Finding an even distribution of hard effort matched with an area of relaxation was the key: balance.  I used to be an all or nothing kind of person, but over the last few years my exploration of balance after discovering yoga has given me a new perspective. For a long time I was afraid to do yoga because I felt like I wasn’t a true “yogi” if I could attend only one class every other week. Often, I wouldn’t go because of this feeling.  But in reality, if I were to only do yoga, my life would be out of balance in another direction. I haven’t let yoga replace my former workouts and activities. My yoga practice supports my efforts on snow and in the gym; while my gym workouts and on snow ski training provide a base for my explorations in yoga.

The newfound balance that I began to apply to my ski training, led me to seek balance other areas of my life. Skiing had always taken priority over relationships, school and other hobbies, so over the last year and a half I have begun to make a change.  I’m back in school studying psychology at the University of Utah, have an incredible boyfriend, and get to spend more time mountain biking, doing yoga and spending time in the gym if I’m up for it.  Striking such a balance allows us to pour 100% of ourselves into an activity while we’re doing it instead of showing up half-heartedly.  And like yoga, there will be a period of time where we teeter-totter between the right amount of each activity, falling on our faces and our bums, until we find the ideal middle ground.

Dare To Lead

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DelicateArch_Arches Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Dare 2 Lead Conference at Murray High School in Salt Lake City.  Dare 2 Lead is a state-wide leadership conference serving Utah's High School students aimed toward empowering students to become a force for good in their schools and in the world. Each High School nominated 2 students to attend the conference. Below is my speech minus the part where I introduce myself.  If you'd like to know more about me, visit the "about" page above.

Everything we set out to do in life comes from either seeking happiness: a sense of accomplishment, achievement or joy; or because we want to avoid what we fear: disappoint, pain, and struggle.  Ironically, setting out to do what makes us happy, setting goals and dreaming big often brings with it the potential risk of bringing on what we fear (heartbreak and sadness), but we can’t let that stop us.  I suppose that my mission in following my dream is to share with others that if it’s easy, it’s probably not worth it.  There is so much to be gained in the struggle. So here is my advice to you. 

#1: Follow Your Heart

Society doesn’t really want us to do the things we love; it wants us to do and seek the things it tells us we should love.  Society wants us to be driven by material things—wealth, fame, fancy cars, college degrees—but ultimately what will benefit the world the most is following your heart.  There is a quote from Howard Thurman that says, “Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  When I am following my heart, I am at my happiest and when I’m at my happiest, doors seem to open all around me.  I smile more, I say hello to strangers beside me on the airplane, I’m willing to share, and suddenly I’ve got a job offer or at the very least a new friend.

Following your heart also allows you to be internally motivated, not externally motivated to achieve.  What you are pursuing is sought for the love and joy that you have for it, not for what you are trying to attain at the end of the road. When you are internally motivated to achieve, you will keep yourself going, you will be able to push through circumstances that are less than ideal, you will be able to look past short term setbacks and stay focused on your end goal.

When I first set out to ski, it was all about the fun and love that I had for the sport. As I began getting my first taste of success and the benefits that success brought, I began to be motivated by external factors.  I needed to ski to keep sponsors happy, I had to beat my opponents, and I had to prove that I was the best (not just the best that I could be). This sport that I was once passionate about became a job and as a consequence, my results began to suffer.  Interestingly, that was around the time that I had to deal with the hardest news of my life, that my father had a rare and progressive form of Leukemia, a year later, I tore my ACL, meniscus, cartilage, and posterolateral corner of my right knee, and just after that, a friend and fellow competitor crashed in the halfpipe and passed away from injuries sustained. To continue skiing was only worth it if I still loved it.  In the last 3 years of my competitive career I have had some of the best days on the hill despite not having landed on a podium since 2011, a feat that at one time was almost guaranteed.

#2: It Is Rare To Find Success Without Failure

"Failure" has a really a bad rap, but failure has been my biggest ally.  First of all, it takes many "failures" to be successful in the end- it is a natural and necessary part of the process in any pursuit, to fail along the way. When I first started skiing competitively things didn’t go so well… my first mogul competition I fell 4 times in one run! I remember feeling so embarrassed that I wanted to crawl into a hole.  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, it is a conscious decision everyday to press on despite setbacks.

My first 2 years competing at X-Games I finished 2nd to last, but every year I showed up with more vigor, more fire and more motivation. I didn’t allow my doubts and fears to stand in the way of accomplishing my goal.  I knew that one failure didn’t mean that I would continue to fail forever; it was just an indicator of where there was room for my skiing to improve.  I didn’t let my failure define me.  Failure brings with it great opportunity for growth and learning if we are willing to endure the lessons it offers. My 6th year competing at X-Games, I finally won Gold, despite having a cold, being 10 months out of a major knee surgery and being beat in qualifiers by a young up and comer.  I knew it wasn’t over until all 3 finals runs had been skied.  Don’t let that glimpse of failure, that threat to your pride and ego, take you away from what you are trying to accomplish, and even more than that, don’t let it push you away from what is in your heart.  Your failures, nor your successes, define you.

# 3: Happiness Is A Decision

Things may not turn out the way that we expect, but that doesn’t need to control our happiness.  As much as I want to encourage each and every one of you to dream big, to not place limitations on your potential, our value does not lie solely in what we are able to accomplish.  In fact, the results and outcome of our goals are often out of our control due to external factors.  We can only do our best on any given day with the tools that we currently have. What matters is how we handle ourselves when things don’t go our way.

Of all of things that I have achieved in my career, one of my proudest moments was this past winter. In December, at our first Olympic Qualifying event, I landed a trick and tore my ACL, meniscus and cartilage in my left knee.  I wasn’t the only athlete to be taken out this way this winter—it is a risk in our job and one that the majority of us accepts and considers worth taking for the potential reward. There were so many reasons for me to be devastated this winter, to be bitter and jealous of my younger teammates who would ultimately qualify for the Olympics and represent our nation in the event that I advocated for so many years to be a part of the Games. But I took a step back and said, “I don’t want to be sad, I choose to be happy.”  As much as there were valid reasons to be sad in missing out on what I was certain would have been a part of my future (becoming and Olympian), there were so many more reasons to feel happy.  First of all, I confirmed that I wasn’t insane to think that halfpipe would someday be a part of the Olympics and it made for an excellent show.  Second of all, I was pretty darn close to becoming an Olympian, which is more than a lot of people will ever be able to say and I am proud to have come so far.  And finally, dozens of my friends became Olympians this year and I got to cheer them on and celebrate in their accomplishments.

There was nothing more that I could have done in my quest.  I couldn’t control the fact that I got injured and some day, you might have a negative experience that stops you just short of your dream. What matters, and where our true value lies is not so much in what we do, but in how we do things. Win humbly, lose graciously, don’t forget where you came from, be grateful for what you have and what you have accomplished and always respect those around you, especially your competitors- they are more like you than you know. Choose happiness.

#4: The Only Moment That Matters Is The One You Are Currently In

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted stressing about things out of my control. We cause ourselves undue stress and worry over things that have happened in the past and future events that haven’t even happened yet! In reality, the only moment that we can experience is the moment we are currently living in.  We can’t change the past, we just have to accept it and do our best to learn from it, not be paralyzed by it.  Coming back from injuries is one of the hardest aspects of my job because I have to set aside the fear that I have from past events and convince myself that things can be different in the future.  The way that I do that is by staying largely focused on the present moment, reminding myself that I possess the skills to do what I am setting out to do.  There is a great quote that says, “if you have a problem and there is a solution, then there is no need to worry.  If you have a problem and there is no solution, then there is no need to worry.” We can only deal with a situation when we are in it presently.  When there is nothing you can do about a problem or challenge, we are best served by accepting it and making the most of what the present moment has to offer.  That’s not to say you should run through life without making plans or setting goals, but do so with flexibility, so that you are able to enjoy the moment you are in.  Don't dream so big that you forget what is right in front you.

#5: Letting Go Is Different Than Giving Up

The path that I had outlined for myself, the story that I had scripted for my future, changed dramatically this winter when I injured my knee.  But because I was willing to let go of what was supposed to be, I was able to take in the experiences for what they were, and they ended up being very fulfilling.  Throughout my career when I would have bad contest days, or a trick was frustrating me, or I wasn’t feeling respected by my sponsors, my dad would always tell me to “let it go.” I would always respond with “I don’t want to let it go! I’m not a quitter! I need to prove that I can do it!”  It seemed that there was always more to give.  But when is enough, enough?  “Letting go” is in fact the hardest and scariest thing to do because it feels so similar to “giving up,” but letting go, is different than giving up.  For so long we feel that we are driving our dreams, but sometimes that dream begins to drive us.  We are no longer in the driver’s seat, because our dream has taken control of the wheel.  Realizing this has been liberating and simultaneously terrifying.  I am now at a juncture in my career, a transition year, like many of you find yourselves today, where I am asking “what next?”

All I have known for the last decade of my life is what it means to be a professional skier. My identity and purpose has been wrapped up in skiing much as your identity has been tied to being a student, an athlete, an artist, musician, etc.  All of these pieces will remain a part of us, but if we aren’t willing to let go of our former identities because we feel we are “quitting” or “giving up” on what we were “supposed” to do or be, we are denying ourselves ultimate happiness.  Remember the first tip that I gave you all—“follow your heart”—sometimes what is in your heart changes but we are so entrenched in our current path that we don’t notice until our unhappiness nags hard enough that we take a deep look inside.

“The death of a dream can in fact serve as the vehicle that endows it with new form, with reinvigorated substance, a fresh flow of ideas, and splendidly revitalized color.  In short, the power of a certain kind of dream is such that death need not indicate finality at all but rather signify a metaphysical and metaphorical leap forward.”  Aberjhani

So, take a look inside, where is your heart guiding you now?

 

Afloat

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I sit at the end of a row of cold plastic seats, high backs, thin metal arms, keeping me upright as I await the SeaBus to take me across the Harbour. The sky is grey and overcast, frigid moisture hangs in the air like a weight trying to suppress one’s will.  But such heaviness cannot dampen me.  I have found an ease and flow in life lately that seems to allow me to move freely from one moment, one opportunity, to the next- a current that carries me up around the bend.  A few months ago when I tore my ACL, a time when most would have felt unease, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace and calm, a faith, if you will, in what was to come.  There have been many moments, since then, that have left me in awe; stunned at how the universe* can take care of you if you follow the path it subtly paves before you.  It's as if the universe lays bricks before you and each step you take upon them solidifies the path.  Which brings me here, now, inside the warm Sea Bus at the end of a row of padded seats, each equipped with a life vest tucked beneath.  Floating across the Harbour, traveling with the current, so I can take some solidifying steps toward my future. Sunset over the Harbour.

The approach to North Vancouver on the SeaBus.

 

*Written while on my way to attend a course on Adventure Journalism at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. "The Universe," I realize feels a bit new agey, perhaps you have a belief in God, perhaps you have a belief in nothing, but I have yet to find the appropriate words for my beliefs... "The Universe" expresses an entity or energy larger than we humans, which I do believe exists.

 

My Road to Sochi

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Over the last two years following an injury to my right knee I have been patient, strategic and optimistic as I continued to pursue my dream of making the inaugural U.S Olympic Team for halfpipe skiing.  In 2011 I got to see an 8 year long dream of mine come to fruition: our sport was accepted into the Olympics and would make its debut in 2014.  I remember being so excited, not having a doubt in my mind that I would be there; why would I have a doubt when I had been on almost every podium for the previous 3 years?  But things change.  Adversity strikes (it can weaken you in some places and strengthen you in others), the field grows, and competition level rises.  It has been a wild ride since that day in 2011 and I am so very grateful to have been a part of it.

Sadly, my journey to Sochi has come to an end.  The injury that I sustained to my left knee at Dew Tour was not going to be managed by a simple scope as I had initially hoped.  Once I was in surgery, the damage to my meniscus was too bad to just clean up, it needed to be sewn, which would require 4 weeks on crutches and would end my quest for the Olympics regardless of damage to the ACL.  Ultimately, I had a full reconstruction of my ACL, meniscus repair and an articular cartilage paste graft, which uses stem cells from a non-weight bearing part of the knee in combination with a microfracture to regrow a full-thickness cartilage surface.  This ensures the best health of my knee for the long term since living an active lifestyle and skiing for the rest of my life are big goals for my future- I want to be able to teach my kids to ski one day.

Though my heart is broken that my road to Sochi has come to an end, I proceed with a smile on my face.  This sport has caused me more than enough tears- tears of joy and tears of sadness.  In this next phase, I choose to be happy, to feel pride in having come so far, and to be grateful that I have had great people behind me every step of the way.  My first thought when I learned about my knee was that I couldn’t wait to ski again.  Right now, I am diving head first into rehab and am more committed than ever to get strong, once again.

Even though I will not be able to say that I am an Olympian at the end of this 2014 season, the Olympics is still a huge part of my story.  Setting my sights on a goal that didn't exist when I started out was a huge risk that brought many rewards.  That single goal carried me so far and to walk away knowing that I did all that I could do, holding my head high, is all that I can ask for.  Thanks to everyone for believing in me and giving me the chance to live out my dreams.  I realize that I am amongst the fortunate ones.

As my team gathers in Park City for this final Olympic Qualifier I will be there cheering them on.  I am so proud to see how far all of these ladies and men have come over the years.  There are very familiar faces out there, ones who began this journey when I did, and some very fresh faces, but we all share one thing: we are Freeskiers.  We are family.

 

Huge thank you to my sponsors: Under Armour, Volkl/Marker, Rockstar, Giro, Paul Mitchell, Liberty Mutual, i Ride Park City, US Freeskiing and The Stone Clinic for your continued support.  Also, to my family, friends, coaches, fans and mentors- you have made this journey so special, there is no way that I would be here without each and every one of you. xo

Ground Zero

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It was warm for this late in the fall, the calendar read November 2, but I was still glad I had my vest on as we hurriedly exited the cab on Fulton Street.  Immediately my parents and I were drowned in a sea of tourists, all of whom came here to see the same sights, but for countless distinctive reasons.  I had the urge to retreat to the cab, as eager as I was to get out of it in the first place.  Being in large crowds causes my entire body to tense up and I was battling a headache as it was.  But that wasn’t an option.  My dad, in his classic form, races ahead.  We purchased our tickets online in advance; they required first and last names of all of the guests who would be attending.  Our entry time was 3 pm, per my suggestion, even though we arrived to the City at 1:50.  I’m aware of how long it can take to travel from Grand Central to downtown.  I think everything in New York takes longer than you expect, especially when you’re with your parents.  Each ticket used an entire 8 ½ x 11” piece of paper and insightfully included a map.  My mom’s theory was intuitively to follow the current of tourists, my dad’s map agreed- and so we headed South. It was like a disjointed dance, making our way to the Greenwich Street entrance- or perhaps an odd game of leapfrog.  Though I am 27 years old, have traveled the world solo for the last decade, and just spent 4 days in the city without my Mom earlier in the week, her maternal instincts took over.  I tried to stay behind her since she walks more slowly than me and because I don’t want to lose her. Whose maternal instincts were in question here? (I have a habit of always bringing up the rear; I would make a very good sheep dog.) But then somehow, she’ll think she’s lost me and turn around, blending with the mass of people that surrounds us, and I will saunter past, oblivious.  In a few more steps I’ll realize that I’ve lost her, and turn around seeking her out.  We continue this way for 4 blocks.  You can imagine how long it would take us to get anywhere.

We arrive at the entrance at 2:58 and my father walks briskly toward the security guard checking tickets.

“Paul? Heyyy, Paul? PAUL?” my mom shouts to get his attention, but amidst the construction and tourists hers is just another voice adding to the orchestra of sounds around us.

We were meant to meet a few students from Yale, if they had been interested in joining, but communication had been weak.  My mom, correctly so, thought it would be good to wait until 3 pm incase anyone showed.  My thoughts: the students would probably be late even if they intended to show, but we should wait until 3 as a formality.  What’s the hurry, the Jazz show at the Blue Note doesn’t start until 6 and we have plenty of time.

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With all of the construction going on around us, I began wondering what it was that I had come to see.  I actually had no idea how far along the construction process they were, but I was glad we printed our tickets in advance.  As we moved through our expedited “Pre Purchased” line, I began reading some factoids hung on the construction fencing, blinding the eye from the other side.  “9/11 Memorial is in honor of the lives lost in the WTC…”  We moved our way forward, steadily, like an efficient security line in an airport, walking the perimeter of the grounds, the fence always to our right.  Our paper tickets were finally scanned just before we went through security; I knew it felt like an airport.  As we rounded our second corner, I knew we were on the final stretch into the park.  There was another stream of people flowing out, they had come and seen and felt what they had wanted, and now, like an eddy current, they were slowly, but without much commitment trying to leave.

As soon as I passed the final fence and entered the cleared space where the World Trade Center buildings once stood, I was overtaken by silence.  Sure, the number of people around me was still the same, but their voices no longer echoed like in school halls- they were muted.  We all were captivated, drawn in, and lost in a world of emotion.

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9/11 means different things to different people.  Everyone’s experience on that day had its uniqueness to it.  I was a sophomore in High School sitting in Chemistry class when we heard what was going on.  I remember a buzzing throughout the halls, speculation as to whether it was safer to be at school or to be sent home.  Hamden, Connecticut was only 2 hours North of the City.  Who was being targeted?  Who was behind this? Who would be next?  My sister was in her freshman year of College.  She was 4 hours from us, but no more than 2 from the City.  I can only imagine she wished she could be with her family.  I didn’t know anyone directly who was lost in the towers.  One of my Uncle’s best friend’s worked in the North Tower and passed away that day, but that was as close to home as it got for me.  For those who lost a loved one on 9/11, that day will forever carry a heavy weight, heavier than for the rest of us.  But the impact of 9/11 will affect generations to come, whether or not they know it.

My parents had the privilege of meeting Michael Arad, the architect for the 9/11 Memorial. 5,201 put their designs in for consideration, and Arad’s was chosen.  He had given a talk at my parent’s College, Saybrook College, at Yale University, just last year.  I looked him up out of curiosity, I had seen the designs, and understood why his design was selected.  I understood what this space was supposed to be, but being there in person was nothing my imagination could have conjured.  He used negative space in the footprints of where the WTC towers once stood- once the North Tower, now the North Pool; South Tower, South Pool.   There was no “rebuilding” of the towers to be considered.  That would be like living in the past, a constant reminder of what was.  This was something that needed to be remembered, but moved through.  Pools, how obvious.

I imagined a pool, like a small fountain like thing, shallow, maybe toss a coin in there, like a wishing well- this thought came to me involuntarily, and as I write it, I’m almost sick that that is what I had imagined. C’mon imagination, step it up.  These pools are grandiose and dark, alluring and paradoxically repelling.  The edge of the pool is surrounded by marble plates with the victim’s names carved in them, immediately beneath those plates is a 3 foot edge of still reflective water, that ultimately cascades down a 15’ wall, free falling until it crashes into the pool below.  In the center of that giant pool, there is a hole, about 30’ x 30’ that takes in the fallen water, the water creeps over the edge, reconnecting with itself as it seeks salvation in that hole, so mysteriously slow, that it seems to defy gravity.

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Surrounding these pools are rows and rows of trees.  At this time of year, all of the leaves are beginning to find their golden glow, except for one tree in the center of it all—a lone pear tree that was found all broken limbs, under the wreckage of 9/11.  It was pruned down to an 8’ stump and allowed to prosper yet again.  It’s leaves are still green, as if showing off its resilience once more to the pending winter months.  And towering above these trees are numerous buildings.  The old ones, stand with pride, having seen so much.  And the new ones act as mirrors, they don’t dwarf and diminish the smaller original buildings of this New York skyline, instead they honor them by reflecting their images to those who look up.  At times it was difficult to discern where the old buildings ended and the new buildings began; there is a certain transparency to these mirrored glass buildings and it warmed my heart, seeing old and new joined so seamlessly.

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I don’t know what Arad had intended with his design.  I’m not sure if the pools are always that reflective, or if the surrounding buildings and the glass were selected based on their reflective qualities alone, perhaps it was just the time of day that I was there, but standing at the edge of those pools, it was impossible not to reflect on the last 11 years.  To think of not only the victims lost in those terrorist attacks, but also the loved ones lost by old age, cancer, or even a tragic ski accident, the jobs lost, the pride lost.  It was impossible not to recognize the resilience of mankind, of Americans, sure, but of all of mankind.  The hardships endured, the struggles escaped.  To me, that was what the pools made me realize.  Once upon a time we were still and calm, we had it all, and suddenly we dropped off the edge of a cliff, crashed down, broken into thousands of pieces, fragmented, rippled, separated, and then there was a final hole, a resting place, not that of death, rather that of surrender.  Seeing the water crash down over one edge, breaking the stillness, and then slowly crawling over the next, returning to a place of oneness, reminds me of what we all must do.  Sometimes, it is not about winning the fight or the battle, but letting our struggles be what they are as we continue to move through despite them all.

“Enduring means accepting.  Accepting things as they are and not as you wish them to be, and then looking ahead, not behind.”  Rafa Nadal, tennis great.

 

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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.

Take The Backroads

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The Salt Lake City skyline juxtaposed against the Wasatch Mountains. Home. I have been living in Salt Lake City for 4 years now.  In that time I have found back routes from my house to locations that I frequent- the gym, Whole Foods, Sugarhouse Coffee, or Guthrie Bicycle for example.  If you were to measure the distance of my side-street-ventures, it would likely measure longer than taking the main roads, but I love my back roads.  There is less congestion, fewer traffic lights, and an ease with which I seem to flow from locale to locale.  Clearly I am not the only person who has lived in Salt Lake City for 4 years, I can't be the only person who has had the option of taking these alternate pathways, and yet, my back routes still remain full of flow and free of others.  More often than not there is uncertainty involved in choosing the backroads; they are the alternative, not the first choice, and everyone wants their first choice. It dawned on me recently that these opposing paths are much like life.

I fractured my tibial plateau just over a month ago in Russia.  In a season where I was returning from a major knee surgery the year before, getting injured again was not something that I had planned on; I suppose no one ever plans an injury, but I certainly didn't see it coming in such a flukey way, and definitely not if I was taking all the right steps in a gradual return to competition.  Last week I had a day where I was really down about having another season (my third in a row now) cut short by injury.  I asked myself, "when are you going to learn? when are you going to change so that you don't get frustrated and down?"  The reality is that we will never change; at least not completely.

There will never be a time that we are unaffected by difficult situations that arise in our lives.  We are human, and when bad things happen, it hurts.  But we can become more aware of how we handle these moments.  This awareness is what will allow us to flow through life with more ease, even when things go awry- just like my back roads.  The traffic on the main roads never really goes away, stop lights don't always stay GREEN, but if we are aware of the back roads we can begin to flow with what is happening around us.  Instead of remaining controlled by our ego, which was fixed on taking the main road, we open our eyes to other options.  When a light turns red ahead of us, we turn; where there is traffic, we get out of it.  We begin to see that there is more than one way to our destination and our future doesn't have to be exactly as we had envisioned.

Every now and again life catches up with us.  Our goals and dreams suddenly seem more daunting than motivating, we dwell on the past or fret about the future, instead of staying grounded in the present moment.  Once again this year, the path that I had outlined had taken a major detour; the future I had envisioned hadn't arrived.  The path to fulfillment is often a challenging one.  We set our heart's intent on achieving something outside of ourselves, something over which we don't have complete control.  Whether this goal is ending a war in Congo, like my friend Sean Carasso founder of the Falling Whistles Campaign for Peace, or winning an Olympic gold medal, there are only so many aspects of the pursuit that fall directly in our control.  The important part is following our hearts and creating the path along the way, remembering always that there is more than one road. For me right now, this means taking a little more time off of snow and a little more time giving my body what it needs more than anything: a break.  What does it mean for you?

"You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can't, you do the next best thing. You back up, but you don't give up." - Chuck Yeager (first man to break the sound barrier)

Each Step Must Be Itself A Goal

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"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." Henry David Thoreau It has been over a decade since I set out to become an Olympian in the sport of halfpipe skiing. When I began there were only a handful of contests a year, and only a handful of competitors.  There were no Olympic Games for us, just the idea of them.  Many of us take on goals that initially seem insurmountable.  Some of us achieve them, others fall short; but reaching a goal is not the entire purpose of having a goal.  Besides loving skiing, the concept that has propelled me to continue over the years is the process of self-reflection & growth that comes with the journey and the notion of self-actualization.  It is for these reasons that I have been able to come back from several knee surgeries, dislocated shoulders, broken eye sockets, wrists, elbows, and ribs; that is why I am continuing to fight through my current limitations with my knee, to pursue my goal of becoming one of the first Olympians in the sport of halfpipe skiing.

For some time, I got caught up in the winning- the piece of the pie that seems to illustrate one's success.  It was in this time that my experiences had very little to teach me.  Sure, I was acquiring feedback that confirmed that what I was doing was good- more sponsors, awards, and attention, but it only made me temporarily happy, until of course, there was even more of that, which there not always is.  We enter this world with nothing and we are going to leave this world with nothing- material possessions, wealth, fame, and success will all be left behind. So why get caught up in trying to attain such things?  Why allow those concepts to determine our worth?  If we are too focused on the finish line we won't see the speed bumps and pot holes, twists and turns, that may set us off track.  And if we only see them as obstacles in our way, challenges to merely 'get through' because we have to in order to reach our goal, we will likely burn out before we ever cross that finish line.

As I sit here writing this, I am sidelined from my sport once again because of a fractured tibial plateau.  In the year before our sports' Olympic debut, returning from a major knee surgery in 2012, I have yet another obstacle in my way.  But instead of getting frustrated this time, I am loving it.  I have embraced this opportunity for what it is- a chance to be home, sleeping in my bed, going to my gym, eating home-cooked meals, focusing on health and healing.  It is not often in the life of a professional athlete, that we really get to just sit back and enjoy our lives, there is always another goal to be attained, or record to be broken.  But now I have realized that each step is a goal in itself, regardless of what that step may be.  These steps are no longer just inching me closer to my ultimate goal, these steps make up my life.

This is the same for everyone, regardless of what it is he or she is trying to achieve.  For me it has been rehabilitation and time in the gym, for my graduate school sister, it is writing papers and creating presentations, for the aspiring musician it is teaching music not just performing music, and for the photographer, shooting weddings not just landscapes.  But learning to LOVE these other aspects of our journey that allow us to work toward our goals will make all the difference in the world.  Putting these steps into the category of a "goal" themselves is a good start in making each step more fulfilling.

So, get out there. Chase your dreams!  But don't forget to enjoy yourself along the way.

Stop Story-lining and Start Living

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We are told from a very young age about these things called goals and dreams.  Some of us are taught not to chase dreams because they are unattainable, others are told to “dream BIG!” because anything is possible, and some are just in between, directionless.  For those daring enough to dream, to set goals that will take some time to achieve, the road can be rocky.  Why?  Because that is how it is, the reward of chasing your dreams lies in the process, overcoming obstacles and growing as a person along the way.  But sometimes we make ourselves miserable during this process.  Why?  Because we write storylines.

When I first ventured into halfpipe skiing I didn’t really know what it was, what it would mean if I was good at it, or how it could possibly affect my future.  So I did it purely because I loved it, it was fun and it engaged every part of my attention, my body and mind at once. Absolutely enthralling!  Within a short period of time, I began experiencing success. Then I began to PLOT MY FUTURE (imagine this being said in Denzel Washington’s voice over a megaphone).  I began to imagine my future life (XGAMES GOLD MEDALIST, FAMOUS PRO SKIER, MAGAZINES, MOVIES, blah, blah, blah) down to the tiniest details.  But more than imagine, I began to feel entitled to this future, and when things didn’t fit in with what I had imagined, I struggled. Hard.  I would create such a concrete idea of “what my life was” that I would force-fit people, places and things into my imagined reality.  Trying to craft and mold and control the world around me.  I also fabricated this concept of “permanence” that once I achieved x, y and z that those things would be with me forever (true) but also that they would continue to happen on and on, for eternity; that the satisfaction in achieving said goal, would be one that would constantly bring my joy and satisfaction forever. False.

When you create such a false reality, when life throws you a curve-ball (like your dad has a very rare and aggressive form of leukemia) the illusion begins to crack and fade, become sheer, until you can see right through it.  That piece (dad with cancer) didn’t fit into your imagined reality, but it happened.  Then you start questioning what you’ve created. Everything you’ve convinced yourself of begins to fall apart.

We do this kind of story lining a lot.  Like when we me meet a wonderful person with whom we want to fall in love.  We focus on the aspects of that person that fit into our created, imagined reality of life, our ideas of what we want and need become the only pieces of that person that we see.  But eventually it catches up with us and this character that we created to fit into our fictional world is no longer hiding.  We begin to see the other pieces and sides that we chose to overlook in the beginning, and the pieces no longer fit- right shape, wrong color; right color, wrong shape.

I just finished watching a movie called Ruby Sparks about a writer, Calvin, who began writing a love-story about meeting his ideal woman, Ruby Sparks.  As his story went on and more and more details were created, Ruby became real, Calvin manifested her into existence, and she appeared living in his home. But over time Ruby needed to be who Ruby really was, not Calvin’s Ruby, and the love story began to fall apart.  The more Calvin tried to control her with his writing the worse things got.  Ruby was pushed away by this overbearing grasp.  It wasn’t until Calvin was able to release her and return her freedom to her, that Ruby was able to reenter Calvin's life in another form. This is an extreme metaphor for this “story lining” to which I refer, but it is surprisingly accurate.

We cannot possess anything in life fully, not a goal, not a person, not a dream.  The only possession that we have is within ourselves.  Everything else will come and go, some people and things will stay bonded to us for longer than others, but everything is temporary.  All that we seek in life, money, success, love, family, it is all fleeting.  So stop wasting time writing the storyline of your life and start truly living life for what it IS!

It begins with being conscious, being present and aware of your thoughts.  When they start running wild and taking you to made up places of the past and future, bring yourself back to the current moment- the reality that is unfolding before your eyes.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t set goals or dream BIG or imagine the kind of person we want to be with, it just means we need to be real. Real with ourselves about what IS here in front of us.    Let go of expectations, of definitions, and bask in the beauty of what IS.

Because ‘what IS’ is truly all we have.

Stepping Back

Yesterday was the 9th time that I’ve turned south off of Interstate 70 onto CO-82 for the Winter X-Games in Aspen, CO and will mark my 8th Winter X-Games appearance.  (It would be my 9th appearance, but I was sidelined last year with a knee injury and attended the event as a spectator. You can read about that trip here.)  I couldn’t help but recount the feelings of anticipation that I’ve had every year, each year markedly different, but this one feels extremely special.  Most of my peers that I began this journey with 10 years ago are retired and no longer competing, male and female alike.  The girls that I would go to registration with, eat, train and party with are no longer by my side.  I will be, at 26 years young, the OLDEST competitor in the WXG women’s ski halfpipe field this year and the ONLY woman to have competed in the first women’s WXG ski halfpipe event in 2005.  As I made the journey to Aspen yesterday, I felt extremely nostalgic, lonely and proud- honored, to still be here, pursuing my dreams after a decade of hard work,devastating injuries, and the passing of friends. I recalled how excited I would get each year heading into town, thinking of the great halfpipe that we would be able to ski, story-lining my imagined success of landing new tricks and landing on the podium.  I’ve never driven to Aspen for X without the belief that I could win, but this year I have.  My knee is not yet 100% normal from my injury sustained over a year ago on January 10, but my strength is at 98% of what it was at my strongest in the fall of 2011.  I am able to ski, but the image that I have of the skier I once was is something I have let go of.  That’s not to say that I will never do the tricks that I once did before, or that I will never stand atop a podium again, but it’s not going to happen right now.  It’s a humbling feeling and an honorable one, to still want to go out, naked, exposed and vulnerable, to allow a judging panel to tell me that I’m not number 1.

For the first time in my career I’m not worried about wining, being the best, or being better than everyone else.  I’m focused on doing the best that I can, with what I have, where I am.  It’s a mindset that I’ve been told about for the last decade, one that is written about in every sports psych book on the market, but one that is scary to adapt, when the will to win carried you so far for so long.  It’s exciting to be in a place where I can watch these young girls throwing both way 900s, filling their runs with more technicality, switch hits, amplitude and grabs, and just feel proud- proud for them, and proud for myself, that I am still here, now, just skimming above the dogfight, doing my own thing.  I can’twait to do some of the big tricks that are in my arsenal, but if I don’t respect my body and I don’t accept where I am right now, I will never be able to do them again.

My sights remain set on competing in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and the only way to get there is through living every day doing all I can.  Though my circumstances have changed, my end goal doesn’t need to.   Sometimes we have to take a few steps backward in order to move forward again.  It’s in this time that people often doubt themselves, doubt their ability to improve and decide it’s time to quit.  But a lot of the time, this is when you are inches away from your greatest success.

“The secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times.  Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” Paulo Coelho

 

25 Hottest Male Winter Sport Athletes

Yesterday I had the pleasant surprise of being featured on the Bleacher Report's list of 25 Hottest Female Winter Sport Athletes.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about these lists...  On one hand I'm offended that they exist, but on the other hand, I'd be offended if I wasn't included.  There are a few other fellow freeskiers on the list including Ingrid Backstrom, Lynsey Dyer and Grete Eliassen, and though I know each of these ladies is beautiful, it is their skiing that really stands out to me. However, I don't feel like going into a moral escapade over this right now, so I figured that I'd have some fun and create a list of the hottest male winter sport athletes. This way, the men won't feel left out.  Check out the gallery below. Just like the judging in most of our sports, I've rated these men objectively in reverse order, saving the best for last... There is no opinion present.