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.)