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)

Don't Let Your Dreams Define You


 

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

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

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

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

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

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