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

 

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?

 

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.)

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.

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

 

Overcoming Loss and Surviving Plateaus

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

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

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

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

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

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