Conquering Mountains - SheLift Retreat Aspen

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

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

Our Mission

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

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

The Retreat

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

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

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

On The Hill

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

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

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

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

The Revelations

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

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

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

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

What’s Next

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

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

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

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

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

  teeki

Death and Decision Making

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20160220_112639-01 Death is an inevitable part of life but can work its way in at unpredictable times, knocking you down to your knees, taking your breath away. Yet everyday we see athletes pushing the limits and breaking records in outdoor and action sports. Taking risks and defying death - until they're not. What compels them to continue?

Facing Death

On April 29th, 2015, my father passed away. I was by his side in his final weeks, days, hours, and breaths. Details of his death circle around my mind daily. His frail skeleton of a frame, sunken eyes, transparent skin, were all signs that death was near, yet life remained pulsing through his veins. He fought so hard to stay alive, fought through pain and discomfort, so that his physical being could remain by our family's side for moments longer. He cherished his life.

I was the last person to see and speak to my father in his wholly right mind before he got sepsis, erasing the possibility of stepping foot outside a hospital again. As he laid there, emaciated from days without food and so severely dehydrated that nurses couldn't get an IV into his vein, I finally got up the nerve to ask him if he was scared. "Yes," he paused, "that's the first time anyone has asked me that." Of course he's scared, you idiot, I thought to myself, even though he never showed it. 

This encounter made me acutely aware of how shy we are about death, and how many of us live in denial of its reality. After his starting treatment for Leukemia in 2010, none of us ever talked about the possibility of my dad not making it. Nearly five years elapsed, as if talking about death would somehow manifest it. I later learned that my father was also scared on mountain peaks, yet again, despite all my time with him up there, I never knew.

Not Afraid? Or In Denial?

I know a few skiers who claim they're not afraid of death, but I am. Partly, I'm afraid of what dying would mean for my future (or lack thereof), but moreover, I fear how my death would impact those I love. I don't want them to hurt because of me. I don't want that deep inescapable ache in their hearts to be because I died. Missing someone who has died is among the worst feelings on this earth. Nothing can be done to remedy it. It's just a piece of your heart, frozen in time, constantly weighing your chest down. You'll never get to see that person in their physical form again so you hope and pray that your memories of them will suffice to carry you through your darkest days.

My vigil and my final words to Sarah.

In the last year, two prominent women in the snowsports industry lost their lives in avalanches. Both while filming. I don't know what exactly transpired to lead to such dire outcomes; I wasn't there. It's common to place judgments from afar about what decision-making took place, but it's unfair. We weren't part of the conversation. The deaths of Matilda Rappaport and Estelle Balet hit close to home for me. Along with Liz Daley's and Sarah Burke's deaths in recent years, these women represent me. We fall into the same demographic. These accidents happened to them and it could easily have been me. It just wasn't.

We like to think that we can keep ourselves safe by always making the right decisions. But we all know that we can't evade death forever. Even in my dad's case, my family replayed the tapes so many times trying to figure out where things went wrong. It's easy to look back and point fingers because, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. In the scenario of backcountry skiing, these moments of decision making seem to be a bit more concrete. But are they?

Why Do We Continue to Take Risks?

Jen Hudak jumping a cliff at Rocky Point at Alta, UtahSince stepping away from halfpipe competition, I've been spending more and more time in the backcountry. An ironic result of not being willing to risk my body in a halfpipe any longer, I now spend time in an even more life-threatening environment. Risk assessment is something I've become quite privy to, but awareness and good decision making only keep us so safe. It seems that not a month goes by that our community doesn't hear about another person who lost their life to the mountains, most of them in avalanches.

I've struggled to transition away from my life as a professional skier. The dichotomy between feeling there is untapped athletic potential running through my veins and sensing there is more to life than reaching that potential, keeps me at war with myself. Is there more to lose than to gain? Yet, even as I relinquish professional pursuits, I'm still a skier, through-and-through.

Time in snow-covered mountains makes me forget my troubles, at least temporarily; it helps me make sense of my thoughts and process my emotions. I find myself in a meditative, trance-like state as I work my way up long skin tracks while I feel, dissect, process, and reflect. As I drop into an untouched slope of powder, outrun my sluff, or navigate steep terrain I feel exhilarated, elated, but even more so, I feel inseparable from earth and life force itself. I think to myself, with my arms outstretched and smiling face looking up to the sun, "this is what it's all about." My happiness, sanity and sense of self depend upon time spent in the mountains. But it's not always safe.

Measuring Real Risk

Over the last ten winters, an average of 27 people/year died in an avalanche in the United States. It's impossible to say what percentage that is because we have no way of counting backcountry travelers accurately. But 27 isn't a huge number. From 2002-2012, an average of 41.2 people died skiing or snowboarding on a resort. This is out of 54 million skier visits in the 2012 winter, which equals a .000076% chance of dying. Car accident fatalities however, totaled 32,719 in 2013, equal to 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people. A .0103% chance of dying in a car accident. If you ski, that means your chance of dying in a car accident is 135 times greater than dying on a ski resort. And no one seems too concerned about those odds... It's if driving a car is a "necessary" risk and skiing in the backcountry is not.

Our perspectives on life verse death and risk verse reward are personal. There is no one-answer-fits-all to the question, "why do these athletes continue to take such dramatic risk?" In the end, I suppose I'm not trying to answer that question but to ask another: who will your death affect? I think about this constantly. For me, it's my mother, husband, sister, brother-in-law and niece. It's helped me draw some distinct lines about what risks I am willing to take. I think about my family before I go into the mountains every morning. I take risks, but not unnecessary ones, I avoid avalanche terrain on dangerous days, I wait for a stable snowpack to ski. But accidents can happen.

Life is short and our time should be spent in a way that fulfills us, brings us joy and allows our inner child to live fully. If living daringly on the edge is the only way for you, please be honest with yourself about what there is to gain, but also to lose. Discuss it with your loved ones. We will never escape death, and so, we must appreciate life - respect it, treat it with care, and explore our potential.

That's all for now, there's a conversation I need to have.

MM Rapaport Hargin Foundation & Sarah Burke Foundation:

"We want to inspire and support skiers, entrepreneurs and others to pursue their passions. We strive to improve gender equality both within and outside of skiing, and increase safety on the mountain." To support the MM Rapaport Hargin foundation, click here.

"The Sarah Burke Foundation is committed to the altruistic ideals embodied by Sarah’s life and her actions. The foundation will preserve Sarah’s goodwill and her actions, by supporting and inspiring current and future generations. All support will allow us to carry on Sarah’s spirit and legacy by supporting others in sport." To support the Sarah Burke Foundation, click here.

References: 
  1. Colorado Avalanche Information Center, US Avalanche Accident reports,<http://avalanche.state.co.us/accidents/statistics-and-reporting/>, Feb 15, 2017.
  2. "General Statistics." Fatality Facts. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview/2013>.
  3. "Odds of Dying." Injury Facts: NSC.org. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/injury-facts-odds-of-dying.aspx>.

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.

Wednesday Workouts: Balance and Biking

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1060332_394513227316337_447456783_n Biking saved me last spring.  When I fractured my tibial plateau in Russia at our Olympic test event, I was limited in terms of athletics, and was only allowed to do “non-impact” sports for 3 months.  I was grounded. Literally. Getting on my bike was the one activity that I found that could strengthen my quad and hamstring muscles without putting too much stress on my knee, so I started riding.  A lot.

My muscles began to grow and started supporting my knee more and more, but I also found that I was becoming happier.  The time that I spent on my bike, was time away from the grind in the gym, it was balancing out my training and offering some space to breath, think, and reflect.  Long uphill climbs became a meditative experience- an exercise in mental toughness & willpower.  Fast aggressive descents allowed my reaction times to be tested and my athleticism exposed.  I found a new balance in my life both figuratively and literally.

Balance and Biking

There would be days where I would show up to ride and spend the 10 minutes getting ready, just venting to my friends about various situations that were causing stress and anxiety.  By the time I was done riding, my worries would seem so much less significant.  So, this week’s suggestion is to get on a bike.  I don’t care what type, road, mountain, or even a cruiser on the way to an outdoor concert. I don’t care for how long, how far, or how fast.  Just get out there.  Hopefully you will find some of this balance as well.

If you feel like more of a challenge, you can try out the interval program that I use when trying to build a strong base level of conditioning.

Warm Up:

5 minutes easy

5 minutes hard

5 minutes easy

Session:

(30 seconds MAX EFFORT + 30 seconds EASY) x 10 minutes

Cool Down:

15 minutes easy

*Follow with adequate stretching and foam rolling.

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

 

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.

reIGNITED

In January 2005, I found myself in Aspen, Colorado for my first winter season out west.  I was an eager 18-year-old girl from the East Coast, ready to take on the freeskiing industry, set new standards and win the X-Games. I was full of fire, ambition and fight. I talked big game, I was over-confident, very excited, and underprepared.  I walked away finishing 9th out of 10 competitors that year; falling on nearly every run of a generous 3-run final.  Every year since 2005 I have returned to Aspen ready to compete; always a little more experienced and filled with the perfect balance of excitement and anxiety.   To this date, I have 5 Winter X-Games medals and 2 golds in halfpipe skiing. This last Wednesday, January 25, I had a stirring of butterflies in my stomach as I exited I-70, routed CO-82, and headed the 35 miles toward Aspen.   However this year, the butterflies were not in anticipation of competing in the most prestigious event in freeskiing, but for an entirely different reason.  You see, two weeks prior, several distinct events took place that would change the course of my life.

At 6:45 a.m. on January 10, 2012, my alarm went off.  I stirred, hit the snooze button, shifted my body slightly and closed my eyes again.  I could hear the distant voices of my US Freeskiing teammates and coaches in the kitchen- raring to go.   We had sled laps starting at 7:30 and they would only last until 9 a.m.  But I wasn’t feeling it.  I made the decision to sleep more, to let myself acclimate- it was my first day in Breck, I didn’t need to be taking sled laps at 7:30 in the morning.  About an hour later I pulled myself out of bed- headed to the kitchen for a leisurely breakfast in a giant, quite house, abandoned by my eager teammates.  My phone rang- my best friend and teammate for years, Jess Cumming, was on the line.  She asked what my plan was for the day and I told her: I was tired, and not rushing out, planning on taking a mellow first day here to get ready for the weeks and months of chaos ahead.  Jess was more than okay with my plan.  As it was, she was coming over to Breckenridge to announce her retirement to our staff of coaches.  I understood. Part of me was envious of her decision.  To step away from all of the pressure, the expectations, the risk, the hard work; it sounded nice.  But I was not done- there was more that I still wanted to accomplish out there on my skis- I wasn’t ready to turn it all in.

The weather was gorgeous in Breck- warmer than usual, sunny, not very windy- and I was out just to have fun. I followed the boys off of the bottom two jumps in Freeway after hitting the pipe and was pleasantly surprised at how soft the landings were.  The jumps were much bigger than the jumps in Park City, but felt better because Breck wasn’t having the same thaw and freeze cycles that we were experiencing in PC.  After a few laps I met up with Jess and a few other girls.  I skipped the jumps for a few runs and then went back to them about an hour later.  As I got to the start of the bottom two jumps I thought I knew the speed.  I cleared the first jump and then went into the second jump.  As soon as I left the top of the jump I knew I made a mistake.  I was coming up short and I tried to prepare myself for the impact...  With all of my effort trying to stretch for the landing, to wriggle my way over the knuckle, but to no avail.  The impact was too great and my knee erupted. I began sliding down the landing and didn’t have the muscle control to pull my leg into my chest.  I rolled over my leg twice and continued to slide, until I came to a stop.  Expletives were flying out of my mouth because I knew I was done. Done for the day, for the year, for the rest of my career?

Over the next few hours I got X-Rays, scheduled an MRI, and tried not to be too discouraged. My phone was ringing quite a bit, and around 2 pm I got a call from Meg Olenick. She wanted to check up on me, but there was something else going on; I could tell by the unsteadiness in her voice. “Sarah took a bad fall, Jen.  She’s being airlifted to the hospital.  Her heart stopped for several minutes.”  My brain, heart and body went into emotional overdrive.  Everything began to hurt more.  But there was no reason to stress yet. Sarah is the strongest girl that any of us know- tougher than nails. She will be fine. Sarah is always fine.

I received the results from my MRI- it appears as if a bomb went off in your knee.  Your ACL is completely gone, you’ve torn your medial meniscus, there seems to be a floater in there- a piece of bone perhaps, and you’ve compressed your femur- there is a large indentation on the femoral condial and a disruption to the articular cartilage surface.  To be honest, I wasn’t surprised.  With how that impact felt, I’m glad that that was it.  Right now, I just wanted to get back to Utah, to be closer to Sarah and her family, to sleep in my own bed and begin processing what was going on.

The next week was an emotional rollercoaster.  There was very little news leaving the hospital regarding Sarah’s condition.  We were all operating under the guise that no-new-is-good-news, but somewhere in my heart things did not feel right.  Ten days after Sarah’s crash, she passed away.  The damage in her brain was irreversible and there was nothing that anyone could do to bring her back.  At this point, time came to a complete stand still.  It felt as if the whole world stopped turning, yet everything continued on around me.  The Winter Dew Tour in Killington was taking place that weekend and athletes would be expected to compete- Sarah weighing heavily on their minds.

So as I exited I-70 on Wednesday January 25th and had butterflies in my stomach, it wasn’t because of the prospect of winning another X-Games gold (that wouldn’t be happening, I wouldn’t be competing), but because it was time to be reunited with my extended family after Sarah’s passing. I wasn’t sure how I would feel.  Would I feel comforted being with everyone? Would I harbor resentment, envy?  Would I question the purpose of all of this? Would I feel deeply saddened, angry, mad?  The answer is yes.  But then I would ask another question: why?  And to that I would find many answers.

Everywhere I looked, I saw sympathetic faces. Faces that said, “I can’t believe this happened, I am hurt and sad and scared, but more inspired than ever.”  Every time someone smiled, it was Sarah smiling through.  The whole industry, ski and snowboard alike, was united, and for the first time, it felt as if we were all in this together. The boundaries that Sarah broke for female skiers were uncanny- there are too many to name in one short article, but what became even more apparent this last week, was how much she touched the lives of every action sports athlete, female and male alike.  You see, Sarah embodied what we are all about: perseverance, breaking boundaries, setting new standards, doing it because we were told we can’t, making something out of nothing, skiing because we love it.  They say the brightest flames burn half as long, but I don’t think Sarah’s flame has been put out. I think Sarah’s flame has just been ignited for the first time.  Now, more than ever, people are hearing about Sarah, listening and understanding her intentions, comprehending what she was about and finding ways to implement that into their own lives.  She is changing the world.

As I sit here, writing this 3 days post knee surgery, reflecting on the coincidence of blowing my knee on the same fateful day that Sarah crashed, I cannot throw in the towel and say, “I’m done.”  Now, more than ever, is the time to shift my perspective and remember why I started down this path- aspiring to one day live like Sarah Burke.  Life is only worth living if we are doing what we love.

And with a broken heart I say, thank you Sarah, for everything you have given me in the past, and every gift you will be giving me in the future.  For you, I am eternally grateful.

Moving Mountains

Neu Productions and Pro Skier Jen Hudak Announce Fall Release of “Moving Mountains”

Breckenridge-based production company releases trailer for a fall 2011 web-based ski film series featuring professional skier, X Games Gold Medalist and Olympic hopeful, Jen Hudak

BRECKENRIDGE, COLORADO- April 27, 2011 – Neu Productions, a Breckenridge based production company, proudly announces a new short film series featuring two-time X-games gold medalist and women’s freeskiing advocate, Jen Hudak.  “Moving Mountains” is a four-part film series that follows Jen through her 2010-2011 season as she travels the globe, pushing the limits and pursuing her dreams.

As a 2014 Olympic hopeful, Jen hopes this series will motivate others to commit to what they are passionate about, as she has done with her skiing.  Jen explains, “This is not just about the skiing- it is about everything that goes into it and everything you get in return.  It is about the hard work and dedication, the triumph, and the failure.”

The first film in the inspirational four-part series is scheduled to be released in September, 2011, and a full-length TV show will be available on The Ski Channel in late fall.  In Jen’s words, “The series takes a really honest look into one of the toughest seasons of my career.  I was given obstacles to overcome, and in doing so I grew as a human being.  There are always lessons to be learned from these situations. You always gain insight into another piece of yourself.”

John says, “It is amazing to work with Jen, her ability to perform at the highest level, articulate her struggles and triumphs, and smile along the way is inspiring.  Simply, I can’t wait for people to see this project, we focused a great deal on story and hope to reach an audience not just within the core ski community but on the mainstream level as well."

Similarly, Jen states, “John Roderick’s cinematography and editing is amazing.  From the second I saw his work, I knew I wanted Neu Productions to produce my project, I couldn’t be happier with our decision to collaborate.”

To view the trailer for “Moving Mountains”: http://vimeo.com/22921112.

Jen and John would like to thank the sponsors that made this project possible: Under Armour, The Stone Clinic, Paul Mitchell and Volkl/Marker.

 

To celebrate their upcoming fall 2011 web-series, Neu Productions proudly releases, “Moving Mountains” trailer.

 

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Neu Productions is a diverse production resource company based in Breckenridge Colorado, producing innovative content that bridges both commercial and endemic visions to produce powerful branded content.

www.neuproductions.com

 

Newly refurbished www.jenhudak.com features recent photos, blog, schedule, sponsors, etc.  The site showcases insight into Jens amazing personality.  By following links provided on her website you can personally connect with on her Facebook fan page and Twitter.   Jen is a professional skier of 7 years.  Based in Salt Lake City, UT.

 

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Trains 2011

 

This past weekend I headed out to Alpine Meadows California to judge Trains 2011, a unique contest created by the High Fives Foundation.  This contest is unique in that there are multiple different categories in which people can succeed and the main emphasis is on a team format in which the team with the best "train" (where athletes ski in tight succession through the course) gives away the grand prize.  No, it wasn't a typo.  The "winners" go home with PRIDE alone, as the actual prize money is donated to charity on behalf of the athletes.  This event is skiing and snowboarding's way of giving back.

Julian and I got a call, really an email, from Roy Tuscany (President and Co-Founder of the High Fives Foundation) asking us to be guest judges for Trains 2011.  YES! Was the immediate answer and once we confirmed that we timing was impeccable, we confirmed.  It was great to be on the other side of the judges booth this time.  I got to enjoy the vibe, get a little tan, and be entertained by all the skiing and snowboarding that was going on- STRESS FREE!  Not to mention, this was a Volkl sponsored event and the team had a sunset photo shoot after the contest was over with cameras mounted on a remote controlled helicopter! Epic! (See photos).

The best part of the event was that it was supporting a great cause.  The High Fives Foundation is incredible.  Founded only last year, High Fives aims to raise money and awareness for athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.  Being around such courageous individuals provided incredible perspective.  Life is what you make it.  When you stay positive through the downs, things will turn around.  As long as you are breathing you can enjoy the offerings of this life.  It made me so appreciative of my current situation, that I am still standing, slowed down, but still walking.

Thanks to everyone involved in the Trains event last weekend (Volkl, Discrete, Alpine Meadows)- it was an incredible time had by all!

Results: Top Male: Parker White (chosen charity: $500 to the Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports Foundation) Top Female: Grete Eliassen (chosen charity: $500 to the NeuroRecovery Network) Best High Five: Grey Team: Davis Souza, Austin Simonpietri, Sean Collin, Andy McDowell, and Peter Kukesh (chosen charity: $500 to the Alpine Meadows Ski Foundation) Best Trick: Backside 1080° double cork by Brandon Reis (chosen charity: $500 to Ski D.U.C.K.) Best Train/Team: Grey Team: Davis Souza, Austin Simonpietri, Sean Collin, Andy McDowell, and Peter Kukesh (chosen charity: $500 to the Shane McConkey Foundation)

Japan: That's A Wrap!

I just got home from a long, fantastic trip to Japan.  The entire trip was incredible- we lucked out on snow conditions in both places (Niseko and Asahidake) as it started to dump as soon as I arrived at each location.  I got to ski with some new people (Ingrid Backstrom) and some familiar people in new locations (Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle and Julian Carr).  I was able to push myself in terrain other than a halfpipe and got to ski in Japan outside of a competition for the first time! The skiing was phenomenal, but there is so much more to Japan than just what takes place on the snow. (See previous posts for ski pictures!) So, I headed down to Tokyo  with John Roderick (www.neuproductions.com), Erik Seo and Julian Carr to spend 4 days in the surrounding area.  We visited Kamakura and saw the Hachiman-gu Shrine and The Great Buddah; we took a bullet train to see Mt. Fuji  and ended up stumbling upon a seaside town called Atami; we took in the sights and sounds in Tokyo itself (Shibuya, Roppongi, Akhiabara and Shinagawa) and got a great dose of refreshingly cool culture.

It feels nice to be home, and though I'm ready to sleep in my own bed, Japan was the perfect supplement to my contest filled season.  I was thrilled to be able to spend that time with such wonderful people and I thoroughly enjoy the irony that the most time I've spent with my boyfriend in the last 6 months was 7,000 miles from home!

Japan:Moving Mountains

First off, I would like to apologize for the lack of photos in this blog post. The lodge that I am currently staying at doesn't have wifi... so I'm using the public computer in the lobby.  Uploading pictures is a no-go. That being said...  The Giro shoot wrapped up 2 days ago in Niseko. Overall the trip was a success. It was great to spend time with Riddle and Dorey as we were all skiing out of our element. I think we all learned a thing or two from Ingrid... Major thanks go out to Giro for arranging the whole trip (especially you, Chuck Platt) and to Mitch (our guide from Black Diamond Lodge). I finally got to ski the infamous Japan pillow lines and avalanche barriers- they were more fun than I had even imagined!

On Wednesday it was time to meet up with a new crew for a new mission.  I made the journey from Niseko to Sapporo and met up with filmer/editor extrodinaire John Roderick (www.neuproductions.com), kick-a** photog Erik Seo (www.erikseo.com), my awesome boyfriend Julian Carr (www.discreteheadwear.com) and our guide Nobu Murai. It was time to experience the isolated parts of the Japanese Mountains to the North near Furano.  To step even further away from the contest scene, away from sponsors, away from business. It was time to reintroduce myself to the joys of skiing, of creativity, of fun.

With a 5 am wake-up call on Thursday morning, we loaded the van and arrived at our hotel. By 9:20 we were on the tram. By 10 am we were about ready to throw in the towel. Conditions were about as bad as they could have been for Japan. There was one aspect that still had manageable snow on it, but everything else was severely sun-crusted or bullet proof. The first line I tried to ski, I dropped in thinking the snow would be decent. I sank into the sun-crusted layer and as I tried to turn to the left, my skis kept going straight. I lost balance and tumbled down the hill, rolling sideways stright into a tree. My knees weren't stoked. There was nothing to do but laugh, so I did- quite heartily- and shortly thereafter everyone else laughed too. Thankfully Julian was there to keep the confidence up. He is incredible for that. (Maybe that's why he can successfully front-flip 200+ ft cliffs). 

Julian managed to find a few airs to get off of, and after a mini-melt down from me got me to ski a small line and drop into snow that resembled conditions I skied when I blew my right knee. By the end of the day I was feeling a bit more with the conditions and managed to get off of a few decent airs myself. Overcoming fears always feels good.  We were all proud of the effort yesterday. We worked hard for the shots that we got, and though they weren't many, they were as good as they could've been.  But we were all wondering what we would do in the coming days. We needed snow, a lot of snow.

Apparently the snow-gods were listening and they blessed us with a bit of a storm. When we woke this morning and looked outside, it was clear that there would be some fresh snow, but we figured only about 6-10". It would help. We could milk some pow turns, but we would still have to look for that northern aspect and jumping off of anything might still be questionable.  We headed out, slightly skeptical but mostly optimistic.

It didn't take long to realize that it had in fact snowed about half a meter up top.  Right away we were getting face shots.  The new snow was deep and it didn't seem to be letting up. From run to run, our bootpack would be filled with new snow.  This went on all day. We got shot after shot. I skied some of the deepest snow of my life and got to do it with one of my favorite people. I got to ski for me again and it was extremely refreshing. A few airs, lots of pow turns and endless smiles.

I am so grateful for this life and am so grateful for moments like this that provide the reminder. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and forget just how lucky we are.  Life is a blessing. Remember to try to make the most of it everyday, and you'll be on a good path.

Kampai. (Cheers, in Japanese)

xo

Jen

the uneXpected

Boy do I wish I could turn back the hands of time. Again, I get to build character this season, with one of the most incredible and simultaneously most frustrating moments of my life. On Thursday night after the men’s snowboard pipe qualifiers went down, the 6 ski girls who made finals dropped in to a chewed up halfpipe. Conditions were certainly not ideal, but everyone has to ski the same pipe. So I stuck with my game plan and I was ready to throw down.

My game plan was to do a “safety run” on my first run, land it and then replace my 7 with a 10. 900 tail, alley-oop critical, mute, alley-oop 540 , 540 mute, tail, 720 tail. First run, my ski popped off when I landed my 7. It shouldn’t have, but it did. So for run 2 I went with the same plan as run 1, get a decentscore, hopefully secure a spot on the podium and then do the 10 on run 3.

But again, my 7 gave me trouble. This hit was far less vert than the previous days in training, and though I popped I could see that I was really close to the deck. My landing wasn’t super clean and I definitely punched the ground a little bit, so I was a bit concerned about the score, but I was optimistic. Sadly, the score came in a 78- good enough for 5th.

Run 3 it was on. I was fired up and ready for the 10. I was extremely conscious not to think too far ahead in my run and forget about the tricks I needed to do before I got to the 10. Dropped in with heat,10 foot 9 grabbed, big alley-oop, grabbed my 5, focused on the tail grab going into the 10, just remember to pop and grab. So I did, and I landed a 10 tail grab. As I began to celebrate (albeit a bit prematurely) and went to turn around, I caught an edge and fell. The run wouldn’t be enough.

For the first time in 5 years I won’t be taking home a medal from X-Games. But I will be taking home a new trick and a new perspective. I have never had so many people compliment my skiing when not on the podium. Though the run wasn’t completed, the 10 was landed, which is what I wanted to do when Iwoke up in the morning. I told myself that as long as I do that trick in my run I would go home happy. I do this sport because I love it and I want to reach my potential. I have unlocked a new level of my skiing that will lead me to incredible places in the future. I didn’t take home a medal, but I am taking home my pride. But before I go, I need to leave you with this: Sarah Burke is back in action and I couldn’t be happier. Witha newly revamped cork 900, and back-to-back flairs that took a year of sacrifice to get dialed, Sarah islooking good. She took home the gold. X-Games newcomer, Brita Sigourney took home silver throwing a massive 900 landed consistently throughout the night. Roz-G took home bronze for the 2nd year in a row, andher consistency is certainly being noted. In 4th, my teammate, Anais Cara deux. She made me so proud with both way 5s andmassive 900. I ended up in 5th. And last but not least was fellow east coater and the number 1 qualifier fromWednesday, Devin Logan. She threw back to back flairs, steezy 5 tails, and a solid 7. It was by far themost progressive women’s ski pipe comp that I have ever witnessed. This sport is going to incredibleplaces. For photos and a full recap visit this link: http://newschoolers.com/ns/content/readnews/id/3674/