Most kids are taught to dream big. When we're young, we bravely think anything is possible. But as the years tick by and we see failed dreams all around us, we begin to doubt the truth in that. Society begins to beat us down. Eventually, those dreams begin to haunt us.
It Starts With A Dream
I have wanted to be an Olympian since I was 12 years old. Initially I thought it would be in mogul skiing, but when I found a halfpipe in 2002, I found my true calling. At the time there were no Olympic Games for halfpipe skiing. It was so impractical to become an Olympic Halfpipe Skier that it made the dream easier to have. In essence, I couldn’t be accountable for “failing” to go to the Olympics, if there were no Olympics. There were so many external obstacles that could make this dream impossible. So, I focused on all the other contests as potential stepping-stones for what I ultimately wanted to achieve. All the while, I was softly focused beyond those goals. It was like Les Brown says, “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.”
As I began to achieve these smaller goals, one-by-one, I found a deep satisfaction with my ski career. Sure, there were ups and downs, but gradually goals were being crossed off my list of “to-dos.” Win a world cup, check, win US Open, check, win WSI, check, win X-Games, check. But this one goal always remained: win the Olympics. When the sport officially gained acceptance in 2011, my dream suddenly began to feel daunting instead of motivating and I couldn’t understand why.
Having the Olympic dream as my larger goal, made all the smaller goals easier to achieve. They never overwhelmed me, because they paled in comparison to what I was really trying to accomplish. But now this is it. We are getting down to the wire. There is a clearly defined timeline of when I need to be performing at my best, and my best suddenly needs to be better than a lot of other amazing skiers. What is bigger than the Olympics? How can I reach the mindset that I had when I was younger with this one last dream of mine? Perhaps I need to dream bigger, not just dream of being an Olympian, but reinstate my dream of being an Olympic Gold Medalist. To do that, being an Olympian will have to happen, so I will begin to see myself as an Olympian, before I even get there.
The Haunting Begins
When you get close enough to realizing your dreams, when you can visualize yourself standing atop that Olympic podium, national anthem blaring, grinning ear to ear, proud before the millions of people you’ve inspired - that's when the stage is set. As we get closer to the Olympics, I look around the US Ski Team gym and realize that every athlete in here is aspiring toward that same goal. Suddenly, I can see that person on the podium being someone else entirely - not me. What makes me so special, what should I be the “chosen one?” A sinking feeling in my gut overtakes me.
I start to imagine myself on the sidelines watching another person realize my dream. The future that was supposed to be mine now belongs to someone else. And that was when my dream began to haunt me. It was as if my mind was preparing to deal with the potential “failure,” that might ensue. “Disappointment management” I like to call it. My father does this all the time, while watching sporting events on TV. Towards the end of a game, if my his team is down, he’ll say, “That’s it! It’s over...” even if there is a reasonable chance for a comeback. He’ll prepare himself for the disappointment that he might feel if his team does loose. But if they win, he’ll be that much more elated!
To take this approach as a spectator is one thing, but to do that as an athlete, is another. If you think you’re going to lose you will, more than likely, lose. So, as scary as it is to see yourself as the winner because of the possibility that you will fall short of your expectations, that is the only way to achieve your goals. See yourself where you want to be.
Look Beyond Your Fears
In moments when your dreams feel overwhelming, your mind begins to play tricks on you. It will attempt to minimize your goals, “What do the Olympics matter anyway?” It will actually try to convince you that your dream is fruitless and superficial, “you’re a fool to be attached to such a lofty goal because there is so much luck involved.” Yes it is true that timing can be everything—so rarely does an opportunity like this come around. But we can’t be afraid to dream.
If I never dreamed of being an Olympian I don’t think I would be able to say that I am X-Games Gold Medalist or a World Champion. It was the courage to look beyond what was directly in front of me that carried me so far. It’s like climbing a ladder. If you're only looking at the rung directly in front of you, it’s not overwhelming, but as soon as you look behind you and realize how far you’ve come, how high you’ve climbed, the thought of falling becomes very scary. The closer I inch toward my Olympic dream, the closer I get, the deeper the wound will be if I don’t make it. There is much further to fall now than when I began this journey as a wide-eyed, naïve teenager.
The last few years have been extremely humbling. Many of my worst fears came true, and somehow I was still okay. I know that I want this, I know that it is worth the fear and the doubt to continue in this pursuit. I hope to rise to my potential in time for the Olympic Games, to have my comeback moment occur when it matters most, but I also know that what is meant to happen will unfold. This is my path, and I must believe it is the right path—I will follow it through the brush, until it ends. From there I will find my way.