Ski racing professionally has been a dream of mine since I was in elementary school. It was the “light at the end of the tunnel” of school, because in that case, it meant I got to be doing my favorite thing, all the time, without the nuisance of homework or things that I knew were good for me but that I didn’t like as much. As a result of many years of built up excitement, I had also built up a lot of expectations for how it would be, what it would feel like, how happy I’d be to be finally “there”. Rather than having to wait through class to go skiing or running afterwards, I imagined that I’d suddenly be able to spend my whole day in the exuberant feeling I had found previously in my few hours of ski practice. Little did I know that it was the context and balance of those other things that buoyed my excitement for skiing so much.
I do not love skiing any less now. I’ve just had a harder time finding my excitement for it this year. Plenty of people counseled me that the transition would be challenging, if only for the reason that I struggle with transitions, but I didn’t believe them. I thought of course I could defy the odds, that for me the first year out of college would be awesome. I’ve been skiing since I could walk, racing since I was six, keeping a training log since I was 13, and have raced in Europe since I was 16. I’ve been through transitions; I know enough that I shouldn’t have to have another year like my first year of college; I should be “better” than that by now. But, sure enough, I wasn’t, because it was a transition totally different from any of the others I’d experienced. The variables were different, and furthermore, I was closed minded to the idea that it even would be hard. Previously, the only thing that had changed was the format of how I went to school; everything else remained constant. Now, in Craftsbury, my life was suddenly structured by the thing I used to do in my “free time” and the things that used to be the main structure in my life, I now needed to create for myself.
I thought in this new life I was going to need to focus harder and more on skiing, because that’s what I was doing, that’s why I’m here, to get faster. I tried to shut everything out, and push harder. This was my job now, I needed to approach it with a tougher mindset than just a “college kid”. It turns out that was the death of me. I got tired, and frustrated, and had nothing else to turn to, where previously I subconsciously relied on lots of other intellectual things. It took me a whole year of suffering to realize I was missing a basic structuring of my life that made me feel good. I was floundering to find any order whatsoever, one that I had very much taken for granted in the structure that school provided. My life wasn’t school, or skiing, or any one specific thing then, but they coexisted in a way that made me happy.
Now, I was trying to make one of these many pieces, skiing, fill up the whole routine that was my life, discounting the necessity of other aspects. I wanted to become my best at skiing by letting it become all encompassing. But, to my dismay, “that ain’t me”. To be able to bring myself to skiing with the same enthusiasm that defined me in my career to this point, I needed to stoke the fire elsewhere too, something I totally ignored in trying to fit myself into the “pro skier life” this year.
One of my previous coaches recommended that I just had to hold tight and make it to the end of my first 12-18 months out of college, still happy, still skiing, and I’d be ok. I didn’t really know what he meant by that, and I really didn’t want to hear it, that I was going to be miserable for a whole 12 more months, but I trusted it, since it was a promise that I’d be in a better place eventually, and that sounded a lot better than the prospects of it not getting better. I understand better now, or at least have given my own description to it, that by “then” I’d make it through my own rebalancing. All the pieces were still there; it would just take me a while to reorganize them.
Objectively, the year was not that bad. I got to stand on the start line proud in the green suit that was frequenting the podium, I raced at U23s World Championships and OPA Cups, and had some good sprint qualifiers. On paper, it shouldn’t have been any different than the year before. I trained nearly the same number of hours, and even less intensity, I shouldn’t have been as tired and wrecked as I was.
Subjectively, I was seriously struggling. I wasn’t happy. It was obvious in my comportment as I showed up- the one who was frequently late, constantly crashed on her roller skis, and couldn’t make it through a 3 hour rollerski workout. This only added to the frustration, as this wasn’t the me I knew. Having prided myself to this point as one who routinely had my life in order, for the first time in my life, I resembled more of a “shit show”. It took me about until February to have any sense of reordering, and it took all of my deflated self to just focus on what I could control. I made it through the season, and salvaged what could have been a lot worse.
So what am I doing about it? What changed from the floundering freshman-at-life that showed up last May, to a self-proclaimed more-sure-of-herself-Heather now? Craftsbury is in an awesome place with world class athletes emerging every where you turn, and I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m excited to feel like I’m making my own life routine again. I’m beginning to find my niche in Center work projects, feeling like my skillsets can be useful in a way that I’m happily absorbed and feel good about for their greater purpose in our small Outdoor Center community. I am also really lucky to have part time work at Pete’s Greens, a way to use my mind and body in a totally different way from skiing, toward something I believe in, the idea that “Vermont Can Feed Itself”.
I started out writing this blog, intending to write about the places I got to race, a summary full of pretty pictures of my experiences of my first year of what I hope will be many living the dream on the GRP. Despite training in Austria, Utah, racing in Montana, Idaho, Michigan, Romania, Germany, Italy, the formative parts of the year for me were the emotional ones. I feel silly that my conclusions of my first year as a “pro skier” are something so ethereal; I would love to be able to say I overcame all these physical challenges and am a changed body with new strength or technique. For me though, it was the emotional hurdles of re-learning the basics of what keep me going as a happy person, recreating a structure that supports my passion for skiing and drive to reach my potential as a racer and person.
The most exciting, (or maybe just best documented), of my many skinned knees this year…
“Almost, maybe next time.” (Reese Brown).