This has been a challenge for me to write. It might be tough for some of you to read. It is, however, important for me to get this down into words. I’m ending my time as a Nordic Combined athlete - retiring, moving on, hanging them up, pick which phrase you like. I prefer to see the next chapters as continuations of the incredible journey that this sport brought me on. This ride has been unimaginable. I know enough now to not even attempt to guess the future, but I'm confident that this sport and community will continue to have a substantial impact on me.
I want to be clear that I’m leaving this sport without an inkling of bitterness. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished as an athlete, and even more grateful for the way this sport has shaped who I am. Nonetheless, I have a few clear reasons for my decisions, which I need to outline for all our sakes. By the end of this, I hope that the many people who have stood beside me through my journey will understand. I also hope that this is enough to leave my current teammates and coaches behind. This has been a part of the decision that has weighed heavily on me, but ultimately, I can’t succeed in an individual sport without personal motivations.
Here are, to the best of my abilities, a few condensed points outlining my decision.
My foremost criteria for remaining a full-time athlete has been my ability to demonstrate improvement. As long as an athlete is improving, he’s going to get where he or she wants to in a matter of time. On the jump in particular, I haven’t been able to maintain satisfactory improvement over the past few years. Certainly, a few of my best jumps might have been in training this year, but almost none of them came this winter. Beyond just this winter, I’ve struggled to reach my jumping goals for years. I don't need to list off every box that I haven’t ticked, but it is safe to say that I haven’t met most of the performance goals that I’ve written since making the National Team in 2012.
My point here isn’t to say that I’ve failed. Looking back on my career, it certainly doesn’t feel that way to me. I have no regrets for pursuing something I love, and that’s success in itself. However, I longer have the confidence in myself to say, “this is the year...I’m really going to figure out jumping now.” With few exceptions, I’ve thought that every spring for most of this decade. Perhaps there is some secret that I’m missing, that’s going to click and it’ll come to me. But after trying so many times, I have trouble believing this anymore. I’m too rationale for that. This is probably heartbreaking for many of you to read – all of you who really do believe in me and want me to succeed. Trust me, I was there, for years, and it only takes a few good days a year for me to think I’ve found the light. But unlike you, I’ve lived through every World Cup I didn’t qualify for, every COC starting the race in bib 48, every time trial where, well, the race was good, jumping’s not there yet. I’ve done this, over-and-over, the majority of the time. A certain amount of frustration (actually a good deal) followed by just a bit of reward, is enough to keep me coming back. But right now, to believe that this will change next year, or the year after, is beyond my ability. If you’re not convinced, try looking up the definition of insanity.
3. Fun and Excitement
These aforementioned trials and tribulations don’t always appear on the blog or social media or make the dinner conversation. As I move on, they certainly don’t define my career, but I don’t want to live them anymore. I don’t need the highlight of my weekends to be warming up for jumping, when I’m still excited and optimistic, to be followed by more struggles, not again, but yes again, feelings of helplessness, incompetence, more of a bystander than a competitor in the main event.
Moreover, I’m realizing that ski jumping is so often such a challenge for me that it’s often not fun, even in training. I’ve had some awesome times ski jumping, both with and without a bib on, but less and less so now. Instead, it’s more of a grind, a struggle against some unknown force keeping me from doing what I want to do, reverting to the mistakes that are so ingrained into my muscle memory. Ski jumping has become too repetitive, a deja-vue of treadmill steps forward and back. Ultimately, it’s just not as exciting for me as it should be. I lose sleep for all sorts of reasons thinking about this sport, but I can’t recall many recent nights where I was just too damn excited to ski jump. That’s an intangible that I can’t catch.
I’ve done my best not to attach who I am as a human to where I fall on the result sheet. My greatest mentor, Bill Demong, preaches and practices this more than anyone I know. If it wasn’t for him teaching me this, I would probably really be struggling right now. Despite my lack of confidence in my abilities as a Nordic Combined skier, I have plenty of confidence for my future because of who I am.
Our sport psychologist once asked me to be come up with the deep, intrinsic reasons why I love this sport. It shouldn’t be any easy task, but when you’re not winning medals, you need these reasons. These are the important whys for doing this and reflecting upon them now is as important as then. The sense of commitment, towards one cause, with a group of like-minded highly motivated individuals is a pleasure that I always cherished. I wasn’t committed just to winning medals, fame or glory, but to be the best I could be. The only flaw here is that this identity was entirely as a Nordic Combined skier. When I don’t see that best getting any higher, how can I possibly have the same passion? Ultimately, if I wrap my entirety into being a Nordic Combined skier, but I don’t see improvement, it feels like I'm stagnating, not growing as a person. I know this isn’t true, but I want the opportunity to broaden my identity.
This reflection hasn’t been easy. It didn't roll out as clearly as it seemed in my mind during listless early mornings. I hope that you can see that I’m taking everything I can from this sport, and excited for many more experiences moving forward. Please don’t read this and be disappointed. Read this and know how fortunate I am to be sitting where I am reflecting on my experiences. A look back into the archives of this blog is proof enough of the infinitely positive influence that Nordic Combined has had on me. Know that it’s because of you, all of you, reading this, that I’ve had these opportunities. You should be proud of yourself, as a supporter of a very lucky guy.
I hear there’s a great big world out there. For now, I’ll get my feet wet and see if I learn to swim. One thing is for sure, I haven’t lost my love for staying active. If you want to find me, as much now as ever, look for the mountains.
And now, here are a few fun photos to leave you with.
Where am I?