After a little time back in Park City, and a short break before getting back on the jump hill, I’ve realized that I was ready for a reset. I’m not one to struggle with homesickness or dread travel. But after a point, everyone needs some time to reset.
My desire to sit down and write is usually pretty low after disappointing results. I don’t want to spend my time dwelling on mistakes, as if writing makes the past more real than moving on. However, as I share my journey with readers here, it’s not fair to anyone or the sport to stick to the highs and ignore the lows.
As a whole, I had a fantastic summer and fall training block overseas. If you read my earlier posts, you’ll know that we had some of the best training opportunities we could ask for, as well as some good competitions. I was able to score Grand Prix Points at the end of August, and hoped to build upon that result in the next competition opportunities.
Our final weekend in Slovenia was spent competing in the last leg of the Grand Prix circuit in Planica. It was as close to a home competition as we’ll get outside of Park City or Steamboat. However, it doesn’t matter how well you know a hill if you can’t find the rhythm and jump with confidence on a given day. Due to my results on Saturday’s event, I sat out on Sunday and cheered on my teammates. Forced spectating is always a bittersweet experience. On one hand, its much less stressful than competing, but I almost immediately miss the opportunity to lay it all out on the line and see where I stack up.
After Planica’s competitions, we finally headed stateside – for a short competition week in Lake Placid before continuing on to Park City. The primary focus of Lake Placid was on US Nationals Championships – held on Sunday on the 1980’s Olympic 90-meter jump.
Although I’ve had good results in Placid in the past, this time didn’t meet all my hopes and dreams. It started as a shock to adjust to the new hill and ended in a rut of struggling from painfully low speeds. Our Nationals are held with the ski jumpers, against the best special jumpers in the U.S. Over the past couple years, these guys have made huge progress. It’s been exciting to watch, but it’s not so fun to jump from their gates. You'll understand if try as hard as you can to hit a golf ball further than you’re usually capable of without your handicap and into a stiff wind. That golf swing won’t get any better until you take a step away and come back later, with a relaxed grip, no expectations, and a 1000 less thoughts racing through your mind. Those easy strokes that you’ll soon be hitting are what create confidence which you can build upon. But as soon as you trying with all your might again, it’s going to get tough.
Come racetime, I had already been agonizing all weekend with embarrassingly short jumps. If you were there, you wouldn’t have seen strong showings of emotions from me. I tried to keep it inside, but was numb with disappointment after competing. I knew after the jumping that I had almost no shot at a spot on the US Championship podium.
If you think that a 10km race is the painful part of Nordic Combined, let me tell you something. A race is quick, compartmentalized pain, and on the right day it's even fun. The feeling of failure is far more lasting. As twisted as this sounds, I used this perspective as motivation for the Championship race. 25 minutes of racing, how bad can that really be? Compared to falling short of my goals and performing well below potential, this pain would be manageable. Yes, racing hurts, buts its acute and short-lived – far better than dull, lingering pain of failure.
I wanted to feel something real, to know again that I was tough, determined and in control. I needed this desire to have a chance at a decent race. Starting in 12th place, I had to live out the consequences of my jumping, but forget the morning at the same time. My best races are almost always when I jump into the mix, and racing is fun and adrenaline packed. When I’m so excited from jumping that I hardly need a warmup, my body’s just amped, that’s when it’s easy to race. But when you go back to a hotel room after jumping and stare at a wall for lack of ability to do anything else, lunch is tasteless and nerves are a foreign concept, that’s when racing is tough. How are you going to race fast if you’re not proud?
A simple answer is mental toughness. But to me, it’s more than this. It’s desire. Perhaps they are one-and-the-same, but to switch from disappointment to intense motivation takes a desire to be great, no matter what. On Sunday, I tapped into this. I flipped this dial in the course of my warmup, minutes before the race. Headphones in, jaw set, I decided I would be able to give it my all in this race.
The Championship podium was out of reach, and I was lucky to finish in fifth. After the race, my perspective of pain was still off. I hardly remembered the race hurting, but I know it did. I know that I gave it everything I had, which was all the redemption that I needed.
Redeemed or not, I was still feeling disappointed. Yes, I was impressed with Bryan’s winning performance, and proud of Ben and Jasper standing on their first National podium. But I was still feeling pretty gloomy. It takes time to reset after a couple tough competitions, a few days off from jumping and training on familiar grounds.
That’s exactly what I got. I had a day layover in Chicago for a USA Nordic fundraiser in partnership with Lagunitas. After that, I was finally back in Park City for the first time since early August. Few things beat the temperature swings of fall in the mountains, when crisp and cold mornings rapidly morph into warm, sunny afternoons. We kept the week after Nationals pretty easy – mostly training once a day rather than our usual twice a day. On the first Saturday back, a blanket of snow fell overnight, preventing our planned jump session. I think I still needed some time away from the hill, so I wasn’t too bummed out.
We spent this last weekend in Steamboat Springs, CO. Our entire team made it over for the third annual Oktoberfest fundraiser. A few dedicated parents put in some serious work to make this happen, and the support of the Steamboat community never ceases to make it worthwhile.
We didn’t break out our jumps skis while we were in the Boat, but we came out to show some support for the younger Park City and Steamboat kids jumping on the 70 and 40 meter. I don’t have the skills of their coaches, but I enjoy stepping in to motivate the next generation. I know how important it is for the youngsters to have the “big guys” to look up to, and the relationship goes both ways. We all enjoy the refreshing attitudes and joy of a little kid on a big ski jump.
In fact, these kids were so motivated to jump that they had no hesitation clearing the fresh snow off the jump before the session. Actually, I think they had as much fun doing this as anything.
Feeling rested, centered and focused, I’m ready to head back to Europe now for one last important training camp. Tomorrow (Monday) we’ll be en route to Oberstdorf, Germany, for a two-week block of high quality training. Oberstdorf is one of the few hills open at this time of year, and it has the significant benefit of a running ice track. We’ll get half the feelings of winter here, jumping from a refrigerated inrun but landing on traditional plastic. I'm looking forward to showing my coaches and I that I’m ready for winter here. By the time we return from this camp, I should have a better idea of where and when I’ll be starting the season. For now, it’s a bit up in the air, so there’s nothing I can do but hold my head up and keep plugging away.
Thank you for reading, and for the continual support. I’ve been really amazed with the community support this fall in my Rally Me campaign. I still have two weeks left to meet my goal, and we just made it over the halfway mark. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the page by clicking below. Again, thank you all so much for the support! I can promise to pay it forward!
One more thing... I should have time to keep blogging this season more than usual as I just finished up my last course with DeVry University! I'm feeling pretty fortunate to have undertaken this work while continuing to compete. As soon as the diploma comes in the mail, I'll officially have an B.S. in Business Administration. Maybe I'll keep busy this winter studying for the GRE!
Where am I?