EnjoyWinter Factory Team Ski de She Recap
Investing in the Long Game
This past weekend, I had the privilege of racing at the 2nd annual Ski de She in Cable, Wisconsin. Despite the frigid temperatures and the overall lack of snow, spirits were high. In my first marathon of the season, I was happy to take the victory, but even more so to share the podium with Caitlin Gregg, Holly Brooks, and Jennie Bender, who all inspired me growing up, and whose expo posters graced my bedroom walls.
Going into the weekend, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect because some all-women’s events I have attended in the past felt more like echo chambers of grievance rather than catalysts to achieve or embody lasting empowerment. Let me assure you that this was NOT one of those events.
The Ski de She was a powerful reminder of the work that we still need to do to encourage more young girls to participate in sport, and equally as important, retain women of all ages in active lifestyles and active communities. A startling statistic I learned was that about 80% of participants in the American Birkebeiner are men. I cannot say how many times I have heard women demean their abilities, downplay their potential, and push aside their own needs or ambitions for the sake of others. Even the same women who wholeheartedly encourage their children, spouses or teammates to embrace imperfection
in the pursuit of a challenging task do not allow the same grace for themselves. The Ski de She camp felt like a step towards changing that dynamic.
I saw women this weekend who were confident and curious, eager and determined, brave and vulnerable. I saw women who pushed themselves to do something challenging, even though it scared them (and even though it was -6ºF!). I saw women with a collective desire to be kinder to ourselves, to fuel our bodies and honor what they can do, not what they look like. It was an incredible gathering of women (and plenty of male volunteers!) who love skiing and are invested in building an enduring community of strong, happy and healthy female athletes empowered to leave the sport better than they found it.
It made me feel so excited for the future of skiing and left me introspective about my own journey and where I am now.
Holly Brooks was the keynote speaker of the event and her message was “invest in yourself, stay in the game.” This resonated strongly with me because it is more or less what prompted me to pursue a different competitive path this year.
I’ve had many people ask me why I “quit skiing” or “why didn’t you give it one more year to make the World Cup in Minneapolis?” What they don’t know is that more than once last season, the idea of racing
left me panic sobbing in a porta-potty minutes before the start. Trust me, a race morning porta-potty is not a comforting place to have any sort of breakdown. The stubborn part of me thinks that I could have made it work, that one more year of dedication and harder training could have put me on the next level. The incurable belief that you have more to give is what makes elite athletes special. But it is not always sustainable and it sometimes requires divesting in parts of yourself that you need to stay in the lifelong game of skiing as a lifestyle.
We are accustomed to pushing through pain, and while that gives us an edge, it also leaves us vulnerable; to mental and physical burn out and to injury or illness. Racing the way that I was didn’t make me happy, and it broke my heart that something I loved didn’t feel right to me anymore.
I believe that if I had continued racing at the Super Tour level I would have improved, but by how much and at what cost is impossible to say. Maybe I could have achieved that world cup start, but while that was always a goal, it was never the end goal.
I have to restrain myself from being snarky at people who ask me why I “quit skiing.” I absolutely did not quit skiing, I reinvested myself in it. I didn’t “quit skiing”, I made a choice to keep myself in the game for longer, because I have more to give.
High level racing in college and on the SuperTour was amazing in many ways and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. But racing at that level, you don’t actually get to ski all that much because you
need to spend so much time recovering from racing. I missed skiing for the fun of it - so this year I skied 80 hours in 3.5 weeks in Dec/Jan because I wanted to and no one could stop me. And I loved it and I felt incredibly joyful doing it. I still feel nervous for races, but not in a debilitating way. I find joy in being on the start line, in pushing myself on the course, but more than that, I find joy in just skiing for the sake of it. And that is always what I loved more than any racing success.
Another one of Holly’s messages was be a “model not a martyr.” I only hope I can be a model to other athletes that there is more than one way to ski race, and that making the world cup does not have to be the only competitive goal that matters. If that is what you want to do, GO FOR IT! But if SuperTour isn’t for you, that does not mean you have to stop being competitive or stop skiing. Choosing the parts of skiing you love and shaping your experience around that is a great way to stay in the game for the rest of your life.
This past weekend was such a positive reinforcement of investing in things that bring you joy. Those things can be challenging, and they are not always fun, but at the end of the day they leave you fulfilled and excited for the future.
I for one am brimming with excitement for the rest of the season. Next up - I am headed to Craftsbury, VT to race both of the Craftsbury Marathons- the 50k Classic and the 30k Freestyle - snow permitting.
Photos courtesy of the American Birkebeiner Association & Andy Gerlach