So Much To Be Gained In The Struggle
I grew up in the suburbs of Hamden, Connecticut. I have one older sister, two amazing parents, and always seem to have a pet of some kind. As a kid, our dog was a Golden Retriever named Rusty, and as an adult, I have a dog, Milo and two cats, Bella and Bucky. Life was pretty simple as a child as I look back on it 20+ years later. My family encouraged my energetic nature and I played many sports; traditional ones like soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, and the less traditional ones like climbing, kayaking, and skiing. My parents loved the mountains and for as long as I can remember, our weekends involved a 3 hour drive up into the Green Mountains of Vermont, where we had a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere, our closest neighbors being coyotes, deer and trees. Spending time up there was always magical- it gave me awareness from an early age that there were alternative places to live and alternative ways of living. I often felt like a different child when I was in Vermont, a more liberated version of myself. I could play outside in the backyard tracking gardener snakes and frogs and bring them proudly inside to my parents who were generally frightened and appalled! But there was a spirit inside of me that really came alive in those mountains and as I grew up, my desire to spend more time up there increased.
Through my time in Vermont, I also found a passion for skiing, alpine skiing, the adrenaline filled kind. From an early age I took to the sport and would often leave my dad bewildered as I took off straight downhill at top speed as he helped coax my sister one pizza wedge turn at a time. I would always wait at the chairlift for both of them, ready to head back up and do it again. By the age of 9 I was keeping up with my father on all of the terrain at Okemo Mountain, and where we both would truly come alive was through the mogul fields. What could be better than a snowfield of hundreds of mounds of snow—unrelenting obstacles asking to be overcome? We would chase each other like cat and mouse, beaming extensively, smiling ear to ear. Our days were long. We would ski from 9 until 4 in the afternoon, with only a short lunch break of chicken tenders and the world’s most delicious curly fries. And upon returning home to our cabin, we would collapse on the floor in front of the fire in our wood-burning stove, trying to rejuvenate so we could do it again tomorrow.
Eventually my dad encouraged me to join the Freestyle Team at Okemo so that I could utilize the knowledge of coaches. We would see the team training, and though I had a desire to get better I was scared about meeting new people and not being able to ski with the comfort of my dad every day. Ultimately I took off my training wheels and joined the team, but my first year was very challenging. I was the new kid, and as all the other skiers went to each other’s slopeside houses for lunch, I would meet up with my dad and continue skiing moguls, continue training. I felt that the only way for me to really be accepted into the group was to come out skiing really hard, to earn respect through my talents and my skill, perhaps why I still feel I need to be good at everything that I do. But my talents and skill were not shining through under such pressure. I began to fall a lot more than I ever had. By the end of the season I was pretty discouraged and doubted whether or not I should continue. Again, my desire to overcome the obstacles in front of me, the moguls of snow and emotions, convinced me to push on. The next year went a little more smoothly and as my skiing began to give me confidence, my personality started to shine through. Soon enough I was being invited to lunch at the fancy slopeside houses, where we would watch ski movies and make assembly line grilled cheese sandwiches. It was at one of these lunches where I would fortuitously see a girl, Marie Martinod, do a 540 in a halfpipe, on a TV screen.
I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from there, but it wasn’t. That season, it was suggested that I learn how to jump so that I could eventually enter a mogul contest, which consists of 3 sections of moguls with a jump in between each section. One of the best skiers on the team told me to go straight toward the jump, no turns, make a few pole plants for extra speed, lean forward and when I get to the end of the jump pop really hard. He didn’t realize that even at the age of 11 I was very analytical and I took his commands verbatim. As I left the jump, I began to flip, I tucked my head intuitively out of fear and landed on my back, after executing ¾ of a front-flip to ironic perfection. Instantaneously both coaches were standing above me, very concerned, there were gawks and gasps from everyone on the team, and I knew I did something unexpected. I was mortified. I wanted to crawl in a hole, to turn back the hands of time and do it right. But that wasn’t an option. I just had to carry on and my embarrassment didn’t stop there.
Once I started skiing better with the team, I was encouraged to start competing. Again, I was put under pressure to perform my skill, alone. There is no one else to hide behind when you are competing in ski competitions, no one else to blame for your mistakes. In my first competition I fell 4 times in one run. I even fell as I was crossing the finish line, sliding dramatically into the fencing at the bottom of the course just narrowly preventing me from catapulting into the trees. I was off to a bumpy, pun intended, beginning.
But for some reason, I kept going. It must just come back to LOVE, right? I just loved skiing so much that I kept returning to these difficult situations. No, that wasn’t it. If it was just love and all I wanted to do was have fun, I would have gone back to my 9-4 days of skiing with my dad. I wanted to overcome this. I wanted to conquer my demons, stare fear in the face and win. I wanted to master my craft. And when I would make it through one of these obstacles, the feeling that I would have afterward was virtually indescribable. It was (and still is) a feeling that suggests that everything at first seems impossible, but actually, nothing is impossible! How empowering.
I realize today that I am the same as I always have been. I am the same girl that wants to overcome, the same girl that saw obstacles and trouble as a place for growth and opportunity not as some horrific unconquerable mess. There are so many parallels to my journey as a young girl just entering this sport to my journey now as an accomplished pro. Setting aside the ego, ignoring feelings of embarrassment and shame, feelings of not fitting in or being understood, feelings of doubt, these are all issues that I continue to manage, just with a greater awareness now. As a kid, I did so instinctively, and now as a socialized adult I have to do so consciously.
This process becomes more familiar with age, but not really any easier. Now, there is a lot more to lose- a career, a house, a lot of money, but just as much to gain. The longer I continue down this path, the more I learn about myself and the more I have to share with others; I gain pride and a sense of accomplishment with every passing day, I have more opportunities surrounding me, more doors waiting to be opened than ever before. I continue to look past my doubts and fears because I have confirmed over the last decade that focusing on those is the fastest way to make your doubts and fears your reality. I suppose that my mission in following my dream is to pass along the word to others, that if it’s easy, it’s not worth it. There is so much to be gained in the struggle, so much to be gained in following your heart.