Why Do We Forget Lessons We've Learned?

On November 2, 2012 I woke up around 7:30, ate breakfast with my US Freeskiing teammates & coaches and headed to the gym. I rode a bike, stretched, did some light plyos and finally stretched some more.  It was a typical morning in a sense, but not typical for me over the last 10 months. I was, for the first time since January 10, 2012, going to put on ski clothes, ski boots and skis, get on a chairlift, and glide down the snow.

I love what I do.  I have always loved it.  Skiing on flat, icy terrain back east, somehow hooked me.  And when I found myself nearly sponsorless in 2007, and thousands of dollars in debt, I really evaluated what I was doing with this whole skiing thing.  It became clear that my main reason was simply that I loved to ski. I loved to carve turns down a mountain, to feel the forces of gravity, to throw my skis side to side on the brink of losing control just to feel my edges grab hold and throttle me into another turn.  I loved the feeling of dropping into a halfpipe, the surge of adrenaline, the feeling of your stomach rising into your chest as your body drops down the wall so forcefully, pumping, driving and creating speed.

So, I recommitted myself to skiing regardless of sponsor support. I focused on my love of the sport and was motivated by my own desires to progress.  After 2 successful seasons and some of the best results I had yet to achieve,  I found myself about to have my 3rd knee surgery.  Throughout the rehabilitation process I constantly visualized the skiing that I wanted to return to.  I imagined my run, felt how it would feel to do it perfectly, I saw myself standing on podiums and completing what I had set out to accomplish.  Coming back from that surgery I was skiing better than ever.  I came into the season without expectations, just willing to do whatever I could every day.  I went on to win almost every contest that next season (2009-2010), I won X-Games, European X-Games, US Nationals, and WSI to name a few.

After that season I was on cloud 9. I had thought about and dreamed about winning X-Games for 7 years and it finally happened.  I was having so much fun skiing and I wanted to ride the wave for as long as I could.  But as time passed, a thought crept into my mind that became very dominant over time.  I don't want people to think that my one year on top was a fluke.  I wanted to continue skiing well, to show people that I was good, to prove my worth.  Suddenly my motivation shifted from the pure intrinsic motivation that helps us get things done and keeps us happy, to that superficial extrinsic motivation, the stuff that wears us down, stresses us out and isn't much fun.  Suddenly I was back to my 2007 self, forgetting that I do this sport purely for love and to challenge myself.

The following season I was skiing even better but the results weren't coming in how I wanted them too.  Because my focus had shifted to the people pleasing mentality, I was never happy with being 2nd or 3rd.  I tried to fight my mindset, but it wasn't genuine.  That season ended a little short when I crashed in Europe dislocating my shoulder and spraining my knee. Injury is never fun, but it can serve as a time for reflection, for evaluating our current state and shocking us back into reatlity, reminding us of what is truly important.  But this crash was scary and processing it was even scarier.  So, I jumped straight into rehab and back into my training.  I was putting all of my attention on the physical, not the mental, part of what I do.  My focus was still on proving to people I was capable of greatness, not on just skiing for the love of it.  Sure enough at the start of last winter, I was bogged down with pressure and expectations, now carrying a bigger monkey on my back because I had suppressed all of my fears from that crash the previous winter.  It didn't take long for it to all catch up with me, and then some.  Mid-January I blew my knee out... badly. And a week later Sarah passed away.  There I was. Rock bottom. The perfect time to rebuild.

The following 9 months have been grueling.  My rehab was slow, and a build up of scar tissue required a second surgery in July.  Running became hard, jumping even harder.  But as the winter neared I reminded myself why I was working so hard.  I love to ski.  That's why I'm here and that's why it's all worth it.  I've worked hard for this life I live and sometimes I take it for granted.  I focus on the have-nots instead of the haves.  But I'm hoping that the lesson learned this time will stay with me.  I have never been so excited to ski again, for the good and even the bad. I'm excited to have frozen toes, and a frostbitten nose; to miss a flight because of bad weather; to have swollen legs after an 11 hour flight; to get lost for 5 hours driving around Europe because I insisted on not needing a GPS; to miss a podium spot even though I thought I deserved it; but more than anything to continue working hard for my dreams.

My first few days back on snow were great.  By my new standards they couldn't have been better.  Sure, my knee hurt and I have a lot more work to do before I'm in competition shape, but I was on the hill with my friends, some of whom are in the same boat, I was skiing, yes on groomers of man made snow and even in the rain, but I'm still in pursuit of my goals.  As Teddy Roosevelt says "do what you can with what you have where you are." Go out and get it.