In the past month since I’ve last posted, I’ve been in two European countries competing, graciously, in the World Cup telemark races. I’ve raced with the world’s best. It was my first experience racing at the World Cup level and I was a fluxing mess of excitement, nerves, awe, and disappointment. I crashed in my first race. I finished last in three out of the five competitions.
While no medal hung from my neck, my humbled self, had the most incredible experience. I met the most wonderful men and women from across Europe, each trying to stake their claim in a lesser known sport. Thankfully most of them spoke English so language was not a barrier. However, the language of competition, sport, and the love of snow and the mountains often needs not a translator.
So, for two and a half weeks I traveled with my boyfriend and fellow racer to Germany and Austria. We joined two other American teammates, Cory and Shane. We raced in the pouring rain in Germany, enjoyed beer at night in our boarding house, stuffed ourselves on homemade breakfasts and in our own ways, navigated the path down the course in the fastest manner. The four of us bonded with the Danish team after our races in Slovenia were cancelled due to lack of snow and rain. We trained one slope over from the United States Women’s Alpine team one morning in Zell am See, Austria. We skied on a glacier and spent our nights tuning skis, laughing over card and dice games, and eating dinners together, always choosing the wordiest item off the menu not really knowing what we’d be served, save Cole’s limited German. It was better to be surprised!
Internally, I battled the Inner Evil Voice. Some brief moments, I hated all of it. I hated that I wasn’t the fastest. I hated the jump and how I couldn’t land in telemark position nor make the jump line so I tallied a 4 second penalty. I blamed my newness to the sport on my shortcomings. I told myself I was too old to learn a new, challenging sport. I wasn’t that nice to myself. But, I didn’t let it show on my exterior. Well, there were a few moments of revelation with Cole, on chairlift rides and in our bed at night about my fears and worries. “What am I getting myself into”? I’d ask.
It was my main personal goal to not allow my teammates and the other racers know about my internal struggles. I didn’t want to cry or whine or have a bad attitude. I took my falls and last place finishes with a smile, a laugh and a encouraged others around me to ski fast, skate strong and have good runs. I asked tons of questions about how to improve. I chatted with the other girls at the finish as we cheered for the men as they exhausted themselves on the skate section of the race course. I knew that I wasn’t alone with my head game. I knew that all of the racers faced an inner monologue that probably wasn’t kind to them either.
I knew I was participating in the adventure of a lifetime, as cheesy as that sounds. But it was an adventure of the physical body but also of how my mind dealt with a slew of variables from traveling in a foreign country, the pressure of racing on such an elite level, and ensuring that I looked at the entire racing picture, from creating bonds with other competitors, to walking through the small villages and exploring what these new worlds had to offer. I was apart of something special and grand and I tried my very best to be grateful and humble for the incredible opportunity.
It was all too difficult to return home at the end of January, although I missed the dogs. I was getting quite used to the traveling ski racing life and my daily indulgences of Bavarian style pretzels.
The experience renewed my feelings towards telemark ski racing. I believed I could produce better results. While there were moments of self-pity, I felt that if I worked harder, focused on my weaknesses, I’d be a better racer. Cole and I planned to dedicate more hours to training: conquering the jump and spending a lot more time skate skiing. We had a plan. We were excited, motivated and gushing with enthusiasm for the sport and our memorable World Cup experiences from bitter cold races to the team parades through the hosting village.
Then, last week in training, just hours after I purchased a new pair of training and race skis, I dislocated my shoulder on a gate. I hit a gate too straight and felt my left shoulder rip from where it usually and comfortably likes to attach to my body. It was mighty painful. And in this past week, I’ve seen a few doctors, had my should injected with “contrast” for an MRI and spent 25 horrid minutes in a small tube shaken by loud, magnetic noises. There was talk of tears and surgery. Of a six month healing process. I am prone and probably, in some sick way, like to indulge in the worse-case scenario. Instead of focusing on healing, I dwelt in the landscape of pain, of self-pity, of escape. My twisted little brain snickered, now you’re done. No more skiing for you. Just get everyone’s sympathy and you won’t have to work so hard at racing.
Cole tended to me with love and strength. My mother called all the time. Cole’s parents, who live in Whitefish, visited often. His mother took me to one of my appointments and since I am left handed, I needed a bit of help with filling out my paperwork. I believe Jeanne and I truly bonded over the “Is there a chance you could be pregnant?” question. My friends spent a lot time on the phone with me, offering their sympathy and encouragement. Glorious Facebook kept me in good spirits with messages and several thumbs up to my status reports.
I prepared myself for the worse as I waited in Dr. Bailey’s office this morning. The MRI showed no tears, no deep bone bruising. Instead of surgery, I was looking at physical therapy. Instead of a six month recovery time period, I had three mere weeks.
I can still race. I can still compete in Norway for the World Cup finals and then hope to give my teammates a run for their money at the US National Championships at the end of March in Colorado. Those new race skis don’t have to wait until next season to touch snow.
I realized something this morning while I waited alone in the doctor’s office. I put so much of myself into telemark ski racing–and knew, despite what my EIV likes to bitch and moan about, that this is what truly make me happy, whether I finish in first or last place. Ok, first place would be amazing. But last isn’t so bad either. The other racers still talked to me, laughed with me and didn’t think I was a total loser. Even I didn’t think I was a total loser. I got into that start gate each day. I didn’t whine or cry or throw a fit. I was in the Alps, some of the most stunning peaks I’ve ever witnessed, and I was on snow.
Even with this bum shoulder, I am still the luckiest girl I know.