Saturday, August 29, 2015

Racing with Trials and Tribulations

 Windham World Cup Podium
My mom, by far my loudest supporter.  Thanks Mom!
I have just wrapped up my most successful World Cup season
in my career. I never once placed outside of the top ten, and this consistency
put me in fourth overall coming into World Cup Finals in Val di Sole,
Italy.  There was only a mere twenty four
points separating me and current World Champion, Catharine Pendrel, in third
overall.  The gun went off at Val di
Sole, and I led out a good portion of the start lap.  I was feeling great, and then I had a quick
bobble coming into the first feed zone.
Then, on the first lap, I found myself completely sliding across the
grass on an off camber corner.  With
these two crashes, five girls passed me.
The world cup races are incredibly competitive and close these
days.  I was a little out of my descending
rhythm, and I settled somewhere in between tenth and eight amongst a pack that
was constantly switching places.  Since
Catherine was about a minute up on me battling for third place, I thought
moving ahead in the overall wasn’t a possibility.  But then, something amazing happened in the
last lap, and a group came together from fourth through tenth place.  That group included Catherine and then things
got really interesting.  The hunt for the
overall was on, and l passed her with about half a lap to go.  I knew I had to get at least two places in
between us so I caught Blaza in front of me as well.  Then, it was a battle to the finish line and
I outsprinted Blaza for seventh place.
Lady luck was on my side, and Eva Lechner outsprinted Catharine.  Helen Grobert squeaked in between us as well,
and I captured third place in the world cup overall by as little as four
points.  My Specialized teammates, Howard
Grotts, Jaroslav Kulhavy, and Troy Brosnan, also stepped onto that third step
in the overall in men’s U-23, elite men, and elite downhill respectively.  Fun fact, Troy, Howard, and I also all got
bronze world championships medals last year in Norway.  We are number three!

I didn’t start the season with the world cup overall as my
main goal, but it sure was a fantastic added bonus to the season.  Over the season, each world cup race is
unique and has a story, but three races stick out in my mind in
particular.  I’m still incredibly excited
by my career best second place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, but I’m also very
proud of my sixth place in Mount Saint Anne, Canada, and my fourth place in
Windham, NY.  Sometimes, life
happens.  Challenges pop up, emotional or
physical, big or small, and can come at any time. Athletes just have to put
their heads down and train or race.  I’ve
faced some significant physical challenges in the form of hip surgeries in the
past, but some pretty big emotional trials came right before Mount Saint Anne
and Windham world cups, my home races.  I
believe emotional events, a relationships break up,
are way more adverse than an injury.
With an my hip injury, I got it diagnosed, I fixed it, I let it heal,
and then I worked as hard as I possibly could during rehab.  With emotional challenges, there’s no step-by-step
process laid out in front of you, and, at this high of a level at the world
cup, a lot of racing is mental.  Believe
me, sadness is slow.  For me, it’s a
proven fact that happiness is fast.  So,
how to race when feeling broken on the inside?  
            The Mount Saint
Anne course is the most technical course on the circuit, and this year was no
exception.  The week before the race, I
was an emotional wreck, and I was in my head a lot.  Read: not grounded.  I knew I absolutely needed to be grounded to
ride this technical course or it was going to be dangerous.  So, luckily, I grounded myself by falling
into my normal pre-race routine, and pre-riding with my teammate Kate.  She had checked out all of the lines before I
arrived, and I just simply followed her wheel.
I was delighted to be able to ride everything smoothly, especially given
the circumstances.  I think another
important step through emotional trauma is to feel emotions.  If I suppress emotions, they just get
increase or rear their ugly head in a worse form.  It’s important to release sadness, cry, and
surround myself with a great support network to help pick up the pieces.  It’s also good to channel that emotional release
through workouts.  Also, I find it’s just
also very grounding to get one my bike and start pedaling.  It’s very familiar. 

Athletes are a paradox within themselves.  We are really in tune with our bodies.   We
know what threshold feels like, and we can detect slight tweaks..  But, we also are really good at the art of
denial.  I can’t even count the number of
times that I’ve heard athletes say, ‘No, I don’t have a cold.  This is just allergies’.  We must be able to deny the screaming legs
and the burning lungs and push through one more lap.  When the time is right, the art of denial can
really come in handy when dealing with emotional loss.  It’s crucial to use the power of denial to
focus on the task at hand, for me, racing Mount Saint Anne, and submerse myself
in racing.  Then, after the race, I could
start to deal with reality.  Everyone is
different, but the important steps for me were:
1) Fall into a familiar routine (if it doesn’t include or
remind you of the challenge at hand)
2) Surround yourself with positivity
3) Focus on the present (and use the perfected art of denial
to your benefit) when it comes to race time
4) When the time is right, feel and start to process.
5) Flexbility.  Go
easy on yourself. 

Maple Creemees and happiness watts are a important part of the healing process. 
This whole process seemed to work for those two North
American world cups.  I scored another
two top ten finishes and maintained my place in the world cup overall
ranking.  For me, overcoming the
circumstances to have two solid races was one of the biggest victories of the
season.  Up next is the World
Championships in Vallnord, Andorra.  I’m
so excited!  Thank you so much for all of
your support!