I’m sitting on a crammed airplane returning to Canada from Beijing after the very last race of the season and I have promised myself that I will complete this long overdue blog post during the 12-hour flight. There is something about the map on my tiny airplane screen that has inspired me. I guess there is nothing quite like the realization that you are soaring over the ocean at a speed of 900 km/ hour and an altitude of 9500m to put things into perspective.
This year I have been faced with my fair share of challenges. From getting concussed in the fall, falling ill at the Olympic trials, to narrowly missing making the Olympic team, it’s safe to say that my season did not go as planned. Nevertheless, over the past four months of racing, I have had a ton of racing opportunities and learned many lessons along the way.
- Chill Out. Seriously.
Last time I wrote, I was still drowning in self misery from the disappointment and frustration of not heading to the Olympics and I was trying my best to focus all my energy into performing at U23 World Championships. If I’m being honest, this plan did not work out and I was a far cry from reaching the goals I had dreamed of at U23’s. I knew I was in better shape than I had been all season, but my performance did not at all match up. It was only until after U23s, when I felt a huge relief, that I realized that my underperformance was due mostly to the pressure I was putting on myself. I wanted so badly to race fast to prove that I had deserved a spot on the Olympic team and wound up being overanxious and constantly disappointed, and in the end, this left me exhausted. The emotions I felt were probably normal given the circumstances, but the problem was that instead of letting these emotions drive me, I let them consume me. I was not having fun anymore and if there is one thing I have learned from Jessie Diggins, it’s that having fun makes you ski fast. Luckily, I did learn to chill out and to race for the joy of it, and better results followed!
- When one door closes, another door opens.
After finding out that I was not going to the Olympics, I decided to stay in Europe for three weeks following U23 World Championships for more high level racing. Throughout those three weeks, I raced a Swiss Cup, an OPA cup (European version of a NorAm) and a German Cup, racing a total of nine events at three different venues. This kind of variety is rare because I usually spend most of the ski season either racing the NorAm circuit in Canada (in order to qualify for World Cups) or on the World Cup circuit. Each race provided a new environment with unique challenges, allowing me to gain experience and perspectives I otherwise would have missed out on.
- Practice makes better, not perfect.
When it comes to ski racing, going fast is not just about being the fittest, or about pushing the hardest, or about having the best technique, or the best skis, or being mentally the toughest; skiing fast is a combination of every single one of those aspects. It’s impossible to get everything to come together perfectly every single race, but the more you practice each aspect the better you’ll get at being consistent, and the closer you’ll get to perfection. It is true that one of the biggest differences between racing in Canada and racing in Europe or Scandinavia is that in the latter the time gaps are significantly smaller, making each second count that much more. However, an even more important difference is that when we race outside of Canada we are forced to compete in a new environment. In Canada, you get comfortable with the people you race against and the courses you race on. You get to know your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and the most efficient way to ski each course. However, in a novel situation where you don’t have that familiarity to rely on, you are forced to think outside the box. These situations are what allow you to notice the more subtle aspects of ski racing like tactics, technique and ski speed, and to realize the impact of each of these variables.
I returned from Europe with some okay races, some good races and a couple of great races; but more importantly, I returned with the confidence that I could face this type of competition again and that next time I would be better prepared. At Nationals, my goal was to not forget all the little things in the comfort of racing at home and against familiar competition, and to challenge myself to try new things and to think outside the box. My team had an amazing week thanks to wicked fast skis every day and the best cheering squad. I wrapped up the season with probably my most successful Nationals so far, the highlights being winning the 30km mass start and taking the senior aggregate and U23 aggregate titles.
I would like to thank all the people who helped me get to the start line this year. First off, thank you to Business Sherpa Group, one of my biggest supporters, for believing in me through the ups and downs. Second, I would like to thank Nakkertok Nordic for your endless support. I am so proud to be part of such an amazing community and I love repping the banana suit every year at the Nationals team sprint. Another shout out goes to Fondation Athlète Excellence du Québec (FAEQ) and La Capitale, CanFund, Ski de Fond Québec, Conseil de Développement du Sport de Gatineau (CDSG), ENGNE (Evénenement Nordique Gatineau Nordic Events), the Chelsea Masters for putting on the FUNdrace, Jaimie Coatsworth and many others who helped ease the financial burden of ski racing. Finally, thank you to my coaches, teammates and integrated support team at NTDC Thunder Bay and to my family and friends. I am so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a supportive community.
Here’s to the end of another fun season and for many more to come!
Keep your eyes peeled for another blog post about my adventures in China!