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Wild Rumpus Sports
 

My Barbie doll is jealous of my biceps.

I’ve only lost my cool in the gym once in my life. I was lifting weights early in the morning my senior year of high school, intent on being able to do 3 sets of pull-ups like I’d seen the senior athletes do at regional training camps. I was serious about training hard for cross country skiing, which meant that, like it or not, I was going to have to get serious about spending some time in the gym to get strong.

I was getting ready to do my first set of pull-ups with some assistance from a rubber band when a football player walked up with his chest puffed out.

“Move over, I’m about to do some REAL pull-ups.” he announced. “I need that bar.”

I almost punched him in his smug, stupidly chiseled jaw.

“These ARE real pull-ups.” I spat out. “You can just SIT AND WAIT!”

I was furious that, because I was a girl, he assumed he could boss me around and take over the lifting equipment just because he was going to lift something heavier than me. But maybe I should thank him, because I was intensely motivated to progress to unassisted pull-ups pretty quickly after that.

 

Working on push jerks in the gym. It doesn’t matter what weight you’re lifting, as long as you’re practicing good form! (photo by Todd Smith)

Either way, most women I’ve talked to can relate to a moment of feeling belittled, uncomfortable or out of place in the gym. Sometimes you feel self-conscious because you’re not super strong, or because you are incredibly strong and people are openly staring at you, wondering what sport you play.

I eventually learned to feel comfortable in the gym and convinced myself that I belonged, even when doing my weird “skier exercises”. But once I grew those coveted muscles, I wasn’t sure if I should be proud of them anymore. Finding a prom dress really, really sucked (and don’t get me started on the sports bra and heart rate monitor tan lines). Finding a pair of jeans that fit my quads without a huge gap in the waist was nigh-impossible, and some of the boys I dated weren’t super comfortable with the idea of their girlfriend being proportionately stronger and faster than they were. I had worked so hard to get strong and get biceps, but once I had them, they didn’t seem that awesome anymore.

Showing what it means to “train like a girl” at a Salomon photo shoot! (photo from Salomon)

Everywhere I looked, society had signs showing me what I should be striving towards. Billboard ads, tv ads, Hollywood stars, Disney princesses, even the Barbie dolls my little sister and I had played with…none of those cultural ideals looked like the professional athlete I was trying to become. I realized I needed some new heroes…and maybe the goal wasn’t necessarily to look like my Barbie doll (a feat that is anatomically impossible, by the way).

I want to make sure the next generation of girls know that they can get after it in any sport they choose!

Ultimately, I learned to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. The choices I make and the goals I can hunt down are much more important than how someone else thinks I look. Of course…that’s easy to say, and much harder to believe! But it’s a great place to start.

You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, and you don’t have to look like a barbie doll (but if you do, that’s cool, too). You only need to look like YOU, and you’re allowed to change over the course of your life! If you want to grow your muscles, that’s great. If you don’t happen to have to have tons of them, you can still hit the gym or run up a mountain, if that’s what you want to do. The bottom line is that you don’t have to look a certain way to fit in. You just need to have goals, and feel supported in whatever sports you want to take on.

Grateful to each and every one of my muscles for getting me up and over 9 mountains on a 7.5 hour run this summer! Coach Pat being the best support ever in the background there!

The other worry I hear from many young women in sport is that they’re not allowed to be fierce and feminine at the same time. And I can relate to that – I’m famous for wearing sparkles on my face when I race, for goodness sake! But I also have a pretty sweet layer of drool over that glitter, because I’m pushing myself so incredibly hard. In fact, racing all-out from the gun and pushing your body past limits has become synonymous with “racing like a girl” on the cross country World Cup circuit. The women of the World Cup are known for pushing the pace right from the start and not being afraid to take chances and string out the field. And that’s a really, really cool thing to be known for.

You can be the grittiest, most badass racer on course…and do it with glitter on your face and braids in your hair (if that’s what you want)! You don’t have to choose between feeling strong and feeling beautiful, because they’re the same thing. I mean, I’m sponsored by a jewelry company (shoutout to Ross-Simons for being awesome!) and I wear really pretty sparkly things…all while I’m pushing myself in training and going on 3 hour long muddy, rocky runs on the AT trail. My point is that you never have to feel that pursuing sports will mean you can’t feel beautiful. In fact, you may find that feeling strong and capable makes you feel more beautiful because it’s coming from a place of strength! The key word here is “feel”, because it’s about how you feel inside, not how others think you look.

I love that I see glitter on both boys and girls of all ages, by the way. It’s not just a girl thing! The glitter, to me, is a statement; a promise to myself that I race because I love this sport, and a promise to go out there and have fun while laying it all out on the course. It’s a reminder to race with joy, to appreciate the fact that I get to be here.

Glitter and grit. You can possess both! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Why am I going on about this? Certainly not to save future football players from being punched in the face. It’s to save them from making that kind of comment in the first place.

Being a girl in sport is so incredibly fun. I don’t ever feel less-than. I train exactly as hard as the boys, and I learn from them in training just as they learn from me in return. I race the same World Cup circuit, and when I place in the top 20, I’m paid exactly the same as the equivalent place on the men’s side. We have the same amount of cheering as the men, and our personal sponsors are determined by our individual merit and effort, but we have equal opportunity.

I love that, at a young age, we all line up on the same start line. It’s cool to see that as we get older, we can still support each other even if men and women race at different times! (photo from SMS)

While giving an interview earlier this year, I mentioned how lucky I felt to be paid the same as the men on the World Cup, especially as news about Women’s Hockey and Soccer team pay gaps were coming out. Then I realized how dumb that sounded. I should never feel lucky for being paid to do exactly the same thing as my male counterparts. It shouldn’t be something I think about at all (and for the most part, I don’t). It should simply be a fact, for all women, in all sports, in all jobs. I feel so completely supported by the boys on our team, by our coaching staff, and by my sponsors. Because of this complete support, I feel like I can take on any training or racing challenge.

Girls belong in sport, in all capacities, in all body types. We belong as professional athletes, as recreational athletes, as coaches, as National Governing Body leaders. It’s our job – men and women – to keep girls in sport. What we say to the girls in our life as they set goals and work towards them can help empower them and keep them on track, or make them doubt themselves or feel out of place. The same holds true for young men as well; they also deserve respect, guidance and encouragement as they pursue their goals, regardless of body type or innate skill level.

Everyone working together at SMS during the summer (photo from Pat O’Brien)

Our words and actions have a huge impact on young people and coaches have one of the most influential roles in a child’s life. I know, because the words I heard from a former coach – no matter how innocent their intent was –contributed to my eating disorder.

You’d be surprised to learn how powerful our words and actions are. Proud to be a spokesperson for the Emily Program!

So, I want to remind you, if you’re a coach and you haven’t already, please sign up for WithAll’s “What to Say” Coaches Challenge. During the 5-week Challenge, participating coaches receive short weekly emails with a phrase to use, context on why the phrase matters, questions for self-reflection, and suggested action steps to do with their athletes that week. It’s SO EASY and only takes 3-5 minutes of your time each week. What are you waiting for? Just do it. Please. On behalf of all the young (and older!) athletes you’ll interact with in your lifetime.

They are running one more pilot this fall and the deadline to sign up is October 20, so head over to whattosaynow.org/coaches and sign up now.

In other training news, I’m currently crushing caffeinated beverages at a coffee shop on main street, Lake Placid, NY. We’ve just finished up our first week of training and are starting on our second week! Right before camp started we got to cheer on Simi and Sophie as they got married on the most beautiful fall day in Vermont, and it was so fun to see these good friends and long time teammates tie the knot!

This Bride is beautiful from the inside out!

Past and present SMST2 team teammates, all here to celebrate the happy couple!

This fall, we’ve split the US team camp into two parts; an altitude camp for half the team in Park City and a sea-level camp for some of us in Lake Placid. I love coming here, being inspired by seeing athletes from many different sports all training hard at the Olympic Training Center, and feeling the strong Olympic history of the town itself!

Fall leaf peeping! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

We have a few team time trials to start dialing in our race-pace intensity, and try out tactics on each other. It’s been so fun to team up with SMS, Craftsbury and Sun Valley as well as a few Collegiate teams coming in next week. I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible from everyone here!

Hard double pole intervals with this fast group of girls! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Caitlin Patterson, Simi Hamilton, Sophie Caldwell, Erik Bjornsen, me, Kevin Bolger and Julia Kern (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Creating a new arena

“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backwards after taking a step forwards is not a disaster. It is a cha cha.” – Robert Brault I feel like the last few years have been big opportunities for learning more about myself; learning what I can do, what I can’t do (yet) and where I feel comfortable in the great balancing act of work, life, family time and outside commitments. It’s no secret that last summer I found myself completely overwhelmed by the number of things I was doing outside of training. I hadn’t allowed enough time for simply recovering and absorbing the crazy amount of training I was doing. As a result, I found myself feeling just a little bit emotionally and physically tired all the time…not enough to really notice it as it was happening, but with some hindsight, enough to notice that I feel much better this…

Words matter, so let’s learn What To Say.

The spring after competing in my first Olympic Games in 2014, I should have been full of self-confidence, fired up about training hard, and setting big goals. And I was! But one particular event really shook my faith in myself, and my confidence in rocking the muscles I had spent hundreds of hours sweating to be able to have. We had a bonfire party at my house to celebrate the end of the season, and invited a bunch of friends over. Someone who had been one of our many awesome volunteer coaches for my high school team came over to wish me well after the season, and after talking for a few minutes they casually threw out “wow, you look a lot bigger than you did in high school! Have you gained weight?” The casual comment about my size and shape of my body was what I would call an…

The inside guide to Peru, part two!

I’m back! Ready for part two of the Salkantay trek, and Machu Picchu? Picking up where I left off, we woke up nice and early (thanks to Heihei the slightly confused rooster, whom I still haven’t forgiven), and started our third day with…a van ride! Only in Peru does the graffiti feature…Llamas?!? (photo from Cesar) Cesar had learned the night before that there had been a huge landslide that took out the hiking path we were supposed to go on a few weeks ago. They had dug out a new path through the slide, but just three days ago it slid once again, and thank goodness for our guide figuring that out ahead of time! We said goodbye to the horses and the porters who had taken care of them, and took a car on the bumpy dirt road across the part of the valley that was most prone to…

The guide to a crazy fun Peru trip, part 1

Wade and I just returned from an absolutely incredible trip in Peru, stopping in Boston for a quick 20 hours before joining his family on their vacation in San Diego for a few days. Getting the chance to fully re-set and recharge my batteries? Glorious. Not checking email for two weeks? Terrifying (and glorious). Loved the sun and sand time! Even better than the beach? Time with Wade and his family! I’ve had so many people reach out with questions about the trip that I wanted to write a little guide, a rundown of the places we saw and what the Salkantay trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu was like. Then I realized that “a little guide” just wasn’t going to cut it…I like to talk way too much to keep this short. So without further rambling, here’s part one of our trip to Peru! The goal? Machu Picchu! First…

Looking back on the past year

Racing in Falun (photo by Nordic Focus) You guys…what a crazy year this has been. I left the US on November 14th, and this is my first time back in the states. People often ask how we manage being on the road for 4-5 months at a time, and it’s both easy and hard. Easy, because we adapt to our new “normal” fairly quickly. When you accept that you’ll be living out of your suitcase in hotel rooms for weeks on end, you fall into a new rhythm of packing and unpacking, traveling constantly. That can be both exciting and fun! I don’t know what kind of job I’ll get “when I grow up”…but I’m focused on appreciating the opportunities I have in the here and now. The US Women’s team in Quebec – Ida’s final World Cup race! (photo from Nordic Focus) Constant travel can also be hard, because…

A look back on Seefeld

Let me start by saying this; no, I was not cold racing in shorts and short sleeves, yes, you should try it sometime, and yes, it was refreshing to have the cold slush hitting my legs! Somehow, the sight of me racing in a short suit was more interesting and befuddling to most reporters than the actual race itself. Clearly, they haven’t ever experienced a Minnesota cold snap. Now THAT is cold weather! Apparently, it got up to the high 60’s in temps that day! (photo from Nordic Focus) Honestly, it’s hard to describe the amount of distress overheating puts me in, but let me put it this way; racing is already one of the most painful things you can do. If I have to deal with being incredibly uncomfortable, dizzy, and feeling my body start to shut down because I’m way too hot, it becomes even harder to continue…

Let’s talk about eating disorders

Hello from a super sunny Seefeld! It’s been some absolutely amazing weather and atmosphere in the packed stadium for the first few races of World Champs this week. And, as always, it’s fun to get out there and do what I love! But this post isn’t actually about ski racing (there will be an update on the races coming later!). It’s about something much more important. Headed into more races soon! photo by THIBAUT/NordicFocus. This week is Eating Disorders Awareness week, and I want to call attention to the fact that eating disorders are: 1 Common – More than 30 million people in the U.S. will have an eating disorder. 2. Serious – Eating disorders have devastating physical and psychological consequences—roughly one person dies every hour from eating disorder complications. 3. NOT a Choice – Eating disorders are biologically based illnesses influenced by psychological, sociocultural and physiological factors. Reaching out…

Heart on Fire

I’m watching the snow swirl ferociously around the window, snowflakes magically drifting upwards as the wind gets caught around the side of the hotel. It’s amazing to see how much snow we’ve gotten both here in Davos and back in Seefeld, and I’m thrilled to be able to play in it, ski hundreds of kilometers on freshly groomed trails, and bomb down through the powder. A beautiful view in Davos! (photo from Caitlin Patterson)   Let’s get something straight, though. Local weather is not the same as climate, and just because we’ve had a great snow year doesn’t mean climate change isn’t a real threat. Although, sadly, our current president of FIS doesn’t seem to realize that. However, he also tried to stop women’s ski jumping from becoming an Olympic event, saying in 2005; “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two metres on the ground about a…

Finding my happy!

Seefeld training camp over the holiday break was incredibly wonderful, and it was exactly what I needed. I found my happy again, and I re-kindled my joy for ski racing through easy fun skis with my boyfriend Wade, and taking a big step back from World Cup racing to just remember how much fun it is to be gliding through snowy wooded trails, enjoying the feeling of sending it on the downhills and appreciating how beautiful the scenery is. We also got a ton of fresh new snow, so it was a winter wonderland! What a picturesque trail! “But wait, what’s this need for finding the joy in racing again”, you ask? Well, a few weeks ago, I would have said “I don’t want to talk about it, s’all ok here”. But I changed my mind. I DO want to talk about it, because not every day of my life…