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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 unintentional cruelty. In fact, when I look back on it, they may have even intended the remark as a compliment! But whatever the intention was, that evening, I slid back into my eating disordered habits for the first time in over a year, throwing up everything I ate for three days before getting help and once again committing to taking care of myself. I didn’t reach out to or talk to that person again for 3 years. When I think about this person, to this day, their comment is the first thing that comes to mind, which is honestly really sad. Clearly, they didn’t have any idea that they caused me harm, but through their words, they caused me such physical distress that I was one unlucky day away from a serious trip to the hospital.

That an off-hand comment from someone who wasn’t even extremely close to me could have such a destructive impact on my mental and physical well being seemed crazy, but there I was, relapsing into my eating disorder because I no longer felt fast, powerful, or confident. I only felt “too big”.

If one sentence can spiral an Olympic athlete back into an eating disorder, take a moment and imagine what a parent or coach could cause by telling a young athlete directly under their mentorship something along the lines of “you’d be much faster if you lost weight”, or “you could jump higher if only you dropped 10 pounds”.

Words matter. What we say to the people who look up to us, especially as coaches and parents, can have a huge impact on them. You can’t directly cause an eating disorder with your words—eating disorders are complicated, and multiple factors contribute to their development. But the words we say to others can be, and often are, significant contributors to a person’s an eating disorder.  Or, words can set one off. I know, because it happened to me.

I am so proud to speak up about my past with an eating disorder in order to help people currently struggling see that there IS hope! (photo from Julia Kern)

So what do we do? Say nothing? We could never, ever bring up food or body image for fear of saying the wrong thing…  OR, we could be the person in a young child’s life who sets a great example by not being afraid to start the conversation in a positive direction! As a coach, teacher or parent, you have the incredible opportunity to mindfully acknowledge the role food and body image play in each of our lives, and model self-care for the people who look up to you.

Which is where the “What To Say” initiative from the WithAll Foundation comes in! WithAll is the nonprofit that focuses on advancing eating disorder prevention and support. “What To Say” is an initiative to empower adults to help the kids in their lives develop healthy relationships with food and body. Decades of research show that what influential adults in a child’s life say about food, body, diet, and exercise has tremendous power in shaping the child’s body image, self-esteem and the likelihood that a child will develop an eating disorder. That’s why WithAll started this program; to give adults simple and direct resources to raise their own awareness about their relationship with food and body image, and to be able to take proactive action with the children in their life.

Happy to talk about WithAll and the importance of educating all the adults in a young athlete’s life! (photo by Render Photography)

So what exactly IS “What to Say”? Glad you asked!

  • “What to Say” is starting with 5 phrases adults can use now with kids, as well as age-specific phrases for youth sports coaches. They will expand with specific phrases for pediatricians, teachers and parents, as well as more resources for all adults.
  • Their premise is that while inspiring a child’s health and sense of self is a big responsibility, it doesn’t have to be complex. Knowing what to say, and feeling empowered in the small moments of each day, can have a big influence. Learn more at whattosaynow.org

They’re starting with coaches, because eating disorder risk and prevalence is higher among athletes. Having a coach simply be aware of how they talk about their athlete’s bodies and food, or even how they talk about their own bodies in front of their athletes, can have a huge impact. I mean, think about it…no child is born counting calories, declaring carbs to be off-limits, or saying that they are “being bad” when eating french fries. These are learned behaviors they pick up from mimicking the adults in their lives. Even if you never say anything disparaging to a child about their body, how you treat yourself and how you talk about your own body in front of them has a lasting impact. Not only do you want to treat the kids in your life with love and respect, you need to treat yourself that way, too!

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my Mom never, ever said “do these pants make me look fat?” in front of me as a kid. Pants were, well, pants. You wore them around in lieu of being stark naked. Nothing more. They didn’t carry emotional baggage. Clothes didn’t make me feel shameful if they failed to make me look skinny. Similarly, my Dad never talked about food being “good” or “bad”…it was just delicious, and a good way to have energy for going out and mowing the lawn or going out and canoeing! If you were hungry, you ate. It was very simple. And the coaches I worked with all the time were always awesome in how they referred to food – it was powerful fuel that we needed in order to do what we loved. Food could also bring about happy social events, like the big team pasta feeds the night before a race! How they referred to food and their own bodies had a really positive impact on me, and I still ended up with an eating disorder later in life…but in all honestly, I think being surrounded by all that positive messaging saved me from developing my disorder at an extremely young age.

Really grateful to have such loving and supportive parents!

WithAll created a coaches challenge, to have coaches spend a little bit of time each week thinking about how phrases they use to describe their athlete’s bodies could have an impact on the kids they spend so much time coaching. For example, the first week’s phrase was “Healthy athletes come in all shapes and sizes.” Coaches learned how they have a powerful voice in reminding their athletes that they don’t have to look a certain way to be a great athlete. They were prompted to think about how well they accept the shape and size of their own body and its abilities, and how they might be communicating that to their athletes. Suggested action steps included modeling positive self-talk with their athletes, jumping in to redirect negative comments they overhear, and bringing their athletes together to discuss how appreciating their own bodies is an important part of being a good athlete and playing their sport well.

I’m so appreciative of having so many coaches who think I’m a badass for working hard, not for looking a certain way. (photo from Coach Pat)

In their own words, the WithAll “coaches challenge” is pretty simple, and for a busy coach they don’t want to take up too much of your time. But, this is incredibly important! “This challenge offers guidance for how and why to use the 5 phrases with your athletes. It consists of a short weekly email with suggested action steps for one phrase and poses a question or two for your own self-reflection. Our goal: make it easy for you to have an even bigger positive impact on the health of the kids who look up to you.” They’re running another challenge this summer/fall, and if you’re a coach of any sport, any age level, you can sign up right here: https://whattosaynow.org/coaches/

Because you can’t focus on training and jumping high if your brain is busy worrying about your body! (photo from Coach Cork)

And for those of you reading this who are currently struggling through an eating disorder (statistically, 6% of you)? I’m sending out a huge hug of loving support. And I’d like to tell you to be brave, to do the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, and reach out for help. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or coach and share that you need some help. Pick up the phone and call the Emily Program at 1-888-EMILY- 77 and someone will be there to talk to you, do a short quiz over the phone to determine what sort of eating disorder you might have with a few simple questions, and schedule an intake provider meeting within just a few days for a more thorough assessment of what type of care and treatment plan you may need. They do an incredible job breaking down barriers to treatment, so your concerns are quickly heard and you will be able to start recovery as soon as possible!

It’s time to Make Peace With Food. (photo from Julia Kern)

We can so often find reasons to put off doing things for ourselves, but when it comes to your mental and physical well being, there really isn’t time to wait. When you’re living with an eating disorder, you’re only living half a life. The sooner you can start recovery, the sooner you can get back to living your full, whole and happy life again! People often put off going to treatment because their eating disorder tricks them into thinking they don’t deserve help, that they’re not worth it, or that they are selfish for wanting to fix themselves instead of spending their time taking care of other people in their life. But think of it this way; if you aren’t healthy, you can’t be there for the people in your life the way you can if you’re taking good care of yourself. If you are healthy and empowered, you can be such an incredible positive role model and force for good in someone else’s life, too! So even if you don’t want to start recovery for yourself, ask for help for the people who love you in your life. For just about a million other reasons to start getting your life back right away, check out this inspiring post from the Emily Program at this link. 

One more reason to start recovery this summer? So you can picnic on the beach and simply enjoy it, not worry the whole time!

A really great resource if you’d like to learn a little more? The Emily Program’s new podcast, called Peace Meal. Their first episode, Eating Disorders 101, is incredibly enlightening and will help shed a little light on what eating disorders are, how to go about getting help, and how to support a loved one going through treatment. They also dispel a lot of myths that people still believe about eating disorders!

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 landslides. While Wade and I were stunned by the jaw-dropping cliffs that our left wheels were only inches away from, neither Cesar nor our driver were the least bit fazed. “Slides are very frequent around here!” the driver told us, in a gross understatement. We lost track of how many slides we saw, and how many times we drove through a slide that had been bulldozed to clear a narrow path for cars. This. Was. Epic! Again, like I said…they just make them tougher in the Andes.

I don’t have photos from our car ride, but the road we walked after was gorgeous and full of flowers!

After almost an hour’s drive, we got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the small village of Lucmabamba, or, as Wade would pronounce it…”luuuk-at-mah-bumba”. We loved this place.

Layers on layers of green!

Little campsites were offered along the single dirt road that was the main road, and most campsites were also small plantations that grew anything from coffee to bananas, passionfruit, guavas, avocados, yucca, corn, plantains and potatoes.

Much smarter chickens lived at our campsite with us this time around.

Our campsite for night 3 of the trek!

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the place we camped at, Flor de Cafe. The adorable couple there grow and make their own coffee (some of which we brought back with us! Don’t tell US Customs!) but the best part was that the owner gave us an awesome tour of his farm, explaining how he cares for and grows each plant and letting us pick and then eat a variety of things!

Picking avocados with a long pole attached to a basket.

I had tasted passionfruit juice before, but never peeled and eaten one fresh, and it became my favorite snack. After breaking the harder shell and peeling away the soft white almost fuzzy stuff around the fruit, you get this wobbly, clear jello-like mass of seeds, each surrounded by juicy little blobs of fruit. It was as if a pomegranite, a jelly fish and chia pudding decided to join forces inside this bright yellow shell. “Like a monkey brain!” Cesar told us, “just suck it out, break the fruit in your mouth but don’t crunch the seeds and swallow it!”’ That was one delicious monkey brain.

Yucca root!

But first, coffee.

We picked a number of coffee fruits from one of the many Arabica trees on his farm, then brought them over to the cement bins where the farmer would hand crank the wheel of the machine that separated the red skin of the fruit from the beans within, the skin falling to the back and the beans dropping to the floor of the container. I had no idea how exactly coffee was made before this (I gathered the roasting the green beans and grinding part, but the steps before that were a mystery to me) and it was surprising to me to learn that when I put a fresh green bean in my mouth it was covered by a sweet sort of sap, a film covering the bean.

Ripe coffee fruit is red, and the beans inside it are green.

Our new farmer friend holding the Arabica coffee tree as we picked the ripe fruits.

Wade operating the machine that separated the shell from the beans.

Honestly, we were having way too much fun with this!

Then came the part we cheated because we didn’t actually have three days; the farmer explained that he would fill the basin with water and the beans that floated to the top were bad, and were scooped out. The rest would be thoroughly washed, then dried out for three days before the light shell covering the bean was taken off.

The red shell, the slimy green beans, and in the pan the beans that had been washed then dried out.

When you were left with just the dried green beans, this is the stage where many coffee companies purchase the beans from this area of the world and roast them themselves. This is when we took a bunch of the beans over to a corner of the farmer’s covered stone patio, where a small pot was placed over a fire that we took turns stoking by blowing air through a rod into the flames. The beans were roasted in the pot with one of us constantly stirring them around, and near the end some sugar was added to give them extra flavor.

Roasting our own batch of coffee!

My face when Wade said that between the two of us, he’s the chef 🙂

When the beans were nice and black and the air smelled ridiculously good, the beans were poured into a basket where we stirred them around as they cooled down.

Cooling off the freshly roasted beans.

Then we ground the beans, in a hand-cranked grinder the farmer told us was relatively new – his parents had ground the coffee by pounding the beans with a large rock that was in the corner. The smell of the freshly ground coffee was straight up ridiculous.

This smelled amazing.

Just trying to get all the coffee smells.

We enjoyed a few cups while simultaneously enjoying the view of all the farms dotting the valley of the cloud forest. What a peaceful way to spend the afternoon!

Pouring the coffee!

Cesar, Wade and I enjoying the coffee we’d just made.

But wait…it gets better. In what can only be described as a view taken straight out of Jurassic Park (the first movie, obviously!) were the hot springs of Santa Teresa. These weren’t hot springs that smelled like old eggs or had murky water, either – the pools spaced along the edge of the cliff had hot spring water and cold mountain water constantly circling through and out of them, with a small waterfall of freezing cold water where you could cool off. If you want your trip to be romantic, you should definitely go here. Just saying. You’re welcome.

The hot springs.

The next morning started bright and early at 5am, with our last delicious breakfast from our chef before climbing up for a few hours.

So much green! So many ferns! Bamboo! Vines! Wow!

Taking a chill break nearing the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain, we had our first view through clearing clouds of Machu Picchu, across the valley and Urubamba river far below us! It was so incredible to see these ruins from far away…we marveled at how long it took for them to be discovered after the last Incas fell to the Spanish around 500 years ago. It’s absolutely amazing that they were discovered at all, however, because of how overgrown they were at the time, how high up and protected the city was, and how the ever-changing cloud forest often completely obscured any view of the lost city.

Machu Picchu is tucked into the tiny “flat” section near the left of the mountains you see in the photo.

Just another absolutely awesome model shot of Wade.

We learned that although Hiram Bingham was given a lot of credit for “discovering” Machu Picchu, he wasn’t actually the first to find it. Farmers in the area knew it was there, and another explorer from Cusco had found it as well. However, Hiram was the one who brought in the archeological team and made it famous to the world (and stole artifacts, some of which were only recently returned, by the way. Seems like a great guy!) so he gets much of the credit. Either way, I’m just grateful the Spanish didn’t know about it’s existence when they took over Cusco, because they destroyed (or converted to Catholic churches) most of the Quechua culture, while Machu Picchu, thankfully, remained intact.

Happy dance now that we’d seen how close we were to Machu Picchu!

We started to climb down and on our way saw the incredible Inca ruins of Llactapata, a site thought to have been used for ceremonies along the Inca trail we were hiking. It was interesting to see that a lot of these stones were placed using mortar, in opposition to the perfectly aligned stones of Sacsayhuaman. As the Incas became more advanced over time, they figured out how to make these virtually seamless walls, so any earlier work (or less important work, such as houses where the less important people lived at the time) were not as perfect looking and used mortar. It was so cool to see what was important to the Incas (usually, religious sites) by the quality of their buildings!

Llactapata ruins, the uncovered part.

Part of Llactapata, still overgrown and covered by nature!

The view of the mountains with Llactapata at our back. Basically, views on views this entire trek.

Wade, “golfing” his way over to Machu Picchu.

By the time we made it down the other side of the mountain and along the river to the hydroelectric plant we had the choice. We’d either walk for 1.5-2 hours along the railway or catch a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, or as it’s recently been renamed, Machu Picchu Pueblo. Either name still works – everyone will know what you’re talking about. It was astounding, the difference between this town and the ones we’d passed through on our hike…tourism to this area had made Aguas Calientes a bustling town filled with restaurants and hotels. The bumpy dirt road gave way to beautiful walking paths and paved streets. In a very happy twist of events, our original hotel had overbooked and offered us a free upgrade to the Inkaterra Pueblo hotel, the nicest hotel in town, and that was more than ok by us! After walking 7.5 hours that day a hot shower, incredible food and tea while strolling through their orchid gardens was a perfect end to the day. Needless to say, we felt pretty spoiled, but enjoyed every second of it!

I can’t even tell you how awesome a hot shower and getting off my feet felt! Wow!

There were hummingbirds everywhere in the hotel gardens. I loved watching them!

So here’s the part that’s new about visiting Machu Picchu – due to the number of people from all around the world who want to visit, you have to get your permit ahead of time (especially if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain overlooking the city) and now the permits come with an entry time. Once you enter, you’re supposed to leave after 3 hours, so that it’s not overcrowded for any group of people. Although to be honest, around 4 in the afternoon it was much less busy, so if you want the clear photo…do the afternoon!

Me, “getting the shot”, without a whole lot of other people at 4pm.

The entry time system was awesome because instead of a crazy bus line starting at 5am, we were able to enjoy a nice breakfast and then get in line behind the 8am entry sign, avoiding a lot of waiting and stress to get up there in time. When we arrived the city was socked in by fog and clouds, and it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had evaded attention for so many years…you just couldn’t see the dang thing!

A slightly spooky ghost village! This is the part where the normal people lived.

Wade, looking out the windows from the Guard Hut.

Wade and I, without any other tourists in the background. Haha, just kidding! Just accept early on that you will have tourists in your photos and you will enjoy your visit a whole lot more!

Honestly, the fog swirling around made it feel pretty mystical and slightly creepy, which I loved. It was really cool to see more and more of the ruins uncovered as the sun burned through the fog, and by 11am it was fully sunny out!

A side view to show just how many levels of terraces there were, supporting Machu Picchu and preventing slides!

Loving the fog in the mountains.

Cesar showed us around the ruins, and it was so cool to see the different parts of the city and how it functioned. One of the coolest things were the water channels built into the mountain to move natural spring water at exactly the right grade in order to provide a constant flow of water to the city year round. It’s so impressive how smart the Incas were and how they worked with nature, not against it!

I’m 5’4”, so myself and all the other Hobbits fit right into the building plans! Where the normal citizens lived, the doorways were not that tall!

One of the many water channels flowing through the city.

We hiked Huayna Picchu (pronounced “why-nah pee-choo”), and it was relatively short compared to what we’d been walking every day, but fun in how steep and exposed it was. The view looking down on Machu Picchu was very cool, and even better after we’d learned more about it so we could see how the city planning worked from above!

A bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham, or maybe that’s Wade.

On the tippy top of Huayna Picchu!

On your way back down from Huayna Picchu, you will need to crawl through a small cave. I thought this might be pertinent to mention because clearly, some folks behind us were unaware of the cave part, and “I don’t like this I don’t like this I DON’T LIKE THIS” echoed behind us for a little while as they scooted their way through.

I, however, DID like the cave!

Happy and hungry hikers (with Huayna Picchu behind us)

After our hike we ate a pretty incredible meal at the Sanctuary Lodge (the only place up on the mountain, right outside the entrance gate) before heading back in for the afternoon. It started to rain, which felt awesome and cooled us off as we hiked up to the sun gate, which was opposite Huayna Picchu. This was where the Incas, after hiking from Cusco via the famous Inca trail, would have had their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

The Inca trail and a view from the opposite side of Machu Picchu.

Hiding from the rain, with the Sun Gate in the background.

Because this is the cloud forest, after all, the rain and clouds cleared within the hour and we were treated to a breathtaking golden hour (and a half…it was a long golden hour) as the sun started to lower.

Gorgeous.

We had a train back to Cusco that evening, so we had planned to take a bus down to Aguas Calientes. But as Cesar had warned us, the lines for the buses on the way down aren’t regulated by an entry time, so it can be a little crazy. We were nervous about making it back in time, so we hiked back down (ahhh! MORE stairs!) and had time to get an ice cream (ok, so the stairs were worth it after all) before boarding the train back and flying back home the following day.

My recommendation, if it works for your travel plans? Stay in Aguas Calientes another night. Go up with a guided tour of Machu Picchu in the morning to learn all about the city, and even if there’s clouds or fog in the morning, don’t worry – it will clear up. Hike Huayna Picchu for sure, then have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge or pack your own picnic. Then have an afternoon permit so that you can do another entrance with any extra hikes you want to do – the Sun Gate was particularly cool, and doesn’t require a permit! That way you can enjoy and explore without feeling rushed, and if you get skunked on the weather for one entrance time, you have another. Stay for the sunset (around 5pm), and hopefully the bus line will be less crazy than it was for us. If not, it’s only an hour walk down to town and you won’t be worried about catching a train because you have another night to enjoy before your travel back to Cusco and home!

Wade and I walking along the coast in Lima on our travel day home.

On our travel home, we had a 14 hour layover in Lima, and here’s what I’d definitely recommend if you also have a long layover! Check your bags in “stored luggage”, the blue wall at the far end of baggage claim. It’s only $13 to store a bag for the day and it’s worth it to not haul it around the city! Then catch the Airport Express bus to the Miraflores district. The bus is safe and cheap, and they have a guide on the bus who will tell you when it’s your stop based on what hotel (or restaurant) you want to get off at. Definitely, definitely, absolutely, FOR SURE get yourself a reservation and eat at Amáz, a restaurant that pulls fresh food from the rainforest and surrounding area into their meals and serves a creative take on dessert that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys good things in life. Then walk along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the ocean, watch the surfers below or just wander around looking at the unique houses!

River snails for appetizers at Amaz…these were tasty little buggers!

Overall, this was such an incredible experience for Wade and I. I loved getting to see a totally new part of the world, someplace where ski racing will never take me. I was excited to learn more about their culture and history! I felt so at home in the Andes mountains, and the culture I got to experience and the people we met made a lasting impression. If you get the chance to visit someday, enjoy every second of it!

Loving it!

But wait! One more thing. The gear guide, for those of you who might be planning a trip and are looking for recommendations on what to bring. We put a lot of thought into what we were packing as we didn’t check a bag, and here’s the list of what we loved best! I’ve linked to the women’s version of all these, but guys, it should be pretty easy to find yours too.

The day packs: Because sweaty backs are gross (and I should know, I sweat for my job), get yourself a nice pack. These light and small backpacks kept us cool but also held all the essential gear for the day. Women’s Trekker Air Carry Pack by LL Bean

The hiking boots: Wow. I can’t say enough how incredible these were. I have pretty rough feet (flat, bone spurs, weird poky bones, just gross in general) and these got me though full days of hiking with zero issues. Wow, wow, wow. Quest Prime GTX W by Salomon.

The water filter: For those times when you don’t want to trust the water, this was incredibly fast and light to carry. Katadyn BeFree Water Filter from LL Bean

The first aid kit: for peace of mind (also bring anti-diarrhia meds and ibuprofin pills, just in case). Adventure Medial Kit from LL Bean.

The sleeping bag liners: renting sleeping bags is awesome…and so is having your own liner to put in it. Enough said. You’ll need the liner to add warmth when you’re camping up high, and when you’re in the rainforest you may want to sleep in only the liner to stay cool. Sea to Summit Thermalite liner from LL Bean

The portable pillows: in line with the “Gucci camping” experience of having amazing food and horses to carry our equipment…why not actually get a good night’s sleep, as well? We loved these little blow-up pillows. Sea to Summit inflatable pillow from LL Bean

The packable hoodie: We went through a LOT of different climates. We didn’t always need this layer, but when we did, we REALLY did. As a bonus, it was very cute. Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket by LL Bean

The light tank top: A mesh back was amazing, especially hiking with a pack on! Light and breathable, and also cute. Thanks, Salomon. Comet Breeze Tank 

The hiking shorts: These went up and over mountains, no problem…all while fitting a phone into the side pocket. Agile Short by Salomon.

The zip-off hiking pants: They’re pants. Nope, now they’re shorts. They’re convertible without needing to actually take your pants off. Genius. Vista Zip off pants by LL Bean

The raincoat: Armpit zippers, light and breathable fabric, cute. Need I say more? Nope. Tek O2 Element Jacket by LL Bean

The rain pants: Incredibly light and easy to roll up into the bottom of my day pack, these were awesome for the sudden showers. Lightning Race WP pant by Salomon

The wear-on-the-plane or around the camp pants: So cute. So light. So cozy. Comet Pant by Salomon

The sweater: don’t be silly, buy one with Llamas on it when you get there.

I’ll stop just shy of recommending hiking underpants as well (although, you know…pack a lot, or be prepared to do sink laundry). Happy camping!

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 off, the planning. Once we decided that we really wanted to see Machu Picchu and hike through the Andes mountains in Peru, we weren’t sure exactly how to plan the details! We decided to plan our trip through Global Basecamps, and they were truly awesome. Could we have set this trip up ourselves? Probably, but we had a lot of questions about the area, had no idea what to expect for the weather or how to pack when going through 16 climate zones on our planned hiking route, don’t speak Spanish fluently, and didn’t want to be stressed out about the details. We just wanted to enjoy our trip! As soon as we reached out to them they were incredibly helpful and answered all our questions, then helped us plan the trip so we could make the most out of the time we had, and see everything we hoped to see! We didn’t have to worry about setting up taxis (there are a lot of warnings in the airport about taxi scams), booking a good hotel right near the old part of town, or renting good camping gear. Perhaps most importantly, they work with local tour groups and set us up with the most incredible guide, Cesar, who really made the experience an incredible one for us. I’d definitely recommend going through them if you are looking to plan a trip. If you’d like to see more about them, here’s the LINK to their website!

Thanks to Global Basecamps for helping us find the most incredible guide, Cesar!

A note about travel: I can’t lie to you, it’s probably going to be a long series of flights. But it’s absolutely worth it, I promise! But here’s a little tip to hopefully make your travel day easier than ours was. I take great care to only recommend brands, companies and experiences that I truly believe are good, and I don’t want to lead anyone astray. For that reason I can’t in good conscience recommend that you fly Air Canada, as we had some pretty rough experiences with them and watched as way too many people were denied boarding our last flight back to Boston due to them overselling the seats. But luckily there’s a lot of options to get down to Peru, and once you’re there you don’t have to deal with jet lag from the time change, which is a really nice bonus.

The Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco. The flag of Peru is on the left, the rainbow flag on the right representing Cusco.

We started our trip with a day in Cusco, to explore and basically eat all the ceviche we could find. We were traveling over Easter week, so when we left our hotel to go walk around town we saw hundreds of people out on the steps of the church for Palm Sunday. Every ten feet, ladies were selling sweet empanadas and dulce de leche tamales (both were tasty) and the main square, Plaza de Armas, was packed with families, both tourist and local, enjoying the warm weather. I learned that a knowing a few words in Spanish was very helpful (thanks, grade school and junior high Spanish classes!). Beyond the usual “please and thank you”, it was especially handy when asking “where’s the restaurant with the best ceviche?”,  “where is the toilet, please”, or understanding how many soles the man in the market was asking for the red sweater with the llamas on it.

Families enjoying the sunshine in the square!

If you have a day in Cusco, here’s your need to know:

-Try the street food! If you’re nervous about it, start with the sweets; churros, sweet empanadas and sweet tamales were pretty outstanding.

Yum!

-Walk around both the open air and covered markets, and whatever you do, definitely sit at one of the juice counters and try their fruit juice. They will peel the fruit right in front of you and blend it up, no water added…and it’s incredible.

One of about 20 juice counters lined up in the markets.

-While you’re at the markets, check out all the adorable sweaters that scream “I’m a TOURIST!” It’s ok, just embrace it. You ARE a tourist. Don’t fight it. You can get more expensive sweaters that are made from 100% baby alpaca (meaning the first time they cut their hair, so it’s the softest and not as wiry or itchy), although most of what you’ll find in the markets is a blend, and they’re incredibly cheap.

You’re a tourist. So what? Embrace it!

-Besides the art you see woven into sweaters and blankets, there are many other mediums of art all over the city! Wade and I loved walking around looking at the local artists beautiful creations, and I’d recommend taking the extra few minutes to poke your head into the tiny shops tucked into the walls, because you can find some beautiful things hidden there!

Exploring the outside of a Spanish church in Cusco

-Being fueled by tourism, many places accept credit cards. If they don’t, they are within walking distance of an ATM.

Flowers on flowers! Probably a good idea to have cash (soles) on hand for most market items.

-Oh my gosh, don’t even get me started on the food. We literally couldn’t find a bad place to eat there. Every place we tried, the food was so fresh and delicious! For more Peruvian food, try Limo or Ceviche, both located in the main square of Plaza de Armas. For food that’s definitely catering to tourists but with a fun and fresh Peruvian twist, go to Jack’s (bring cash, they don’t take cards) or Pacha Papas.

Quinoa finds its way into most dishes, and it’s delicious.

And can we talk about the fact that we were walking around the Andes mountains chewing cocaine leaves? Relax, it’s ok. Technically, we were chewing coca leaves, the plant that cocaine is made from, but in it’s raw form without being chemically altered the human body can’t absorb the cocaine. You can (and do) absorb about 4 cups of coffee worth of caffeine, though! We learned that after a big breakfast, farmers in the area go to work all day with just a bunch of these coca leaves for energy. Whoa!

Coca are used to help with altitude sickness as well, all the locals told us. I mean…”when in Rome”, right? We tried the coca tea, and later tried chewing the leaves plain. In case you’re wondering, it tasted somewhat like green tea. Despite this, Wade had a headache our first night in Cusco, which makes sense given that it’s at 9,000 feet. What we didn’t know was that this altitude headache would be a warning for later….cue the dramatic and foreboding music!

Just another beautiful church in Cusco…you tired of these yet?

Our second day in Cusco we drove to some incredible Inca ruins only 20 minutes out of town, called (you’re going to love this): Sacsayhuaman, pronounced “sac-saaaaaay-whoooooomaaaaan”. Or, if you’re really not going to try the accent, “sexy woman”. The stonework of the Incas was truly awe-inspiring, especially when we learned that the stone used in Sacsayhuaman had been moved there from over 10 kilometers away. These huge rocks were rolled into place and slowly chipped away until they fit together so tight, you couldn’t even slide a piece of paper in between them!

Those are some HUGE rocks! Wow! Wade and I in Sacsayhuaman.

Going into one of the ruins

This was where they may have made some of the mummies of the Inca royalty when they died. So cool, so creepy, all at the same time!

The windows at the top, where the stonework is finest, were for the Sun God.

They’ve withstood earthquakes that took the colonizing Spanish’s churches to the ground, but these Inca walls are still standing, in the ruins outside the city but also spread out throughout Cusco as well. When the Spanish came in, they destroyed or converted to Catholic churches much of the Inca’s work, but built right overtop of some of it. So as you’re walking around town, you’ll see a section of Inca wall or a few stones built into a house.

Hiding in plain sight…Inca stonework!

Look at the rock to the right of Wade – it’s touching 12 other rocks. Imagine fitting those together with only other rocks as tools! Wow!

That night was the “Lord of the Earthquake” celebration in Cusco. We had quickly learned that the overwhelming majority of Cusco is Catholic, and this was a very important week for them. But nothing was more important than this celebration, to honor the earthquake Lord, as the people there were Catholic but (as it was explained to us) still believed in the forces of nature and needed to respect them. The Plaza de Armas filled with people as the evening turned into night and people pressed close to see a glimpse of the flashing tall red figure, the solitary Lord in the parade, as it moved about an inch per minute through the streets of town. Wade and I had dinner in a balcony to watch the entire thing and it was so special to see what was clearly a very important part of the Quechua culture! Then we got to bed early because the next day, the trek I’d been so excited for was about to begin.

That’s a lot of people!

Wade and I enjoying the Lord of the Earthquake festivities.

A note about our hike: we had decided that since this was a vacation, after all, and we didn’t know anything about the Andes mountains, we’d go on a guided hike. This meant that porters bring the camping equipment, food and clean water for you on a horse and you only have to hike with a day pack. I would highly recommend this. While it’s also fun and a cool adventure to bring everything totally by yourself, I could see where hiking at 15,000 feet of altitude with a 40lb pack and not getting to learn any cool facts about the area you’re exploring would sort of…well…not really feel like much of a vacation! By going with a guided tour, we were able to learn more and stress less. As it turned out, we were the only two booked for this specific tour at this time of year, so we lucked out with a private tour!

One cool thing we learned from Cesar was that if a doorway was incredibly tall, like this one, it was for Incas – the royal people, who would be carried in on a litter. The Quechua people had regular sized doorways and houses.

Our first day of the Salkantay trek began at 6am. I would later learn that nearly every day would begin this early, because by 6am it was light outside and by 6pm it was fairly dark, so by waking up around 5-5:30 and starting each day’s hike early, you’d avoid a lot of the hot sun and be able to really take your time and enjoy each moment of the hike. This was, after all, a vacation…not a training camp! It was really fun to hike at a leisurely pace that was enjoyable, and although it was still challenging to be hiking over a 15,000 ft pass, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere!

I learned how to be a morning person. Haha!

We met our guide, Cesar, the chef for our hike and one of the porters at the hotel and drove for three hours through small towns, stopping at Limbatambo for a quick breakfast. Everywhere you looked, there were tiny taxis on three wheels. When I looked closer, I noticed the taxi cab was actually a little bench seat attached to the back of a motorcycle, with a loose frame holding it all together. The driver was essentially just riding a motorcycle inside a car frame. No lack of creativity there!

Check this out: a motorcycle-taxi cab.

After driving up into the mountains, we followed a bumpy dirt road to the grassy flats at the foot of the ice-covered Humantay mountain, an area called Soraypampa, which is where the trail began. This was where we met the other two porters for our trip, who were in charge of the horses that carried the food, water and gear. Everyone was incredibly nice, and although I could only string together a few words in Spanish and talked like a 2 year old trying to learn how to conjugate verbs, they were patient and friendly and let me try to practice my Spanish with them!

The horses that were so helpful in carrying our gear for us!

A note on these totally awesome, badass porters…I loved going through Global Basecamps because they partner with tour companies (in this case, InkaNatura eco travel) that treat the porters extremely well and compensate them fairly. These guys, combined with Cesar’s knowledge and expertise, friendly company and fun facts about not only the archeological ruins but the various birds and plants we saw along the way, totally made the trip for us. I was stunned by how hard-working and tough these guys were in the mountain weather, however, when I learned that after the four day trip, they wake up early the next morning and hike it all the way back to the start in ONE day, where they rest for a day before helping the next hiking group. It seems like the people of the Andes Mountain range are just tougher and more badass than most other people on earth, in pretty much every way! They were impervious to the weather conditions, cheerful in cold rain with no complains when it was hot and humid. They could hike faster than anyone even at 15,000 feet, and knew their way around the cloud forest and high mountain ranges. I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but if I asked the porters how many hours the hike was, I had to tack on an extra hour for how long it would actually take me to hike it. I know that shirtless cross country skier dude from Tonga gets a lot of attention at the Winter Olympics, but let me tell you…I’d love to get some of these guys and their incredible aerobic capacity on skis!

Some porters from another group saying hi!

Once we got hiking, we started slowing winding our way uphill along the same trail that goes to the Humantay mountain glacier before they split up. Up ahead you could see different tour groups beginning their hikes, and various eco-lodges where hikers not sleeping in tents could spend the night. I would later learn that the term “pampa” referred to a flat area, which is why pretty much anywhere we would be camping would end in “pampa”.

Local families had houses along the way and sold sweaters or food to hiking groups.

We only hiked about an hour and a half uphill that day to Salkantaypampa, which wasn’t a village, but the name for the flat area at the base of the steeper climb up to the Salkantay pass, with a beautiful and imposing view of the ice-crusted south face of Salkantay looming up above us when the fog cleared out.

The clouds started to clear and gave us a view of the south face of Salkantay from our campsite.

We stopped there because it had started to rain pretty hard and the flatter areas for camping up high were flooding out. This ended up being a huge bonus, because at this point we were at 13,500 feet of elevation, which was, you know, just sliiiightly higher than Boston’s sea level air. In fact, it’s the same altitude at which the pilot informed us that we were beginning our decent into Boston on our flight home. Skyjumpers jump out of planes much lower than that. I’m just saying.

Wade had worried that the altitude might pose a potential threat to our trip, but I had brushed it off, saying “it’s nothing! It’s not THAT high!”. Whoops. In a strangely prophetic turn of events, I wasn’t affected at all by the altitude. Which is crazy, because I definitely notice even 5,000 feet when I’m in training camps. Maybe the lack of needing to perform or feel good meant that I just didn’t notice if I wasn’t feeling 100%, but either way, I wasn’t affected by altitude the entire trip. Wade, on the other hand, got hit hard by altitude sickness the moment we drove over 12,000 feet before we even began hiking. I felt horrible, because it looked pretty miserable, and we were both worried that the trip would be ending soon for him, as it was pretty debilitating. He described it as the pounding headache of a concussion combined with the body ache and nausea of the flu. Luckily, our guide Cesar had been through this hike a time or two, and had pretty much seen it all. They traveled with an emergency tank of oxygen and after a few minutes of breathing more “sea-level air”, Wade felt a little better. I’m not going to lie, that first 30 hours of the hike were rough for him, until we had gone over the pass and defended back down to around 8,000 ft. As it turns out, you can’t predict who will be hit by altitude sickness, or when! But as soon as we got down to easier breathing, Wade was fully back to normal and totally fine. What sort of sorcery is this altitude thing, anyways? Huh? My point here is, don’t miss out on a crazy cool experience like this for fear of altitude sickness unless you already know you are severely affected by it. Wade had an awesome trip as soon as we got lower in altitude, and even when he was in a rough spot he was able to enjoy the scenery and impressive face of Salkantay Mountain.

Even when he was hit hard by the altitude, Wade still had a smile for me!

But back to our camping spot…we made it to the flat area where the porters had already set up our tent, which was incredibly nice as we were both pretty cold and Wade already had a headache from the altitude. However, once the rain cleared up I got out to walk around and it was absolutely gorgeous! The wisps of clouds constantly curling and circling the mountains on either side of us made it feel surreal and (at the risk of sounding totally cheesy) magical.

Our campsite for the first night is at the bottom of the mountain.

Happy that I packed a warmer layer of clothes and rain gear!

Speaking of magic, it was amazing to me what our chef could conjure up in a tent with a pan, a pressure cooker pot, a gas stove and a cutting board that he placed across his knees to chop up vegetables! The food we had every day on this trip was out of this world. Fried garlic bread and vegetable soup, spiced potatoes, quinoa and pan-seared fish, purple corn jelly for dessert…it was both cool and tasty to experience local and traditional foods from the Andes mountains.

Our chef for the hike, working his culinary magic!

The next morning, we got up around 5:30 and after another tasty breakfast (my favorite breakfast of the trip was a quinoa porridge mixed with spices and bananas), packed up and started up towards the Salkantay pass. Wade had a pounding headache and nausea still from altitude sickness (sleeping at 13,500 probably didn’t help this out!) so for that morning he went on horseback, to get up and over the pass and down towards more oxygen as quickly as possible. I followed at a more stop-and-take-all-the-photos pace, and loved every second of the snow capped peaks surrounding us.

Made it up the first steep part of the climb that morning!

Salkantay peak was at a staggering 20,570 ft, but the pass we went over topped out at 15,300 so even as we were looking down at mountains and valleys below us, we were still dwarfed by the imposing Salkantay.

The trail on the left winding up towards the pass.

At the top of the pass, little rock figures were everywhere with coca leaves snugly tucked into the base of them, as offerings to Pachamama, mother earth. I loved how connected to the planet the Quechua people are, and this is probably obvious but whenever we left a campsite, there was no trace that we had been there at all, preserving the beauty of the mountains and the plants of the cloud forest.

Little offerings to Pachamama everywhere.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather this entire trip, especially as in April we were just at the end of their rainy season, and it was impossible to predict weather in the Andes. This bright and sunny morning, however, the clouds completely cleared out for the hour and a half that we were nearing the top of the pass, and we were granted an incredible view down either side of the mountain. Later when we were a few thousand feet down, we looked back up and saw that the pass was completely obscured in fog once again. I’d never been so happy about a 5:30am start to the day before!

Wade and I enjoying a moment at the top!

Wade starting the hike down towards the cloud forest.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen – I cannot say this enough for the top of the pass!

After descending for a few hours we stopped for lunch right at the edge of where the cloud forest began. Fog and clouds were constantly blowing up over the rim of the steep drop down, and the area truly lived up to its name with clouds bringing small rain showers, followed by hot sun, followed by fog and clouds and back to sun again in a manner of minutes. I’ve traveled to a lot of places, and it’s funny to me how in almost every place, a local will jokingly tell me “you know, we have a saying about the weather here! If you don’t like it…wait 5 minutes!” The only people who never made this claim were, perhaps, the only people who truly should have – the Quechua people of the Andes mountains. Never before have I seen such truly ever-changing weather as in the cloud forest, and it was beautiful!

As we hiked down from the pass, we started seeing little potato farms! Up above, Salkantay starts to fog up again.

PIGLET! Not really part of the hike, but adorable, so it made the blog post.

We hiked downhill for hours through cloud forest, the temperature rising as we descended from the 15,300 ft pass to the small village of Collpapampa at 6,850 ft. The lower we got, the more birds we heard, the the trees and plants went from miniature to towering over us, and the more moss and ferns grew in layers, sometimes completely covering the trees!

Hiking through cloud forest (photo from Cesar)

After a lot of downhill hiking we were grateful for a good night’s sleep in the village bordering the Santa Teresa river, the sound of water running extremely peaceful. What I found to be slightly less peaceful was that we were apparently camping with Heihei the chicken from Disney’s Moana movie! This rooster was just a tiny bit confused as to 1.) how to crow like an actual rooster. It sounded like it was being strangled, which ironic because I found myself ready to go cook it and eat it around 4am, (you are not working with a vegan or vegetarian blog here) and 2.) the fact that roosters are supposed to start making noise at dawn, not at 3 in the morning! Both Cesar and I thought it would make a nice dinner, but I guess Heihei belonged to someone, so we left him to continue his confused crowing and figure out daylight savings on his own.

Our campsite the second night – happy to get off our feet after 7.5 hours of hiking!

Part 2 of our Peru trip coming shortly!

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 it’s really tough to be away from family, friends and loved ones for such a long time! I never used to understand why people would ever want to retire from ski racing….why not do this forever? But now I think I get it. It’s not your body that wants to retire first, it’s your brain. I catch myself daydreaming about really simple things, like being able to sit on a couch instead of a hotel room bed. Doing laundry whenever I want (oh, the glorious fresh smell of clean clothes!). Choosing what I want to eat for dinner every night, and cooking it when I want, how I want. I’m always missing Wade, and every time I Skype my family in Minnesota, Leo the adorable dog runs over and gives the camera a little lick, and it’s hard to know I won’t be able to see any of them for a while.

This body is pretty darn tired! (photo by Nordic Focus)

The more ties I have to the US and Canada, the closer I feel to the people I love and the places I love, the harder it is every single year to pack up and leave. But I also know that this isn’t forever, and over the course of my entire life, ski racing will be only part of it. Although the memories from traveling and racing around the world, making friends in every country, will last me a lifetime! Speaking of, it was incredibly cool to have a reunion in Quebec with some of the women who have represented our country at an Olympics (embarrassingly, the US only started sending women in 1972 so there’s 52 alumni total). These women paved the way, persevered through ups and downs and inspired the next generations. I was honored and inspired to shake their hands and meet them!

The NOW women! Such an honor to meet these women who paved the way! (photo from Reese Brown)

Now that I have a little down time to rest and reflect on the season, I’ve been thinking about what happened over the past year. It was going by too fast to even begin to process in the moment! Here’s a look back at the last 365 days, and what I learned from them.

Now that the season’s over, I can look back! (photo from Reese Brown)

In the 50 days following the Olympics, I packed in 25 events, with more to come in the summer and fall. I shamelessly pitched the World Cup coming to Minnesota in pretty much every interview, unsolicited, until we gained more traction. We’d been asking our NGB for years for a World Cup in our country, but I vividly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with Noah Hoffman around the dinner table, when we were talking about how amazing it would be for the US ski community if we got a World Cup race someday. He looked me in the eye and said “just how badly do you want this to happen? We’re not like other sports. Nobody is going to do this for us. If you want a World Cup race in the US, YOU have to be the one to get in the drivers seat and get it started. I 100% think you can do it, but you have to show that you want it and you’re willing to work for it, or it will never happen.” He was right. I started making calls and the organizers at the Loppet Foundation in Minneapolis were psyched and ready to go. But without government funding (the US is the only country that doesn’t supply this to their sports), we needed a little extra spark to help get the momentum needed to fundraise the massive amount of money that a World Cup requires. The Olympics were that spark.

The results sparked the momentum needed for a World Cup (photo from Nordic Focus)

So I joined the Minneapolis World Cup host committee as the co-chair, and although I’m just there as an athlete advisor, I’ve learned so much from watching what happens behind the scenes. I can never take a single World Cup race for granted, now that I’ve personally experienced the crazy amount of work and dedication it takes to make even one race happen! I can’t say thank you enough to the passionate, hard working individuals on the Minneapolis World Cup committees because without them, our sponsors and help from US Ski and Snowboard, we’d never have a World Cup on the calendar.

The date for the race? March 17th, 2020. Mark your calendars, folks!

Find out more information at their website: https://www.mnworldcup.com/

This is where you can find a map of where the park hosting the races is located, sign up to volunteer or become a partner, or read up on the other festival events leading up to the World Cup race on Tuesday!

I can’t wait for everyone to come see us race in Minnesota! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Now that I’ve made my little pitch for the race (thanks for listening)…back to what I learned from this crazy year! I worked on my public speaking skills as a result of working hard to attract sponsors for the World Cup, and as a result I got hired by an NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, as a motivational speaker. I found my voice, (if you’ll pardon the bad pun), and realized that I love public speaking for the chance to inspire many people at once and share what I love about this crazy sport and our gritty team. I joined two boards, the Share Winter Foundation (focused on getting kids out on snow and teaching them skiing skills they can have for life) and the SMS T2 team board as an athlete representative. I got a little peek behind the scenes of marketing teams from many national and international brands I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with, and found that I have a passion for marketing and building brands. In the past few years, I’ve received the education of a lifetime, and I value every little bit of it.

Learning more about skis, but also learning off the snow! (photo by Nordic Focus)

I learned that athletes can have a really loud voice when it comes to speaking up about important issues, or changes they want to make. And I don’t want to reach the end of my career, look back, and realize that I never used my voice to say anything important. Choosing to speak up about my recovery from an eating disorder and sharing my story was the best decision I could have possibly made. Taking away some of the stigma and mystery surrounding eating disorders by telling EVERYONE that I had one can hopefully open the door for athletes currently struggling to not be as scared to reach out for help.

Wearing the Emily Program logo on my headband at every race is a reminder of not only how far I’ve come and that it’s possible to turn your life around, but that I’m racing for something larger than myself. All the messages I’ve received from athletes, saying that they saw themselves in my words and were going to focus on their health and recovery, brought happy tears to my eyes every time I read a new one. The emails from parents and coaches saying that they were grateful to have an understanding of what it’s like to have an eating disorder were uplifting, because with awareness, understanding and open conversation, we can help a lot more people.

Racing with the Emily Program has been a huge honor. (photo by Nordic Focus)

I have an exciting announcement to make soon (and it deserves it’s own blog post, gosh darn it!), but for now I’ll leave you with this; writing short blog posts about my experiences in the hope of helping others has been such an honor, and something I’m passionate about. And I’m working on something a BIT longer than a blog post, to share more of my story and hopefully inspire and help more people.

Enjoying the sun and sights around the World! (photo from Sadie)

Hectic schedule? Absolutely. Given the chance, though, I wouldn’t take anything back. Helping bring the World Cup to Minnesota is one of the things I’m most proud of, and getting the US back in the World Cup calendar will be something that outlives me and helps the next generation of skiers long after I retire. That’s always been the big goal, for me; to give more than I took from the sport, and help the next generation have a better starting point than we did. This last year has been a crazy busy year of giving back in all the ways I know how, and it wore me down, but man, it’s been worth it.

Everyone needs a little help when they’re this tired! (photo by Nordic Focus)

But just like a fuse that burns hotter and brighter right before the end, I realize that I’ve been hurtling along at a completely irresponsible pace towards early burnout. Somehow, I’d managed to pack about 2-3 years of work into one. I’ve felt a deep, underlying feeling of mental and physical fatigue all season, and I can’t sustain the pace I’ve been going at with all my “extra-curricular activities”. I want to be a good role model for younger athletes not just by finding ways to give back, but by finding a healthy life-work balance, and learning how to put my health and needs first so that I can continue to give back over a long and happy career.

On the podium in Falun (photo by Nordic Focus)

And by no means was this year not a good season for me in terms of my ski career! I’m extremely happy to have 5 podiums, 2 of which were wins (I had the fastest time of day in Oberstdorf and hey, if it’s a 0-point FIS race, that’s a win in my book). Results aside, I’m proud of how I raced, and how I took a step forward technically. I gained confidence in myself and it showed in the way I raced sprint heats. Knowing that in many ways, the funding supplied to your team is directly tied to how many podiums you get can be the kind of pressure that crushes you slowly over a year. I had to learn how to navigate that pressure and was able to end the season happy and in a good place mentally. I pushed through a lot of self-doubt, self-imposed expectations and ups and downs. So perhaps more than the results, I’m most proud of reinforcing my belief that I am the only one who gets to decide if my race was a success. I judge based on how I raced, not how I placed, and shut out external expectations. All things considered, I feel that this year was pretty darn fantastic!

I can’t say thank you enough to my coach and tech, Jason Cork! (photo from Toni Sparrow)

So this spring, I’m hitting the re-set button in every way; physically, mentally, emotionally. This meant that after the final World Cup races in Quebec and a whirlwind 30-something hour trip to NYC with Kikkan to promote the Minneapolis World Cup, I was done racing. I realized that it made absolutely no sense to force my falling-apart-body into spring series if my brain, heart and head weren’t going to come along for the ride. Although it was incredibly hard to miss being with my team and seeing all my US friends and racing alongside them, it was the right decision this one time. As soon as I got to Boston, I was sleeping 10-12 hours every night, my body soaking up rest and recovery like a sponge. The weird and annoying little physical manifestations of stress that show up on my body started to heal. I felt myself growing happier and more relaxed as the only physical exercise I did each day was walk to the grocery store or take a city bike to the LL Bean store to look up camping gear.

Kikkan and I in front of 30 Rock, NYC

Getting to cook again…yay!

This April, I’m spending as much time as possible with the love of my life, and we’re headed to Peru to hike from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. We’re also hitting the beach with Wade’s family for a few days in San Diego, and in early May I’ll get some time with my family as well. My soul, my sense of adventure, my inner beach-babe and my desire to be with family are all fulfilled.

Time off!

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 pushing my body to the limit, because it’s already that much closer to the limit! And besides, everyone needed the laughs by the time we got to the end of the races.

Just trying to keep up with Ingvild! (photo from SIA Nordic)

Seefeld World Champs was full of ups and downs, hot sun and slush, disappointments and a lot of joy. Also, the realization that Devon Kershaw is the best media zone person ever, because of his total compassion for the person behind the athlete bib. He knows what it feels like to give it your absolute best and either get what you came for (and be overwhelmed by the ensuing attention) or come up short…and then still be overwhelmed by the ensuing media asking you what went wrong. Either way, you don’t get any time to process your emotions in private and decide how you truly felt about a race. Which was why I had to remember my rule for myself – before looking up at the screen I take a few seconds to think back on the race, my mental toughness, pacing and technique goals for myself, and decide if my race was a “success” or not.

This is when I decide if I found success on the course. (photo from Nordic Focus)

The amount of pressure I put on myself was almost crushing. In any given race, there are only three medals, and at least a dozen competitors with a legit chance at getting them. In every race, there are so many uncontrollable factors that you as an athlete can’t change; the course design, the weather, the speed of the snow, the wax on your skis, among other things like broken poles or falling. And I definitely struggled with some of the uncontrollable factors! For example, we missed the wax in the individual start 10km, and I was also burning up from the inside in the heat. My first thought when I crossed the finish line was “awesome, I just killed myself out there. There’s nothing left in the tank, I’m overheating like crazy but I think that went pretty well!”. Then, despite my assessment that it had been a good effort from me, when I saw the results I had a little confidence crisis. What happened to my fitness? Am I not in good shape? What the heck just happened here? 

Sadie and I gave it our all in the team sprint. (photo from Nordic Focus)

And this right here is a great example of why results never tell the whole story, and why we shouldn’t judge our performance or our worth based on results alone. My fitness hadn’t disappeared overnight, nor did it suddenly come back in time for the 30km skate. I don’t suck at classic skiing (although sometimes I hate it, but that’s different). A combination of missing the wax and then overheating had pushed me farther down the results than I’d been in nearly every World Cup all year, but I had to believe in myself and remember that I still had reason to have confidence in my fitness, even when it seemed crazy to do so!

Rosie, Julia and Sadie cooling me down at the finish of the relay! (photo from Nordic Focus)

The next individual race I did, the 30km skate, I had simply amazing wax and amazing skis. I’m totally biased, but I think they were the best out there! Our team absolutely knocked it out of the park. Now, wax doesn’t always make or break a race, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse if that’s not really what was going on there. But every ski racer in the world has experienced having skis that are running better than average, and skis that are not competitive with the field. Learning to deal mentally as well as physically with those situations is a challenge, and can leave you unsure of where your fitness level really is. That’s simply part of the game! However, realizing that my fitness hadn’t suddenly disappeared overnight was such a relief that I started to have fun again, because I wasn’t spending any energy doubting myself or second-guessing my training!

Finishing a good day of testing with Cork. (photo from Nordic Focus)

Why I am writing all this? Because we need to give ourselves a break sometimes. Trying to assume responsibility for the uncontrollable factors in life hasn’t ever gotten me very far, and worrying about it is even worse. That 30km race I finally stopped putting pressure on myself, expecting nothing and racing like I had nothing to lose. I let myself have fun without feeling like a result was the only thing that mattered, and ironically, that resulted in my best result of the week. Life is so weird.

Sending it on the downhills, always! (photo from Lumi Experiences)

Speaking of weird…the following is a transcription of the conversation that my brain had with my body with about 7km to go in the 30km:

Brain: Ok body! Let’s go! LETTSSSSS GOOOOO!

Arms: Going! I’m going!

Core: Ehhh, fiiiiine, I’m going. Woo-hoo and all that.

Legs: ……shut up, I hate you.

Lower quads: *spazzing uncontrollably and cramping up* …can’t….process…what’s….happening…

Brain: *sighs* Good lord! As usual, I’m going to have to drag you along on willpower alone!

Arms: Sooooooo….we’re not just going to double pole this in to the finish?

Legs: I can probably make it down the men’s sprint hill. Probably. Most likely. At least a 6/10 chance this will go well.

Just after getting the tag from Rosie in the relay. (photo by Lumi Expriences)

At the end of the day, I’m leaving World Champs proud of the effort I gave, because that was the only thing within my control and I really gave it all. I prepared the best I could, held nothing back in each race, and most importantly, I had fun with my team. I’m taking a lot of happy memories with me! The excited atmosphere and feeling of team bonding we had while face painting and getting ready for the relays. The hugs from friends I haven’t seen in a while who came to support the team. The smiles that greeted us every time we came into the wax truck. The overwhelming amount of love and care I felt when I was overheating and dizzy and our volunteer staff were huddled around me pouring one cup of water after another over my head to cool me down. The fun atmosphere and laughs we shared at the dinner table every night. Every World Champs has its own atmosphere and feel to it, and whether you looked at the results sheet or not, this one was made fun by the people in it.

Team! Julia, Sadie, Rosie and me. (photo from SIA Nordic)

You can never really retire from this team! Getting a great big hug from Holly Brooks. (photo from a good friend of the team)

I want to take a moment to address the scandal that hit World Champs when 5 men; 2 Austrians, 2 Estonians and 1 Kazakhstan racer, were busted for blood doping. The news really hit everyone hard, but in different ways. I had considered one of the cheaters a friend, and I felt somehow personally let down, my first thought being “but…I thought you were a good person???” My second thought was that I felt so angry, on behalf of all of us who are doing our best every day and competing clean…so angry at the coaches who encourage cheating…so angry at the dopers for what they’ve done to skiing in their respective countries and for how hard they’ve made it on their teammates who were just here to compete and do their best. But after all that anger I tried to find a little compassion (I had to dig reaaallly deep for that) and perhaps some understanding. How can we try to prevent doping in sport if we don’t take the time to try and understand what drove these men to do it in the first place? Is there something more we can be doing to educate athletes at a younger age that this is not ok?

As shocking as this was, it would be crazy to jump to conclusions and declare in anger that sport is ultimately flawed or broken. It is not broken, because WE are not broken. As long as there are athletes who are competing clean and using their voices to say that cheating is not acceptable in any form, there is hope for the future.

So for what it’s worth, I do not look upon the news that 5 athletes were caught doping and shrug and say “well, that’s sport!”. I think that it’s so wrong. I think it’s even more messed up that there are coaches and doctors supporting this, perpetuating a culture where they tell the athletes they support that they should cheat and throw away their life’s integrity for the hope of having their name higher up on a results sheet.

I think you can be clean and win, but beyond that, I’m proud to be part of a team that values HOW you race more than the result itself. If you win but you’re a terrible person, that’s much worse than competing with integrity and good character, being a good teammate and friend, supporting the next generation of skiers and showing them through your example that how you pursue a goal matters so much more than whether you actually reach it or not.

For example, at the end of World Champs, I had so many people come tell me they loved watching me race…not because of where I landed on the results, but because I raced in shorts because I put my heart and soul into it and even when the wheels were clearly falling off, I kept dragging myself up each hill as fast as I could. Frankly, they didn’t care if I ended up with a medal or not. It’s a gutsy, gritty performance that moves people and inspires them. It’s HOW you race, not if you win. But you only get to own the performance if you compete clean, because once you cheat, it’s all over. No matter if you win or not, no performance is actually truly yours anymore. It all becomes a lie. It’s hard for me to even fathom why you could choose to throw away everything for the chance of winning, when some of the races I’ve been most proud of are the ones where I didn’t even come close to the podium! But I also recognize that I’ve grown up in an amazing culture that celebrates a gutsy, go-for-it, give-em-hell try rather than glory alone, and that my whole view is shaped around the idea that integrity is everything.

So, to all the young athletes out there, whatever your sport is, I want you to know that the one thing you will always have throughout your career, regardless of result, is your integrity, the joy of competing and giving it your all. Protect that. Value it. Don’t ever throw it away, even if someone suggests that winning is the only thing that matters. Because it’s not, I can promise you that. Having both won races, lost them, and landed somewhere in the middle many times, when I look back on all the races I’ve gotten to do thus far in my career I have the pride of knowing that each and every one of them was my own, and they were real, and that it was my body doing it’s absolute best every time. So protect your integrity and race the right way, because someday when you retire you’ll want to look back at all the amazing memories you made of racing, traveling and training with a team, and you’ll want to know that all those memories and races are truly yours.

Enjoying every second of this awesome thing we get to do. (photo from Nordic Focus)

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 for help is the most important first step towards recovery, but it’s also the hardest, for many reasons. I wrote a blog post for the Emily Program, the full version of which you can find at THIS LINK. I’d really encourage you to read it because it was scary and hard for me to write, which I’ve found usually means I’m doing something right. Here’s an excerpt below:

I talk about my history with an eating disorder not only for the young athletes I know who are reading this right now and thinking “wait…that’s ME”, but also for their parents, coaches, friends and teammates who are trying to figure out what it might be like to actually have an eating disorder. For those who are trying to find empathy and figure out what’s going on in their head…here’s what was going on in mine.

The crazy thing is, sitting here today, it feels like a lifetime ago, and it’s easy to forget the feelings of panic, anxiety, fear and shame that followed me around on a near-constant basis.

But when I sit and think back to 2010 when I was picking up the phone to call the Emily Program and get treatment, it was the scariest thing in the world. It felt like my life couldn’t possibly go on without my eating disorder. It also couldn’t go on WITH one, either.

It’s alarming how quickly it spiraled out of control. I went from not caring what anyone thought I looked like in my early high school years (as evidenced by my daily uniform of baggy track pants, old cotton t-shirts from one race event or another, running shoes and a hair tie on my wrist) to thinking there was no way I would ever look cool, pretty or skinny…but suddenly worried about it. At this point, that just makes me a normal teenager. Those people who say “high school years are the best of your life!!!” are nuts. Don’t listen to them.

No, the scary part was that I went from feeling a little insecure and staring to use some disordered eating habits (going for a run after dinner even when I’d already trained that day, deciding certain foods were “off limits”, never using butter or salad dressing, etc.) to a full-blown eating disorder very quickly. My thoughts rapidly turned into “I can’t possibly get through this week of training without my eating disorder”, and I only saw a future in which I was living through the lens of disordered eating. Despite the fact that I had lived 18 years of my life without it, my eating disorder had become my new life sentence.

I was scared that without my eating disorder, I would immediately get fat and slow and wouldn’t race fast again. I was scared that without it, I wouldn’t make the National Team. I was scared to go into a recovery program, because I worried I wouldn’t be able to train enough. I was scared that if my club team knew I had an eating disorder, I’d get kicked off the team. I was scared that boys wouldn’t like me if they found out. Worse still, I was scared that they WOULD like me.

When you believe that you are not worthy of love because you don’t love yourself, you immediately question anyone who tries to show you love or support. I thought the people who were trying to help me get better couldn’t possibly understand that without my eating disorder, I was nobody.

We need to be able to talk about eating disorders so that it’s not as scary to say you’re struggling with one. (photo from the Emily Program)

The foundation behind the Emily Program is now called WithAll, with an awesome mission to try and prevent or mitigate the severity of eating disorders by changing the way we talk about food, remove barriers to treatment by giving out grants, and help family and friends feel supported through their loved one’s treatment. Their website is withall.org, and I’d recommend it as well as emilyprogram.com as great ways to get resources and information for either yourself or someone in your life who may be struggling with an eating disorder.

True. (photo from the Emily Program)

They are starting to launch their “What to say” initiative, because what we say to the kids who look up to us is incredibly powerful. How we talk about our own bodies in front of kids, teammates or peers can, and does, influence how they see themselves.

Here’s an example; so many people comment on women’s bodies and their appearance before they comment on their actions or their character traits. This happens all the time in sports, especially for women. If I post a podium photo from a race I was proud of, where I skied with guts and really sent it, about 70% of the comments will invariably be about my appearance, not about how hard I worked or how I raced. If I was a man, do you think most of the comments would be about how strong and smart I raced? Just food for thought.

Let’s change the focus from appearance to character traits. (photo from the Emily Program)

Now, I’m not saying you can’t tell someone they look good! Society isn’t going to change overnight, and it’s always nice to hear that you look nice (especially when you’re on a date!). But it’s important to think about the way we pay other people compliments. Are you ONLY commenting on someone’s appearance, without evening the scales by remarking on their drive, their work ethic, their creativity, brains, wit, courage or generosity? Making sure we take the time to let the people in our lives know that we appreciate them for who they ARE, not what they look like, lets them know that their character traits are more important than the looks they were born with. What you chose to do with your life is more important than how you wear the genes (and jeans) you were given.

Take a look at all the other words that can describe a human being… (photo from the Emily Program)

If all we ever do is tell someone “You’re so pretty! You’re so cute. You are beautiful”, they may start to believe that the most valuable thing about them is the face they present to the world. And it works the other way, too. When we put ourselves down with negative comments, we start to believe them.

So here’s my challenge to you: this week, only say kind things to yourself, and about yourself. Especially when you’re within earshot of others, but even when you’re alone. If you don’t have a kind thought for your body, make one up! Fake. It. Till. You. Make. It. Language is an incredibly powerful tool that all of us possess, and the words you use to describe yourself can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So instead of saying “I am so embarrassed by how big my leg muscles are”, re-format that to something positive, like “my legs can carry me up and over hills, and I’m grateful to have a strong and healthy body!” Let’s treat ourselves, and the people around us, with kind words.

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 thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” So, clearly, he seems to be a man of great science and rational thinking, am I right? Read this article on the interview if you want to either have a laugh (or get good and mad, but probably both).

Caitlin making some turns on a fun easy training day!

 

However, the head of our International Ski Federation showing ignorance on climate change wasn’t actually meant to be the topic of this blog, it just snuck its way in there. I don’t know how it happened! I must have blacked out.

Sertig valley – it took us about an hour to climb up, and a 17 minute tuck back downhill! (photo from Caitlin)

 

The real reason I’m getting back to blogging is because the World Championships are right around the corner, and as usual, it brings a whole host of ups and downs with it. Right now I’m in Davos for a training camp, and it’s been a real rollercoaster! Every other day it’s bright and beautiful sunshine, and then it goes back to dumping snow on us. Kind of like your emotions when you’re nervous and overthinking the upcoming races, actually. We’re in the final phases of preparing for the World Champs, which means carefully planned out interval sets, lots of rest, and winding down the hours spent on the ski trail to let our bodies rest up for some hard racing ahead.

Hoping the crowds are as incredible as the last races we did in Ulricehamn, Sweden! (photo from Warner Nickerson)

 

Every time I make a team it’s exciting, and something that I don’t ever want to take for granted. This will be my 5th trip to a World Championships, and just as every venue is unique and has its own feel, every year has its own challenges, pressures, expectations and excitement. It can be hard to find the words to express how I’ve been feeling these last few weeks, so I’m going to let the words of others help me out.

 

On finding balance after the Olympics:

“You don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep others warm”

This is something I desperately needed to hear about 365 days ago, when the 2018 Olympics were kicking off. Without getting too far into it (that’s a blog post for another time!) I’ve been getting sick so much this year because I’ve stretched myself way too thin, trying to help out too many causes at once. The past few months have been a big learning curve for me, realizing that not only can I not possibly fulfill all of the hundreds (literally, multiple hundreds) of requests for my time and energy, but that I also should not. Because if I end up broken, tired, and wanting to retire 5 years too early, I will be able to help far fewer people than if I set limits and take better care of myself. Finding a healthy balance and learning that it’s ok to say “no” will be, I suspect, a goal of mine for years to come, but at least I can recognize that there’s work to be done!

One of my favorite photos from the entire Olympics…the night we got our medals, when I skipped a bunch of media obligations so I could have pasta with Wade and my Mom and have family night!

 

On dealing with pressure:

The medals don’t mean anything and the glory doesn’t last. It’s all about your happiness. The rewards are going to come, but my happiness is just loving the sport and having fun performing.” Jackie Joyner Kersee

Thinking back on my years of racing for my high school team at Stillwater, I had so much fun. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well, especially when I knew it could help my team! Even back then, there was a lot of perceived external pressure my last few years of high school racing to win everything. It’s different than the pressure on the World Cup, but in many ways pressure is pressure, no matter where it comes from. When you feel it taking away the joy of competing, it sucks, plain and simple.

Trying to keep it chill at the pre-Olympic press conference a year ago.

 

But that’s why we have a team, and it’s important to remember why we got into the sport in the first place. I mean, did we even get medals for winning state? I honestly don’t remember. I DO, however, remember the joy of showing up every day for practice, all the practical jokes we pulled on one another, the late night sledding at Giants Ridge and the sense of camaraderie and absolute belonging I felt as part of that team. I was so invested in my team that I remember taking a red-eye flight home from US Nationals so I wouldn’t have to miss a race! My teammates had my back, and I had theirs, and the happiness that we all got from being part of something bigger than ourselves was incredible.

A very old photo of a very happy group of high school skiers my senior year, ready to sleep on the floor before a traveling race!

 

The same holds true today (yes, even the late night sledding…and the pranks). There’s always going to be pressure to perform, whether it comes from inside my own head, creepy people commenting on fasterskier from their basements, or TV show hosts. The best way to deal with it is to focus on the happiness and joy that I feel from skiing, from being part of an amazing team, and having fun with it.

Late night sledding down the mountain with Tyler, Rosie and Scott!

Teaching my teammates a dance last year!

 

On heading into the World Champs:

“Success required the emotional balance of a committed heart. When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution. The undecided heart searches for an escape. A committed heart does not wait for conditions to be exactly right. Why? Because conditions are never exactly right.” -Andy Andrews

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, because in my mind, it captures the feel of professional sports so well. Conditions, it seems, are almost never perfect. Just this week I got sick with a cold that had been going around, and it was definitely a challenge to my belief in myself and my self confidence! When you can no longer follow the carefully planned out intervals and strength routines because you’re sick, you’re forced to be flexible and adapt, shifting your training around. It can be so tempting to think “well, that’s it, then! I’m screwed. This won’t work, and don’t you DARE give me that ‘everything happens for a reason’ crap”, but that attitude has never helped anyone.

Walking around on skis so I can bomb back through snowy fields…this lifted my spirits a lot!

 

All you can do is play the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. There are so many things you can’t account for and can’t control, but by staying positive and focusing on the things I can control, I’m able to make a new training plan with my coach, and know in my extremely committed heart that I’m doing everything I can.

Whenever I get nervous – and people are often surprised to hear this, but here’s a little secret; you never stop getting nervous, you just learn how to work with it and harness the energy better – I think back and ask myself this: “am I 100% committed? Have I done everything I possibly can to find success? Am I doing the best I can right now, in this moment?”

I have complete faith in my tech and coach, Cork, and our team! (photo from Nordic Focus)

 

And when the answer is yes, I can relax and let those nerves melt away, because there’s nothing more I could, or should, be doing. I’ve been training full time for almost 10 years, since the day I walked out of my high school graduation lock-in party and went straight to a roller ski workout with a pro team. I’ve poured everything into training hard and smart, and been committed through ups and downs to giving ski racing the best shot I have, so that I will never have to look back one day and wonder “what if?” And that’s what lets me relax those nerves before a big race, because I know that I’m as prepared as I possibly can be.

There’s no “what if” regrets when you know you’ve given it everything you have! (photo from Nordic Focus)

 

I think back on all the fun I’ve had while grinding out tough workouts with amazing friends and teammates, and I’m so glad I’ve had the experience of a lifetime, chasing excellence all around the world with a group of people just as committed as I am.

Putting it all out there for my team in the relay, every time I pull those socks on. (photo from Warner Nickerson).

 

The night before the race:

“Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can.” – Ronda Rousey

This is not the time to think on all the technique adjustments you think you need to make, how you would have trained differently, or how you wish you could ski like someone else. After the races, write it all down and think back on what worked for you, and what you can do to improve. But right before the race? This is the time to reflect on all the things you kick ass at. Know your strengths. Be ready to use them. Focus on the things you can do, and believe that you have the power to do them well!

Only focusing on what I CAN do. (photo from Nordic Focus)

 

On race day:

“As powerful as our legs are, as magnificent as our lungs and arms and muscles are, nothing matters more than the mind” – Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek, man. That guy knew how to suffer. He also knew that a strong mind was the most powerful weapon in sports. No matter what I’m feeling, I know that nothing can compare to the power of racing with an all-in, nothing-to-lose, might-as-well-give-this-everything-I’ve-got mindset. When I’m racing with absolute belief in myself and a positive mindset, ready to turn myself inside out and be ok with how much it hurts, it’s a very powerful thing. When I’m smiling on race day, look out, because when I’m in a great mood I can put myself though an incredible amount of suffering. To me, being mentally tough and ready to have fun, challenging myself to race as hard and fast as possible, is the best thing I can do for myself on race day.

Loving the challenge! (photo from Nordic Focus)

Ouch! At least I know it left it all out there. (photo from Nordic Focus)

 

So as the World Champs begin next week, wish us luck, and you know we’ll be racing our hearts out!

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 is filled with unicorns and glitter (just most days) and I think in this day and age of social media making everything look better than it really is, it’s important to share the downs as well as the ups in life.
I got sick again right after the races in Davos, and for a few days before Wade arrived I was amazed at how sad and bummed out I felt. I felt isolated and lonely because, of course, I was trying to keep all my germs to myself and not get anyone else sick. Being a social butterfly, I knew why this was making me feel alone. But I also felt a huge let-down from period one of World Cup racing. Ever since the Olympics, I have felt as though there’s been enormous outside pressure coming down on me. Maybe it’s the increased access to athletes that comes with much better broadcasting, social media, TV interviews and online reporting. Maybe it’s my own naiveté, thinking that cross country skiing would never have the same kind of press and pressure that comes with the “big sports”. Whatever the reason, this season it’s been incredibly hard for me to tune out the external pressure to (simply) “be amazing” all the time.

Landing on the World Cup podium…is actually pretty hard, believe it or not!

In Davos, for example, I finished 5th in the 10km individual skate race. That was a good result for me any time of year, but especially in period one. More importantly, however, it was a good race for me regardless of result, because of how I raced it. I was in the zone the entire race, pushed my body so hard I was tasting blood the entire second lap, focused on skiing with the most efficient technique I had, and paced it well. For those reasons, I was proud of that race. But it seemed that all anyone said afterwards was: “good. you’re on track.” On track to what, exactly? And for whom? I felt like I couldn’t enjoy what was truly a good race for me because it hadn’t lived up to others expectations for where they thought I should be. I should point out that these “other people” aren’t the people who matter to me; my teammates, coaches, family and friends, sponsors and home ski community all support me for the right reasons, regardless of how I’m racing. Still, it’s amazing how hard it is to ignore these other voices of media, reporters, commentators and other critics because theirs are the loudest voices.
***This, by the way, is exactly why I always tell parents who ask how to best support their young racers to never ask their kids about the result after a race. Instead, I think it’s important to ask how the kid felt about the race, if they had fun, and if they were happy with it. The worst thing you can do to another racer is to tell them what they’re feeling and assume without asking that you know how they should feel and react. The right to be proud of a race effort isn’t reserved only for the winner. ***

Views like this remind me how much I love being out in the snow!

Feeling pressure isn’t exactly new, but the increased media spotlight since the Games has been different this year. As it turns out, getting everything you ever wanted isn’t exactly what I imagined it to be. There’s a downside to success in such a publicly broadcasted setting that nobody ever talks about, but over the last few months I found out what it’s like to be in a spotlight that you didn’t realize was part of the job. In the USA, the Olympics are such a huge milestone that if you win a medal, your life really will change.
Suddenly, you will be asked to do anything and everything. There will be events and galas and exciting opportunities, but there will also be times when you feel overworked, exhausted and used. You will feel immense pressure to carry the fundraising efforts for your team, but you’ll also have the opportunity to support causes that are incredibly close to your heart. There are big ups and downs, but if you’re not careful, you’ll look around and suddenly realize that you’re not happy because you never took any time for yourself to process what’s happening around you. You might feel like you need a break, but you can’t figure out how to take one.

Wade skiing the Seefeld courses with me!

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing to complain about here, and I know that! Everything important in my life is going great; I have an amazing boyfriend who treats me like I’m the most important person in the world, my friends and family are all well, and I get to live my dream job every day. But our perception shapes our reality, and if you’re not happy, you’re not happy. Simple as that.
Luckily, I had Wade there to make me feel so loved and appreciated and help me forget about the pressure I was feeling with ski racing! We went out for some awesome skis together, and on Christmas Eve we hiked some sleds up the side of a mountain and then came screaming back down in the fresh snow. Cooking great food in our cozy little apartment and getting to spend some good time with friends, I finally relaxed and started to remember why I love this sport so much! I got into ski racing because I love pushing myself and the challenge of the race, and it was nice to be able to take a step back and remember that.

Enjoying the sunny skiing together!

The start of the tracks in Seefeld go by this gorgeous old church.

Happy!

So my goals moving forward with the season are these:
Remember to have fun and race only for myself and for the joy of pushing myself as hard as I can.
And…
Be the Steve Prefontaine of the Tour.

This is how I want to race.

Whether or not I’m going to be the first one across the finish line is out of my control. I can’t control the weather, the course, wax, skis or my competitors. The only thing I have direct control of is my own effort and how much of myself I choose to give at any given moment. Choosing to give it all, racing with guts and pushing past my limits is what gives me that crazy endorphin-rush feeling of victory after a race. And that’s the feeling I’m seeking race after race, not a number on the results sheet.

Checking off the “having fun” goal with sparklers on Christmas! (photo from Simi)

Right now I’m with the team in Toblach, Italy, right in the awe-inspiring, jagged Dolomite mountains. I don’t have a great photo of how awesome it looks here, so here’s one I shamelessly stole from google. You’re welcome! Everywhere you look, there are these huge peaks lit up by the sunshine as you’re skiing around the race course, and this is one of my favorite courses on the World Cup!

Toblach, Italy!

Speaking of favorites…the Tour de Ski is, honestly, my favorite 9 days of the season. It’s hard to describe why racing day after day, fighting back the feeling of being deliriously tired, feeling like your legs are made of lead and your shoulders are too tired to lift your arms up, but racing anyways is fun…but it just is, ok? Racing is the biggest challenge we can give ourselves, and whether the race goes great or terribly wrong, you have to move on immediately to the next thing. Find the lessons to be learned from that day’s race, then start preparing for the next one. There’s no time for regret or wallowing in mistakes, just looking forward to the next opportunity to do something awesome. Maybe that’s what I love most about the Tour. It’s one big opportunity, one hopeful day after the next, one huge adrenaline rush!
You know what else is great about the Tour? Sleeping in. Check out NBC’s broadcasting schedule for the tour if you’re interested in following the action…and not getting up at 3am to do it! Click HERE for the race viewing schedule.

We’re really into Sparkle Season now, folks

Relay days bring out my inner Disney Princess. What can I say? I have always had a profound love of glitter and all things sparkly, but on relay day I get to put the USA and some stars or a flag on everyone’s cheeks in face paint, too! I glitter it up to high heaven and put on the striped socks that make me feel like I can go do anything. Magic can sometimes happen on relay day, and perhaps it’s that stubborn belief that “miracles happen, you know?” that makes me laugh and realize I do in fact sound like a Disney Princess. But like, one of the new-age ones that goes out and does cool stuff, not one of the original ones that just lays around waiting for a strange man to kiss her.

Getting Sadie ready for the first leg of the relay (which she totally crushed!) photo from Kelsey Phinney

I was so proud of our teams for how we skied today in the relay. All you can ever do is your very best shot, and as a team we tend to work into the season. So a 5th place finish felt very solid with a lot of potential to come down the road, and everyone skied their glittery faces off! There were some seriously gusty performances out there and it was so exciting (and nerve-wracking!) to watch with one eye on the jumbotron as I kept jogging around to stay warm and ready in the start pen.

Our relay! Caitlin (leg 3), Sadie (leg 1), Rosie (leg 2) and me (leg 4)!

I was tagged in with a 46 second gap to the podium, and closed it down to 9 seconds from 2nd place by the time I crossed the line, which was a huge confidence boost for me and a sign that I’m coming back into the race form I know and love. Racing with Ida (SWE) and Tiril (NOR) was really awesome. I went out super hard to try to shorten the gap to the next group up (here goes that “anything’s possible if I want it badly enough” attitude again…) but when I realized that I wasn’t going to drop the girls with me and that it was a really flat course with a ton of drafting, I changed tactics after about 2km and slotted into third to conserve energy and plan my finishing attack, which I barely eeeked out before Ida crossed the line behind me. We all pushed each other hard and it’s good old gritty racing like that that helps me find my sharper race form later in the season!

Showing off my sparkly face paint! (photo from Swix)

Speaking of finding my form, finding my normal life rhythm while hopping countries takes a little while, too. I have to laugh because sometimes when I’m talking to my sister on the phone, about 10 minutes in she’ll sometimes pause and say “wait a second…are you still in Norway, or….?” and I can’t blame her – I’m always on the move! Case in point: I used to have a little feature on my website that was the “Where in the World is Jessie now?” button. I had to take it down because I could never remember to update it when I was changing countries all the time. See? Even I don’t know where I am half the time!

Beitostølen, where we were this week, was absolutely stunning with a layer of fresh snow!

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be living more than half your year on the road, never quite in the same setting, but at the same time always being in a predictable rhythm once the season begins.

Sophie and I had quite the breakfast vibe with candles and Christmas music going on this week!

We almost always travel on Monday to the new venue, train Tuesday-Thursday, do what we call “race prep” on Friday which includes testing a bunch of skis with our techs. We’ll also meet up to do some intensity training on the race course to get our bodies fired up for the hard efforts ahead. Then we race Saturday and Sunday, and start the whole process over again next Monday by traveling to another country. Even though our location is never stable, you’re always doing the same things every week, and that feeling of being in a pattern and having the same habits keeps me from feeling totally lost when I’m gone from home for 5 months. It’s even easier over time because we’re often coming back to the same venues year after year, so I don’t even have to re-learn the race courses, my favorite running loop or a new gym setup. I can literally tell you what aisle the baking soda is (and I can picture what it looks like in Finnish) in the Ruka grocery store. To be fair, the store only has like 4 aisles, so that’s less impressive than it sounds. My memory’s not THAT good. I can, however, visualize each course on the World Cup if I’ve raced it a few times, and it’s nice to know what you’re going to get.

On a fun easy ski with Cork! (photo from Cork)

Last week in Lillehammer was such a strange one for me. I love racing there and the courses are what I describe as “swoopy” (and I realize I made that word up, as my computer keeps trying to change it to “snoopy” on me). But I firmly stand by the adjective “swoopy”!  The course is always turning and winding its way up and down the steep hillside, with some sharp turns and fast downhills. When it’s not icy it’s never so fast that it feels dangerous, just incredibly fun. The races on that snoopy (oops, my computer changed it on me again) course were also a mini-tour, meaning if you don’t start the first race, you can’t continue with the ones after it.

Ok so this isn’t the world’s best photo, but the walking street in Lillehammer is really beautiful! (especially when the lights go on)

Unfortunately for me, I caught this mild cold that’s going around the World Cup right now. I was super excited to race but only if I thought I was healthy enough that I wouldn’t push the little head cold into my lungs and create a larger setback that would hurt me down the road. So the two days leading up to the race I didn’t do any of my usual training…I laid in bed drinking tea and only going outside my room for meals or to go for a walk twice a day. I CRUSHED Netflix like a pro, and drank an alarming amount of tea with honey. It was really discouraging to not be able to do my normal race prep and I knew that racing after not getting my body fired up wasn’t going to be pretty, but having the chance to race at all was more important for my overall season. And to do that, I needed to get healthier.

I mean…maybe I was sick because all travel day I was curled up in a ball trying to sleep? (photo from Kelsey)

I think I wanted to race so bad that my brain convinced my body that I was healthier than I was! So I started skiing on Friday, telling myself that I’d first test skis, then warm up, and along the way I’d keep checking in with myself to see if it was a good idea to be racing. My body actually felt pretty good, so I qualified for the sprint but in the heats I didn’t feel at all like myself. I know that I always work into each season so that I can be in top form when it matters most (in late January-February) but it still isn’t fun to know that you’re nowhere near your best racing gear. I also realized after the race that while my cold was indeed very mild, I still wasn’t racing totally healthy, and on the World Cup in a sport like cross country, racing at anything less than 100% will make you bleed time in a race. The same thing happened the following day for the individual 10km skate…it was the strangest thing, but during the race I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I didn’t feel like I was there at all, and while I was pushing myself as hard as I could go, the spark wasn’t there.

Racing the skate sprint in Lillehammer (photo from George Forbes)

And that’s when a much-needed mental pep talk came in handy.

For the 10km classic pursuit, I threw any expectations of feeling good right out the window, so that if I didn’t feel great during the race it wouldn’t throw me off guard. I expected to feel terrible, in fact! I just focused on doing the very best I could with what I had that day, which in the end is all we can ever do on any given day anyways.

Focusing on the things I could control in the 10km classic (photo from George Forbes)

I’ve been having this realization over and over again throughout my career, but it never hurts to reinforce it a little in my brain: People will still love me even if I don’t win. They love me for who I am, and ski racing is just a little piece of the complex puzzle that makes me the sparkly chipmunk that I am. I’ve always felt this from my family, team, boyfriend and close friends, but to feel it from the larger ski community and fans of the sport as well is humbling and overwhelming (in a good way). I finished my race and still had a smile and sparkles to spare on my face, and all the SMS Nordic kids that were there for a training camp were right outside the media gate, waiting to give us hugs and high fives! They were there for an awesome training camp in Sjusjoen, Norway, just a little ways away and they came to cheer for all the races. It was so cool to see the kids that I help guest coach in the summer at the World Cup, and to see that to them it didn’t matter what place I came in – although I know they were cheering hard for me to do my best – it just mattered that I DID do my best. And that’s one of the best things about this sport.

Sadie and I with some of the SMS girls (photo from George Forbes

Getting some much needed hugs! (photo from George Forbes)

I also have to say how much I love and appreciate all the awesome fans that come out to cheer at every World Cup venue. It isn’t hard to find the motivation to push past what you think you’re capable of when there’s hundreds of people screaming your name!

Coach Cork does it all – coach, wax tech, ski buddy (photo from Kelsey)

As an interesting side note, I often have people asking me what it feels like right after crossing the finish line. I used to really struggle to breathe at the end of race after that final push to get my rapidly-falling-apart body across that finish line in one piece. When I’m laying in the snow for those first 20 seconds, I’m usually on the edge of blacking out, and I’m in incredible pain. Often in a gesture of “congrats” or “good job”, people will come over and rub your back, which is super kind and supportive. But I used to FREAK OUT at the feeling of a hand over my rib cage when I was hyperventilating. It became known on our team as a sort of weird rule that you never touch Jessie’s torso until at least 30 seconds after a race. It’s become a little bit hilarious because after relays, another skier will come over to say good job and reach down to rub my back, and Sadie or Rosie will shout “STOP!!!!”.

The skier will freeze, hand extended inches above my back.

“DON’T TOUCH HER!”

*hand immediately retracts*

“Sorry, she just….has this thing…just, don’t touch her.”

I adore and love my teammates for going out of their way to protect me and my weird little ways to fight off a panic attack.

Girls group from Period one! Caitlin, Sadie, Kaitlyn, Kelsey, Rosie, Sophie, Me and Ida.

These days, I’m proud to say I’ve gotten so much better at this and at controlling my barely-checked fear at the feeling of not having enough air. But I know my teammates will always have my back. (see what I did there?!?)

Back to the World Cup!

I reached over to grab my water bottle and toppled out of the tiny bed in our apartment in Ruka, Finland. Hitting the floor with a thud, I immediately burst into what Matt calls my “Pee-wee Herman laugh”. Being stubborn, I immediately denied having a Pee-wee laugh, until he pulled up a Youtube clip and the moment I heard it I couldn’t NOT laugh, and then there were not one but two Pee-wee Herman’s laughing in the room. How embarrassing.

Sophie and I goofing around for the YLE station TV (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

Anyways, besides falling out of our impressively tiny Euro beds (I always forget how small the hotel beds are over here!) we’ve been getting back into the rhythm of World Cup life, shaking off the jet lag and desperately soaking up any hint of sunshine we find between the hours of 11-1pm! We started out with a week in Rovaniemi, Finland, which is right on the Arctic Circle and more importantly, the “official” airport and home of Santa Claus.

Seeing the sun in Rovaniemi! (this photo of the sunrise was taken at 12:30pm, to give you an idea of how far North we are!)

Ida and I doing some staring into a “happy lamp” to help shake off the jet-lag when it’s dark outside! (photo from Sophie)

Sadly, it was 40 degrees F and also raining, and the beautiful 9km loop of man-made snow melted out for maybe the first time ever. *Cue massive alarm bells about climate change* The organizers there did a great job with what they had to work with, but we ended up moving to Ruka early in order to be on more snow, and for the first time ever we also saw green moss and plants on the side of the man-made snow in Ruka, as well.

Sophie, me and Kelsey in Rovaniemi (photo from Jason Cork)

It can be so easy to slip into self-doubt at this time of year. I hadn’t yet had a chance to do a real race, and the time trial we did in Rovaniemi was a 10km skate on the 1.4km loop of snow, weaving in and out of about 60 people training, so it was quite the experience! I’d be lying if I said my confidence was rock solid going into the first World Cup race of the year. But once I got back into the process of testing skis, doing race-prep intervals and course inspection and warming up for the race as I always do, the return to the routine helped calm my nerves. And I got to remember how gosh darn fun this all is! I just love racing and challenging my body to go faster and faster. When I look at the process of trying to get faster and race smarter, I have been doing all the hard work, no slacking off and no shortcuts, every day the last 8+ years. There’s every reason to be proud of my efforts and to trust in the process, as it’s a long season ahead! I seriously wish I could go back and tell my 20-year-old-self that exact sentiment, because it’s taken years to find the self-belief and trust in the process that I need in order to race like I know I belong on the World Cup!

Doing a quick interview the day before the race…and just remembering to not put any outside pressure on myself! (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

I didn’t qualify in the sprint, but that didn’t have any negative effect on my attitude or my belief in myself, which is something I’ve worked hard over the years to have with mental toughness training! I skied stronger and with better technique than I ever have on this course, and although the steep running-skiing technique isn’t a strength of mine, I know where I can still work to improve and I also know that I’ve come a long way from a few years ago when I would have scrambled all over the place! And I reminded myself that last year I also finished around 33rd…and that season went pretty darn well. It’s a long year, and the only way to count yourself out is to put yourself down in your own mind!

Soph and I goofing off after race prep. (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

I have to say, after going to a lot of different sporting events this year and enjoying the experience every time, it does make me appreciate the cheering on the World Cup and how positive it is! There’s none of what I call “down-cheering”, which is when you actively cheer against a person or a team. There’s only cheering for the people the fans love the most, and clapping or ringing cowbells for each and every skier, which is a super cool way of saying “you may not be my favorite or my own team, but I realize you’ve gone though a lot to get here, so I’m cheering you on, anyways!” I know this isn’t unique to Cross Country Skiing, but it is one of the things about this culture that I simply adore and admire. So a huge thank-you to all the fans out there in person, or sitting in bed in your pajamas at 5am watching the races, because all your positive energy is a powerful thing!

Super excited to be racing with The Emily Program on my hat as a reminder of what a healthy body can do, and hopefully to inspire others that they can do it, too! (photo from Sadie)

There IS an astonishing amount of down-cheering on the internet, mostly because people who would never have the spine to say it to your face suddenly find a whole lot of courage when they can make an anonymous profile online! It is, shall we say…a Presidential level of arrogance to assume you know what I’m thinking, what my strengths are, how to win a World Cup or Olympic race when it’s never been done by you, or even that anyone with access to me is actually reading your ramblings. I’m assuming these things are being said based on what others tell me in the summer after the season when we’re having a good laugh at the craziness of internet commenters during a boring training run. Because here’s the thing: I purposefully never open up a ski reporting site during the year, I never read comments, and I don’t even read many comments on my own instagram. Because the very few select people in the World who do actually have constructive feedback that can make me better are all here with me, or a quick phone call away. I’ve learned that my personality just doesn’t have thick skin, so I build a happy bubble of confidence around myself, and I’m honesty pretty stoked that I don’t have to harden my heart in order to still remain positive and confident throughout a season!

Skyping my family always makes my day! Kenzie had to cover Leo’s ears because we were talking about the chew toy he was getting for Christmas. 🙂

To keep the team spirits high, we really love to get into any celebration, and this week we had two birthdays and Thanksgiving! We all got together for Sadie and Oleg’s big days, and I had a lot of fun making two apple pies with “The Oleg” written across them. Being me, I’ve also been baking up a ton of banana bread, as it’s a really fun and relaxing activity for me and also it’s tradition for me to make a huge batch for the Wax Techs whenever we have access to a kitchen.

Oleg’s birthday pies! (photo from Sadie)

I had such a huge smile on my face when I got to see all the other countries roll into town. It’s a really special thing, having friends from around the World on different teams! Of course, you always want to race well, but the competition is reserved only for the space in between the start wand and the finish line. Which is why you’ll see a funny “na-na-dance challenge” getting passed around the World Cup instagrams, starting with Thomas Wick (Germany) and I! It’s super cool to see how hard every single person who is part of the World Cup works, but also how friendly nearly everyone is and how there’s this base level of respect; it’s a recognition of how darn tough it is to get here and how hard racing is.

If you want to follow along live, here’s where you can find the schedule! Unfortunately, this weekend in particular isn’t being broadcast live, but you should be able to see most everything else. I don’t know what time zone back in the USA these are being shown live, but we’re supposed to start the Lillehammer sprint final at 12pm Lillehammer time, so you can work it backwards from there! BROADCASTING SCHEDULE LINK

Road safety, snuggles, ski galas and skol chants.

The rest of the team training camp in Park City was awesome, and so were the extra three days I spent in town! It was so fun catching up with friends while still training a lot but winding down the intensity from camp. It makes my heart feel so happy when I get to just chill and catch up with friends that I don’t get to see often enough!

Liz, Sadie and I did a painting class! (photo from Sadie)

Then it was time to zip over to NYC for the annual Gold Medal Gala fundraiser! This is a really important event as it’s the single largest fundraiser for the US Ski and Snowboard team, and it supports all athletes across all sports. This year one of our big supporters donated a jet so that we could get to the ball quickly and save on plane tickets. I was extremely grateful because it meant that I could get in my 2.5 hour roller ski beforehand and not compromise a minute of my training! Besides that being basically the coolest 3 hours of my life, I had a really fun time being taken to the Ralph Lauren flagship store and being dressed by them for the ball. Living up the Cinderella moment!

“And who are you wearing tonight?” is something I’ve definitely never been asked before! (photo from Polo Ralph Lauren)

I also had the chance to continue to work on not being nervous while public speaking, as I presented the keynote speech with a video from Kikkan introducing me! It was incredibly inspiring to see all the support for the team from everyone attending. It was also really cool to be able to see the belief and cheering as we head into another season! So thank you so much to everyone who has been supporting the US Ski and Snowboard team!

Speaking to the gala! (photo from Sarah Brunson/US Ski and Snowboard Team)

Wade came to the ball!!! (triple exclamation points necessary here).

Speaking of fundraisers, I always ask once a year for my team. I train alongside my SMST2 teammates all spring, summer and fall and I’ve seen how hard everyone is working. And this year our advisory board will match up to 30,000 of (tax-deductible!) donations, which is a really awesome and generous thing! 100% of expenses go right to the training, travel, race wax and room/board costs of the team, and every dollar goes a long way to supporting the team (especially since it’s getting doubled by the matching challenge).

Supporting this hardworking team is the best gift I could ask for!

You can donate online at this link, or write a check to the address on the webpage: https://smseliteteam.wordpress.com/fundraising-challenge/

The other way to give and support cross country skiing in the US if you’re pumped about skiing and would like to donate, is the National Nordic Foundation. They’re hosting a trip to come watch World Championships in Seefeld, Austria which is a pretty darn incredible place to go ski and watch the races live! Reservations need to be made by October 31st though in order to hold the hotel rooms, so get on this one fast if you’re psyched to go watch the Championships in February! Check out the details HERE. Or, you can donate the the NNF at THIS LINK!

Hanging out with last year’s NNF trip to Seefeld! (photo from Garrott Kuzzy/Lumi Experiences, who is leading this year’s trip as well!)

When I got home to Minnesota, I immediately started baking my Dad’s special birthday cake within 20 minutes of getting in the door. Priorities, doncha know! I look forward to these family dinners as I don’t get as much time with my parents and sister anymore, but we’re really close so it’s pretty special when it works out! I also love getting to snuggle our puppy dog, Napoleon (“Leo”) and he’s getting to be quite the little mushball of love.

Getting ALL the love from Leo!

You know what else is just awesome about being back? The training. I love roller skiing around Afton. It’s this amazing mecca for skiers all around the twin cities because it’s good pavement, less traffic, and rolling hills that are perfect for training. And although it’s always felt very athlete-friendly, since the Olympics I feel like we’re even more supported and that people are looking out for our safety out there.

However, something happened this Sunday that really deeply upset me. I was out on a long ski with Kris Hansen, my high school coach and very close friend. When we heard a car coming, we moved to the far right and were skiing single file. We were on a long straight section of road with a hill ahead, but it was obvious that a car could pass with plenty of room left over. But the man driving the car buzzed us so close that I was rocked sideways from the wind. He slowed to a stop, then when we tried to ski by him, he kept driving on the right side of the road so that we were forced to the middle of the road. When we sped up, he sped up. When we slowed down, he came to a stop, blocking us from getting back to the side of the road. I knocked on the window a few times shouting that he was going to get us killed, and he flipped me the finger and turned the music up. It was the most incredible display of aggressive bullying and “I’m bigger than you and I’m in a SUV so I’m going to harass you” that I’ve ever seen in person.

Kris was smart enough to have her phone on her, but as soon as she pulled it out to take a photo of the guy’s license plate, he sped up and took off. I wrote the number in the dirt, and called the cops. They took down my information and then a police officer called me to follow up, and tracked the car’s license plate down. The officer let the man know how not ok it was – and it’s illegal to pass a cyclist without 3 feet of space in Minnesota. The officer assured me that the man had apologized, and I appreciated that the police took my call seriously.

But…it made me feel sick inside. If that guy had been 6 inches closer to us, we would be in the hospital or dead. If a car had come over the top of the hill while he was pushing us to the middle of the road, we’d also be in the hospital or dead. I think sometimes aggressive drivers don’t realize that if they “just tap” a person on the road to “teach them a lesson”, they could become a murderer right then and there.

We have a responsibility to stay safe and not create problems for ourselves by being safe and smart on the road. Make sure to ski single file, be mindful of cars, and just use common sense to be safe out there. We want to keep Afton a friendly place for roller skiers, and not give anyone a reason to dislike us. But sometimes even when you’re doing everything right, there are terrible drivers out there. As the police officer said, if they hear about this same driver harassing people again, they will be able to take next steps.

So ski with a phone in your drink belt! If someone buzzes you or does anything close to what this guy did to me and Kris, call 911 right away and report it with their license number. The police have this guy’s address on file so if it happens again, he’s going down.

On the plus side, I had so many more positive interactions to outweigh this one crazy driver. One person passed with their windows rolled down, cheering for us and waving. Another slowed down to shout “good job!!!” as they went by. Everyone else passed with what felt like 5 feet of space, and I felt so safe in my hometown. Let’s keep it that way!

Getting ready to pump up the fans! (photo from the Vikings)

Last but certainly not least, I had the extremely fun chance to get back together with the Vikings team! I was brought in to speak to the players and staff before leaving for Park City camp, and it was an honor to share insights from sports psychology and race day observations from my sport with the team. On Sunday night, I came back with family and friends to the home game and got to lead the crowd in the “skol” chant before blowing the giant Gjallarhorn to start the game. I got goosebumps from the noise alone!

Quick chat with the players during warmup…these guys are so awesome. (photo from the Vikings)

 

Let me tell you…hearing over 66,000 people shouting “skol” is some straight-up Game Of Thrones stuff.

 

Skol!

And now I’m here training hard and speaking at a few more events before leaving for Finland on November 12th!

 

Train, Rest, Repeat!

Here we are, pounding the roller ski track in Soldier Hollow in our last US Team training camp of the year! How is it already late October? This is nuts, people! It’s hard to believe that on November 12th, I’m going to be getting on a plane…and not coming back to the US until late March. I’m excited for the season, ready to get back into the thrill of racing and see all my friends on the World Cup again, but there is one more month of work to do first.

I’d say we’re pretty much Pros at the classic “team jumping shot”…(photo by Reese Brown/SIA Images)

Thursday and Friday we had back-to-back time trials. We had a skate sprint time trial first, with round-robin style heats so everyone raced the course 4 times. And wow, I somehow managed to forget (or trick my brain) in between New Zealand and now. I managed to forget how hard racing actually is on your body! It HURTS, you know? Pulling up to the line before the final, my legs felt shaky and I thought I might actually puke, and I couldn’t really feel my toes.

Hammering in intervals with Rosie Brennan! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

But then I went out and hammered as hard as I could anyways, and it turns out that even when I’m convinced my body is about to fall apart, somehow that darn thing keeps on going! We’re so much stronger than we think, and our bodies are capable of so much more than we realize. Having a time trial to play around and push myself in every round was a great way to not only practice that race feeling, but to remind myself that the “pain cave” is my specialty, and it feels so satisfying to dig deep and then dig some more, and realize that I can handle it.

It feels so good to be done with intervals!!! (photo fro Matt Whitcomb)

Today we did a 12.6km for the women and 16.8km for the men. We did this on purpose, because FIS is considering adding in those distances, based on careful focus groups that determined the ideal race length for fans. These changes will go into place starting in the fall of 2019, so we need to start adjusting our bodies now! Just. Kidding. But did I get you going there, just for a second? We did those distances because that’s how long three laps of the paved roller ski course in Solder Hollow is. The real answer is so boring!

Sadie and I working on our double pole. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

While racing at altitude is tricky because you have less oxygen and can “blow up” or “hit the wall” a lot faster than at sea level, I appreciate the chance to practice here. It’s good for me to get to play around in a low-stakes atmosphere to see exactly what it feels like right before I’m about to blow up. And as we near the end of camp, I’m feeling really good about where the team is at! Everyone’s working hard, in a good place, and looking good.

Team L3 skate intervals on a cold snowy day! (photo from Andy Newell)

But sometimes, it can be really hard to feel confident when there’s not a lot you can actually measure. We don’t have a 400 time on the track to compare in the off-season. We’re not swimmers, where we could go off a time to see if we’re in the right place. Our roller ski courses and wheels are all slightly different speeds, and even a time trial course on the pavement can be drastically faster or slower depending on the weather!

Working with Cork to improve my technique (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

So what do we do, when we don’t have a way to really know where we are? Train hard, train smart, and have a little trust in the process. We’re not robots, after all. It adds a little bit of excitement, that edge of uncertainty. I do the absolute best I can, and if I’m giving this sport everything I have in training, and listening to my body, then I’m doing my job right. I also like to focus on getting the best recovery I can as well! When I go do do a strength workout in the gym, or do 6 x 4 minutes all-out intervals up a hill, those things don’t actually make me faster by themselves. I’m tearing my muscles apart and breaking my body down, and only by resting and recovering will my body come back stronger and faster. Which makes getting enough sleep basically one of the most important parts of my job!

Resting in a “cuddle puddle” with Hannah, Hailey and Julia after the time trial!

When I was training in high school, I’d hear that I needed to be sleeping better and longer, and I’d sort of roll my eyes – hey, I was a teenager! That’s what we do! – and think “but I have so many things I need to be DOING!” But hey, you know what? Mom was right. (She’s always right, by the way). Without enough sleep, I wasn’t recovering and getting the full benefit of the training I was doing. When I turned pro, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt once I started sleeping 9 hours a night, and once I had some down time in the middle of the day to do things like stretch, foam roll or ice tub. Honestly, if I could go back and tell my 15 year old self one thing to make me a better athlete.. it’d be this: sleep more. Everything else can wait, because you’ll do a better job if you’re rested.

The team at the Warren Miller movie the other night…because we’re IN IT! Sometimes you need that balance of fun things in your life along with the rest (although I DID sleep for 8.5 hours that night anyways).

I realize this sounds sort of ironic, coming from the girl who appears on social media to be EVERYWHERE and doing All Of The Things that a person could possibly do. And I recognize that the amount of extra work I’ve been taking on post-Olympics is only sustainable in the short term, so don’t worry, you’ll see me doing less next year! But in between training and helping promote the sport I love and my sponsors whom I love for supporting me in my career and also helping to grow this incredibly fun sport, I’ve been working on resting. I make sure to come to every training session ready to go, and in between training sessions I get off my feet and have a little down time. I look for ways to sleep better, to totally chill out in the middle of the day, to relax both my body and my brain!

Enjoying a really pretty sunset run!

Bose came out this summer with some particularly incredible technology for sleeping. Their sleep buds don’t cancel noise…they mask it. So you can pick a sound track that goes into these pea-sized soft flexible ear buds that you can wear all night long. I also set my alarm on these so that only I hear it, and don’t wake up my roommate. This is huge for me because I’m always traveling and changing sleeping locations, and some hotel walls are…well…thinner than others. And some roommates are sleep-talkers. I can say this because I’ve been told I sometimes LAUGH in my sleep, which is, of course, incredibly creepy. I apologize in advance to my roommates. But I still think that’s better than snoring, for the record!

Sadie’s putting up with me anyways this camp 🙂 (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

I’ve used these cute little things every night for the last 3 months, and it’s been a huge asset on the road, but also at home. Sometimes it’s hard for me to quiet my brain when I have so many thoughts going round and round my head, but I also know that I need to sleep, which obviously doesn’t help because then I’m obsessing over not sleeping! But having a gentle background noise is almost meditative and helps me relax. I like using the “rain shower” sound track, and now I’ve started to associate that sound with “it’s time to sleep!” so when I hear it I start to relax automatically. And like my Slumberland Furniture pillow that I travel with, I’ll always have the same feel no matter where I go. I love the consistency in an ever-changing lifestyle. I mean, I literally took my pillow all around Europe with me! And now I’ll be taking my sleep buds, too. Thanks, Bose!

Stoked to see Bose on the jacket this year! (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

Snow Farm living

I feel so spoiled, living here at the Snow Farm in New Zealand! I’ve been to a LOT of training camps in my life, but this one takes the cake….Every. Single. Time. Why? Because every time I ski here, I feel so inspired. The rolling mountains are jaw-dropping.

Our crust-cruise day last year, on the most perfect of days! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

On a bluebird day, the tracks look fake, like an over-edited image that can’t possibly be real.

I mean…this backdrop can’t possibly exist in real life…right? (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

First tracks!

Because there are around 65-70 kilometers of groomed trails here and you’re never bored.

Headed out to “hanging valley” loop!

Kelsey enjoying “the loop”

The crew climbing “Kirsty Burn” trail up into the mountains (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Because some of the trails hug the edge of the mountain and it looks like you’re about to ski right off the edge of the world.

Jumping over the mountain range! (photo from Jason Cork)

Enjoying a ski with Emily from the Canadian team before she flew home (photo from Jason Cork)

Because the Lord of the Rings were filmed here, duh! And one simply does not ski around the Snow Farm without listening to the theme song of the movies.

Feeling on top of the world! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

Skiing up the tiered trails in “the glen”, near the Snow Farm lodge (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Don’t get me wrong, we’re earning our stay here by putting in some serious hours on the snow, working hard at improving our technique. But it’s hard not to ski around smiling all the time, and when it’s this nice outside, hard work doesn’t feel so hard!

Hammering out some intensity work! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Loving a long ski up the “Kirsty Burn” loop! (photo by Kelsey Phinney)

Switching leads back and forth with Ida during intervals. We use each other to keep getting faster and better! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

We’ve got an awesome training group here, and it’s the US Ski Team plus Stratton, and Craftsbury came in after a week.

Sophie, Katharine, Ida, Kelsey, me and Alayna! (photo from Sophie)

Sprinting it out, just because! (photo by Kelsey Phinney)

Snack and drink breaks on top of one of the most beautiful trails in the world! (photo by Kelsey Phinney)

Kelsey and Sophie goofing around

Me and Katharine on a sunset cruise (Kelsey Phinney took the photo)

Hi from Down Under!

Enjoying the sunshine and great skiing with Julia! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Loving a fun trail up on the Pisa Mountain range! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

We also had an absolutely EPIC mountain run down in Wanaka last week. We ran 5 miles up into the mountains, then ran along the ridgeline for another hour or so, then ran back down. It was incredible views of Lake Wanaka on one side and Lake Hawea on the other, and being out in the mountains like that makes my soul happy.

The hike up was ridiculously cool (photo from Sophie)

Water breaks never looked so good! (photo from Sophie)

An awesome run from Glendhu Bay to Wanaka down below. (photo from Sophie)

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION! (Photo from Sophie)

Then it was time for the Merino Muster! I love, love, love this race. It’s such a fun atmosphere and the conditions were incredible – fast snow and fun skiing the rolling courses. I did the 42km race again this year, and it was fun winning the women’s race and seeing Simi take the men’s title again. But the best part is that women and men all start together so we got to race against the guys, too! And unlike the World Cup, we’re racing the exact same distance, so that’s pretty awesome.

The group – before Craftsbury Green team got here, so now we have even more! (photo from Simi)

Tomorrow we start the New Zealand Winter Games races; a 5/10km individual start skate, a skate sprint and a 10/15km mass start classic race. I’ll race the 5km and 10km race and it should be fun getting back in touch with the shorter distance race feelings!

Staying on the Treadmill of Life!

We used to do VO2 Max tests quite often. Twice a year, in fact, at the US Ski Team’s headquarters in Park City, Utah. Then the specialized roller ski treadmill belt broke, and, well…you can still do the test on the new treadmill…BUT. The resistance is very different, so you no longer have consistency in the variable of how long you can remain skiing until exhaustion. And for me, that was the only one that mattered. It mattered because it tested my mind, not just physiological markers that might perhaps indicate success in sport. To my way of thinking, how resilient your brain is is the most important marker of success in sport. You could be ridiculously gifted, but that doesn’t really matter if you quit.

Demonstrating the fun roller ski pump tracks for that NENSA brought for the SMS kids camps back in Stratton! (photo from Justin Beckwith)

For those of you reading and thinking “I’m not into science-y test stuff”, hang with me! It’s pretty straightforward. While breathing into a tube that measured the gases you breathe in and out, you’d roller ski on a treadmill that stayed at a fixed speed (pretty easy when it was flat), and every minute the incline would go up one percent. Obviously, I’m sure there’s a very long and very complicated scientific procedure and explanation for this test, but just go with me here, I’m not that far off.

~

The objective was to ski until exhaustion – until you couldn’t keep going. At some point, your body would reach it’s VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your heart, lungs and muscles can process and use while exercising. Otherwise known as your personal measure of aerobic capacity. Otherwise known as The Test to determine if you will Win and Be Grand In Your Sport! Just kidding, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. But it can still be a fun number to find out.

Getting to help send off the younger SMS campers in style! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

With the treadmill ratcheting upwards every minute, your outlook on life in general got worse and worse the longer you stayed on. Things went from “wow, this is SO easy. I’m amazing.” to “WHY am I even doing this, again? Why does it matter?” and finally to “I’m quitting this sport…as soon as I finish this test”. Funnily enough, the test was only about 11-12 minutes. You sure can pack a lot of agony and self-doubt into a short amount of time.

~

We were hooked up to a sort of climbing harness that would catch us when we fell off the back of the treadmill. And it was a point of pride to fall off the back. If you grabbed the bars at the top of the treadmill, you were SUCH a weenie, because you clearly could have kept battling it out until you slowly got pulled to the back of the huge treadmill.

~

The test was hard. It was SO hard. And the annoying thing is that you could quit whenever you wanted to. I mean, you were supposed to be tired, but even the worst actor among us could feign a collapse and fall off the back of the treadmill whenever you decided that enough was enough, you were DONE being a lab rat. But this is where our sport gets almost comical in the amount of pain we put ourselves through. Even though you could fake it and fall off or pretend to be 100% exhausted, you’d see people really truly run themselves into the ground way past the point where the VO2 max data had been collected.

~

I would refer to the VO2 max test as “the stubbornness test” for exactly this reason. The treadmill was going to win. It always wins. But you got to decide how long you wanted to hang on, even knowing the definitive outcome. That’s sort of messed up, you know? Messed up, or stupid, or brave, or sort of romantically poetic. However you want to look at it.

Seeing the campers faces light up when they passed around the Olympic medal was a really fun moment for me, because it only means something when you share it! (photo by George Forbes)

So why am I waxing nostalgic about the test that would haunt my nightmares? Because ever since the Olympics, I feel like my life is on the VO2 max treadmill (except not painful). It’s going by so quickly! I mean, this summer has absolutely flown by. It’s increasingly important as I desperately try to be a “real adult” to figure out that balance of ski training, life, and rest so that I can hang onto the treadmill of life as long as possible. And just like that darn treadmill test, when things feel stressful, I need to remember that it doesn’t last forever! 12 minutes on the treadmill can feel like eternity, and so can a hard or uncertain week in life, but that doesn’t mean I need to doubt myself. When I was younger I used to think “no way do the best skiers in the world ever have doubts or tough times! They probably have it all figured out!” NOPE. Everyone has moments where they’re still not sure they’re doing the right training, or balancing life quite as well as they’d like to. But the thing is, we’re all learning and growing day by day, getting better one step at a time.

This sweetheart of mine keeps me grounded when I start to get stressed.

One fun little detail that added a hurdle feature onto my treadmill happened last January, a month before the Games. My condo where I live in Stratton got flooded when a pipe burst in the floor above mine, so for about 3 days it “rained’ inside my place. Yikes! It had to get town down to the concrete slab and restored, and the ensuing battle with insurance to actually be paid the full amount has been an absolute nightmare…that is still ongoing. I had no idea how much stress that I could experience from this, but as it turns out, being an adult is straight up ridiculous. I eventually had to just laugh at myself. The good news is that I got to move into my place a few weeks ago, and Forbes Construction (based out of South Londonderry) did an absolutely amazing job! I love the new place, and while moving is exhausting both mentally and physically, I’m on the happy side of moving now.

Even if my life outside of training can feel a bit busy sometimes, this crew is the best and makes every day so motivating! (photo from Simi Hamilton)

So what did I learn from all this? As much as I’ve love to believe that I’m SuperWoman and I can handle anything, adding in the little “extras” that life throws at you (like moving) can mean that I have to find another way to restore the balance of training super hard and resting enough. It’s important to account for the little stressors that I can’t control, and focus on the things that I CAN control. So this summer has been testing my creativity and commitment to keeping that balance, which is a very good thing for me in the long run! And the treadmill of life is always going to be moving, so it’s important to relax and enjoy the ride!

Finding the balance between training hard and staying focused and also having fun and enjoying the ride!

And now I’m in New Zealand for a 3 week training camp, and although I’m here to ski my face off, it feels like a dream vacation! I’m ready for more “camp life”; the simple rhythm when we all train long hours twice a day, eat a ton of great food in between, and sleep as much as possible. I love getting to hang out with my teammates and I love the easygoing atmosphere of the Snow Farm. I love the countryside and mountains. I love the people. Good Lord, I’m ready to permanently move to New Zealand! I just love everything about that Country. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos so that my next blog will convince you, too, that you should be moving to NZ on the next available flight.

Loving the sunshine and mountains at the Snow Farm in New Zealand! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

Body Issue(s)

This is a blog post I wasn’t ever sure I’d write. It can be scary to reveal the less glamorous parts of ourselves to others, the parts we’re sure that nobody will love. But it is precisely because of this that I knew I needed to write this post. It takes a different form of bravery to open up to others in the hopes of helping, but it’s the most important kind of bravery I hope to possess.
~
This spring, I posed for the ESPN Body Issue. That is something I never thought I’d do! For those of you wondering, I had an all-female closed set for the photo shoot, and it was incredibly empowering.
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Admittedly, I mostly figured I’d never get asked or have to consider it since cross country skiing isn’t a “famous” enough sport, but times, they are a-changin’! But the biggest reason I never thought I’d do the tastefully nude shoot that shows off athlete’s muscles is because when I was younger, I struggled with a healthy body image. When I was 18-19 years old, I had everything in the world going for me, but I struggled with confidence and didn’t love myself. I suffered from an eating disorder, and eventually sought help at a treatment center, checking in for a summer program that saved my life. So when I was approached about the ESPN issue, I thought “is this REALLY something I want to do? Will it bring back old memories? Will I be ok with everyone seeing my body exactly as it is?”
~
And the answer was yes. I am so far recovered and removed from that period in my life that it can’t hurt me anymore. Internet trolls can’t hurt me either, I’ve had practice with those beauties for years! Realizing that I was confident enough in my own skin to say “yep, this is what training so many hours makes my body look like” was an amazing moment for me. While I’m realistically not going to love it every second of every day, I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of my fast legs, my strong arms, my core and my mental toughness that got me through the hardest time of my life. Posing for ESPN was a real full-circle moment for me, and a chance for me to use a large stage to waltz right up to the microphone and share a message that I think is extremely important, and long overdue.
~
We need to open up the conversation about body image, self confidence, and disordered eating. It should not be a shameful thing, or a taboo topic. It’s more prevalent than people think, and perhaps making help easier to find and less difficult to ask for could save some lives.

When you’re 5 years old, you’re never worried about what your body looks like. You just want to go FAST!

When I first joined the National Team, body image is something that was literally never talked about. Now, we try to make it an open conversation, just like how we share struggles with confidence in hitting the right training plan, or race day nerves. Body image is such a hard thing for people to talk about. And eating disorders carry this strange secrecy around them, a shameful taboo topic that really doesn’t need to be off-limits. Many people struggle with body confidence, and it’s not just “a girl thing”. I don’t know a single person on this planet who hasn’t, at some point, looked in the mirror and thought “darn it.”

Not every moment will look cool and put together.

 

Every role model you’ve ever had has struggled with something at some point in their life, whether you knew about it or not. Even the seemingly perfect fairy-tale lives have challenges and obstacles to hurdle over, or tunnel under. I think it’s important to share my story because when I was in the midst of my battle with an eating disorder, I needed to know that I was not alone. I needed to know that even my biggest heroes had challenges they faced and that if they could overcome them, then so could I.

I needed to never be afraid to just be ME, as wacky and goofy as I am.

 

I also want to be sure that my story is told the right way. The last thing I’d ever want is for a young skier struggling with body image to hear a rumor, and think that I came home from the Olympics with a medal because of disordered eating. On the contrary, getting help and becoming healthy again was the ONLY way I could have made it through the stress, pressure and expectations of the Olympics and the following spring. Without the confidence to say “I’m great as I am, thanks” I couldn’t have faced the media day after day and pursued my goals without feeling like I was about to crack into pieces.
~
On the outside, the year I graduated from High School was a perfect year for me. I was pulling straight A’s, loved playing violin in the school orchestra, had a great group of friends and was winning every ski race I entered. Hell, the one time they let me race with the boys I beat them, too! From the outside, it looked perfect. And that was the problem.
~
I’ve always been a “try-hard” girl, someone who tries maybe a little too hard to be perfect. When coaches give me feedback I’m more likely to over think it, asking so many questions that I might overshoot and miss the point entirely instead of just relaxing and giving it a shot. So when I felt like I needed to make sure I was doing everything 100% all the time, I started to feel like I was out of control. I would get really stressed, and the one thing I could hold onto was the numbing of stress that came along with my eating disorder. Even though I had never been more out of control in my life, I had the illusion of being in control of something, and I clung to that fiercely.
~
But people, you can’t give someone an eating disorder. You don’t get one from looking at photos of skinny, ripped athletes. Can it be a trigger for some people? Absolutely. But eating disorders are a type of addiction, a mental disorder, and as the saying goes: “genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger”. If you’re hard-wired to have an eating disorder, it’s nobody’s fault and most certainly not yours. It’s not something to be ashamed of, no more than struggling with anxiety or depression or a broken leg or a bruised elbow. It’s simply a really tough challenge that you’re facing at this point in your life, and something that you can get help with.

Having body issues is no more shameful than falling and getting hurt – it’s something you need help with to heal.

 

I finally, at my parent’s urging, sought some professional help. I checked into The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder treatment. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most important. Because it saved my life, in every way that a life can be saved. I learned that I was struggling with this so much because I needed an outlet for stress, and that it was ok to feel a range of emotions – that I could survive feeling pressured, stressed, unhappy, sad, or angry as well as feeling happy-go-lucky.

My parents have always been there for me every step of the way, and they were amazingly supportive.

 

Once I grew into myself and let my body settle into where it was supposed to be, I grew into my confidence as well. I started getting faster, stronger, becoming a better racer. Instead of trying to change the shape of my body, I embraced my strengths and let my strong legs be the way they were meant to be. They carry me up the hills, but they also turned me into one of the fastest downhill cross country skiers on the circuit. I don’t always have great technique, but I am damn good at carrying speed on the flats and powering my way through transitions. I WOULDN’T be if I was trying to change the parts of me that make me fast. I also started to grow in my relationships, with my friends and with my boyfriends. I finally loved myself, so I could open up and just be me, and I had the power to love others more deeply and feel more connected.

I finally started to embrace my muscles and be proud of them, and the cool things they allowed me to do!

 

At the end of the day, dealing with an eating disorder is something that happened to me. It is not WHO I AM, and it does not define me. I am more complex than that.
~
On the flip side, winning the Olympics with my team is ALSO something that happened to me. But that moment does not define who I am. I am more complex than that.
~
The things I go through, both good and bad, do not define me. How I handle them and what I choose to do with my experiences will. I want to be known not for winning a medal, but for using it as a platform for things that I care about; climate change. Girls in sports. Raising our sport up and sharing it with more people to get them healthy and active. I want to be known not for going through an eating disorder, but for helping other women and men speak up when they need help and not feel judged for needing a friend to talk it through with.

Strong legs carry us up and over mountains, and allow us to enjoy incredible journeys.

 

These days, I literally cannot remember the last time I had to say “someone throw me a life preserver, here!” and that feels really good. Do I unconditionally love every single part of me, every day? No, don’t be ridiculous. I am always going to wish I had bigger biceps! But I appreciate and take care of my body for the ways that it is unique and fast and strong and beautiful, and I know that I will never look exactly like anyone else…and nobody else will look or feel or be exactly like me. And when you think about it, that’s pretty cool.

A healthy body lets me run for hours and hours (and hours) on end! (photo by Ophira Images)

 

So Coaches, Parents, Teammates, Friends, Significant Others….what can we do to be helpful? Unfortunately, there’s not one universal easy approach or fix, but the best thing you can be is compassionate and understanding. For me, the best help was to be able to talk about it with my parents and never feel ashamed or judged or like a failure, but instead feel heard and know that they were always going to be there to support me in my journey to get healthy again. Educate yourself on what it really means to have an eating disorder, and try to think about it as if you were in someone else’s shoes.
~
For me, it was never about food or really even about getting skinny. It was about feeling like I had control over something in my hectic, fast-paced life, feeling like I could turn to using symptoms of my eating disorder to numb myself and not have to feel the emotions that I was feeling. So instead of someone saying “you look too skinny” or “are you struggling with eating”, I needed someone to say “are you stressed right now? What needs to happen so that you can have less anxiety and put less pressure on yourself right now?”.

The anxiety from skydiving is NOTHING compared to the stress of learning how to accept yourself.

 

Statistically speaking, at least 6% of you reading this right now are struggling with disordered eating in some way. So to those of you for whom it feels like the end of the world, I can say this: it can, and it does, get better. I know, because I lived it. It will take more courage than most anything else in your life, but you can get better. And it’s worth it.

When you’re content with yourself, you can enjoy all the little moments that otherwise pass you by.

 

At the end of the day, the athletes that make up the World Cup are a group of human beings, not robots. We feel, we struggle, we triumph, we make friendships and we work hard. There are the amazing sports moments that bring countries to their feet but there are also struggles and hard-fought battles to win confidence and trust in ourselves. These battles are the ones you don’t see on camera, but they’re the most important ones.

Healthy and able to celebrate it!

 

Let’s try to focus not on what our bodies look like, but rather what they can DO. Because they can take us to some pretty amazing places. Our bodies can run us up and over mountains, ski us through awe-inspiring trail systems, and take us on some pretty sweet bike tours. If we can respect and take care of the body we have, we can have an amazing time in life.
Love,
Jessie

Finishing a fun week!

It’s been an awesome, solid week of training here in Stratton! Now that we’re all back in one place (well, almost, but we get Alayna here tomorrow and then the family will be together), it’s been awesome to get back into a rhythm of regular training. We usually do interval sessions and strength (in the afternoons) on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a longer over-distance training session on Sunday, and in between we have some easy distance training or speed sessions. Sounds simple, and we like to keep it that way, especially when we’re building up to more and more hours!

The face you make when the hurdles are juuuuuust a little too close together! Julia, Kyle and I led foot agility for the juniors this Thursday (photo from Sverre Caldwell)

A pretty cool thing about our program is that the senior SMST2 athletes lead the juniors in agility warmups before strength a couple times per week. We get to share fun drills that have helped us, make up some new slightly ridiculous drills, and get creative on ways to get better at balance and technique!

Sophie, Simi and Julia leading skate ski warmups with some fun partner band pulls! (photo from Sverre Caldwell)

Saturday morning saw some pretty hot and buggy ski walking/bounding intervals up Stratton Mountain, but luckily we have such a fun group to suffer with that nobody minded. And I had a little extra special happiness since Wade came over from Boston to join me for the entire training weekend!

Cork ready with the lactate testing kit at the top of my last interval (and Wade not shown but ready to keep the bugs off me while I gasped for air). (photo from Coach Pat)

We capped off this bigger week of training with a really fun roll-run combination workout. We started with a nice flatter double pole that ended with about 25 minutes of climbing up to the AT trail junction and Little Rock Pond.

Girls train rolling closer to the swimming hole! (photo from Coach Pat)

After switching to running gear (and eating a wide variety of snacks, including but not limited to banana bread slices) we ran a loop that went right through Little Rock Pond. Of course, the yearly cliff jumping into the cool water had to be carried out, and we all had some pretty unique styles!

Me, with the “coach, you said to get more forward!” jump (photo from Coach Pat)

Wade jumping in to join me (photo from Sverre)

Sophie with “the ninja” jump (photo from Coach Pat)

Paddy with “the flying squirrel” (photo from Coach Pat)

And Simi, making everyone else look like a fool with his sick flip-double-twist-McNugget tricks (photo from Sverre)

Nobody belly flopped, and we’re focusing on body care now that we have a day off before starting in on next week! And last but certainly not least…a Happy Father’s Day shoutout to all the rad Dad’s out there! Thanks for all you do for us, taking us to practices and races and helping us be better human beings every day.

Dad, with my sister Mackenzie in the backpack (and fashion-forward hat) and me, poking holes in the trail (in my very fashion-forward pants)

Please jump in

This year’s Bend camp is going down in the books as one of the very best. Despite it being the 3rd lowest snow year that they’ve had, the skiing held out until the very end of camp. We had some awesome klister skiing and easy kicking conditions to work on improving our technique in! This camp is all about getting back into shape and laying down solid volume to build a base for the rest of the summer. It’s also about getting the team back together after spring break to start the year fresh!

The girls working together in intervals with a pretty amazing backdrop! (photo by Bryan Fish)

A huge, warm thank you to the staff of the Mt. Bachelor Nordic center for their hospitality in keeping the trails open for us, their awesome grooming and keeping the trails clean in fast-melting conditions, and their great support of the team! Another shoutout goes to all the junior skiers out on the trails with us. It was so cool seeing everyone working hard and not being afraid to jump in behind us and learn from the older skiers! Trust me, it’s fun for us too, to have younger athletes learning from us and hopping in the tracks.

Isabelle hopping in for some interval work. (photo from Bryan Fish)

When I was about 16 year old, I was at a camp in Lake Placid, NY at the Olympic Training Center. We were doing our intervals on the same hill as a few of the US Ski Team members, and we were told that if we wanted to we should hop in behind them. I jumped in behind Liz Stephen, who was doing smooth L3 intervals, and I was hammering away in what might have been the hardest interval of my entire life in order to stay with her. I was super self-conscious about breathing so hard behind her, but simultaneously thrilled to be skiing near her! At the end of the workout Liz turned around and said “hey, great job! It was really fun to have you ski with me”. It was just a few words, and a tiny sliver in time. But I kept those words with me the entire next 2 years. Whenever I’d do hard intervals, I’d pretend Liz was right in front of me, saying “Good job!” I wanted to be fast enough to ski with her someday and be her teammate. Those few words from a hero of mine motivated me for years…and 10 years later, I still remember that moment. As older athletes, coaches, parents or friends we sometimes forget the amazing power of just a few positive words, but the ripple effect from reaching out can be astounding. I know, because it was powerful for me.

Erik leading one of the younger skiers up the hill in V1 technique drills (photo from Bryan Fish)

Before we left camp, our strength coach Tschanna sent us an amazing article with a speech that Abby Wambach, US Soccer Player, gave. It focused on some awesome topics, but one line that really resonated with me was this:
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“During that last World Cup, my teammates told me that my presence, my support, my vocal and relentless belief in them from the bench is what gave them the confidence they needed to win us that championship. If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.”
~
I liked it because I have found that to be true in every team I’ve ever been on. It also emphasizes the importance of being there for your team, of taking the responsibility upon yourself to help lead from wherever you are.
~
Being fast doesn’t automatically make you a good leader.
Not winning doesn’t mean you aren’t winning in the ways that matter.
You don’t have to be the oldest person in the group to show leadership.
The oldest person doesn’t have to shoulder all responsibilities alone.
Bottom line is…YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION TO LEAD.
And you shouldn’t have to be asked.

Taking my turn to help lead the group interval workout (photo from Bryan Fish)

On our team, we don’t have a team captain. That is intentional. It takes everyone contributing their own unique style of leadership to make the team function, and it’s not right – nor is it as effective – to put the title of “team leader” on one set of shoulders alone.

Sophie leading the pack of girls in L3 skate intervals like a boss! (photo from Bryan Fish)

We also don’t build the team around one person, because we are trying to create a solid foundation, not a house of cards. If you build a team around one individual and they are suddenly gone, the entire team will collapse, and if it does, then you never had anything real to begin with. But if a team is built collectively with every single member feeling ownership and responsibility to contribute, then when you remove people here and there you still have a team the survives, that thrives, and that lasts long after we’re gone.

Matt putting the fun into our last long workout of the camp when we were all pretty tired! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

Find your own style of leadership. Figure out what your strengths are, and use them. You don’t have to be the big loud cheerleader if that’s not your style. You don’t have to be the logistics manager and meeting note-taker if that’s not your forte. You just have to be yourself, and share yourself with the team. Because who you are is enough. Be present. Be part of the group. When you care about the group, it shows and helps lift the team up.

Scott, Erik and Torch working together to get faster (and Chris coaching)! (photo from Bryan Fish)

You also don’t have to be best friends with everyone on the team. Frankly, that’s totally unrealistic. Like any family, within a team people’s little quirks and habits can start to drive each other nuts. But just because you might not naturally be “besties” with someone doesn’t mean you can’t find things about them you respect. And if there’s something they do that’s really bugging you, have the courage to address it and give some constructive feedback. If it’s something they can’t change, then find a way to move on. Communicating openly and honestly is the number one way I’ve seen to prevent little annoyances from stewing and bubbling over, and becoming bigger than they need to be.

You don’t have to be best friends…although sometimes you just end up finding people you love hanging out with! (photo from Kevin Bolger)

A good leader also knows when to be an advocate for others and take care of the group, but also when to take care of themselves. As the airlines always say; “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”. If you’re not taking good care of yourself, how can you take good care of your teammates? For me, I am STILL trying to figure out how to say “sorry, I can’t” sometimes…because when I say “yes” to everything, I become burned out and then I’m of no help to anyone!

Simi and Gus working on speeds (photo from Bryan Fish)

I’m so excited about the team that we have here because everyone is excited, working hard, and working together. We have a huge development team with so much energy and leadership of their own, and seeing everyone come together made me so excited about the year ahead.

Lots of younger skiers out loving the skiing, too! (photo from Bryan Fish)

Me, running like a bear is after me (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

A typical day of training in Bend, for those of you who are going “this team stuff is so cute, Jessie, but TELL ME ABOUT THE TRAINING, DARN IT!” looks like this:
6:00am: alarm goes off. I’m not a early morning person. Actually…I’m just not a morning person. Period. So this is a hard one for me. Thank goodness for coffee!
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7:00am: Team loads up the skis, poles and backpacks into the van and drives up to Mt. Bachelor. Before starting our ski, we have a quick team meeting to go over what we’re working on for the day and watch some technique video.
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7:45-10:15am: Skiing! Most mornings we ski for 2.5 hours, but each individual adjusts that to their own needs. We will usually ski easy distance at this camp, just getting a lot of volume, but in the middle of the workout we will spin shorter loops, working on specific technique drills with the coaches.

Working on speed! (photo from Bryan Fish)

11:30: Eat a huge lunch. It’s so important to fuel enough to sustain this load of training, and a huge thanks to Chef Allen from the ski team who cooked for us this camp so we could focus on training and sleeping as much as possible!
~
1:00pm: take a nap. I’m not usually a big napper, but this camp takes a lot out of me so I need to make sure I’m resting as much as I’m training! I’d easily sleep for around 1.5 hours if I had the time every day.

A gorgeous part of our last running loop (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

3:30pm: depart for afternoon training. This was either a 1.5 hour run or bike, or a lift at the gym with our ski team strength coach, Tschanna! If it was a lift, we’d warm up for half an hour then spend about an hour in the gym with Tschanna, working to build strength not only in our “skier muscles” but the opposing muscle sets so that we don’t get injured.

Kelsey and I being tree-huggers on a long run (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

6:30pm: Eat a huge dinner. Yum.
~
9:00pm: Get into bed! I normally need around 9 hours of sleep a night (but I’ll gladly take 10 when I’m training a lot) so getting as much sleep as possible is crucial at this camp.

A little cold water dunk can REALLY help you sleep hard at night!

Now I’m flying back to Stratton, Vermont, where I’ll spend the month of June getting in a solid block of training with my SMST2 teammates!

Busy little bee!

My plan to have a quiet, boring spring went sideways faster than you can upload your google calendar. But it’s been exciting, too! You can’t always control how things are going to go, and sometimes you need to roll with what’s happening in the moment.

“Oh, you thought you’d wash the dog hair off these clothes, did you?”

Not including the post-Olympic media tour or phone interviews, since the last race of the season I’ve done over 25 events for sponsors, schools, open community events and appearances. It’s been only 50 days since that last race in Craftsbury. People have asked if, and how, my life has changed since the Games. My answer is that nope, my life is the same and I’m still a dork! I’m just a much busier dork with a little more on my plate, and a few more chances to inspire others and speak up for the causes I care the most about. Which is the best thing ever.

Trading the medal for a bouquet at the Afton event last Saturday! (photo from John Kaul)

I’d have to say the very best thing that happened out of all my time at home was that I got to help grow excitement and find the right sponsors to partner with the Loppet Foundation as we put in a bid to host the first World Cup event in the USA in 17 years! All the hard work paid off, and just this week our bid was scheduled for a race in March of 2020, in the Twin Cities. I got the email before training two days ago and spent the following 10 minutes jumping around my kitchen whooping and hollering, I was so excited! Of course, the exact race format and date may change as we move closer, so we are trying not to count our chickens before they hatch. But this is an incredible first step towards building cross country skiing in the US!

Signing a Birkie bib for an up and coming skier at a Fastenal event in Winona, MN! (photo from Heidi Wisniewski)

I am so, so proud of all the work that the Loppet Foundation has taken on and so extremely grateful to all the companies that are signing on to sponsor the event. More to come on this later, but for now it’s enough to say that it means the world to me that all the junior skiers all over the US will have the chance to finally see their heroes racing right in front of them, at the highest level of racing in the World. What better way to inspire the next generation, than to bring their heroes right to them so they can have a front row seat to the World Cup races? And personally, I’m so excited to finally be able to race at the World Cup level in my home country for the first time in my life!

These ski fans are ready to come cheer for a World Cup!

The other thing I’m extremely proud of has been becoming Protect Our Winters newest ambassador. On April 25th, I took a day trip to D.C. to address climate change with members of Congress alongside fellow Olympians and representatives from Protect Our Winters and the Citizens Climate Lobby. One week after our visit, one of our Minnesota Representatives changed his stance on climate and joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a huge step! Actions like this make me feel hopeful for our future, and make me realize what a huge impact our voices have when we decide to use them. I wrote a blog about the trip for Protect Our Winters, and here’s the link if you’d like to give it a read!  https://protectourwinters.org/with-a-medal-in-my-pocket/

Ready to go make a difference. (photo by ElyseesEye Productions)

But hey! Don’t worry, I’m still putting training and my team commitments first. Somehow I’ve managed to squeeze in twice a day training while at home this May. April was my month off, and here’s exactly what I did with it, training-wise. The first two weeks I made myself take the time completely off from anything I would even remotely consider training. And you know what? That’s hard for me! I’m a really active person and I love doing things all the time. But after a long season of racing and traveling and training so hard I wanted to make sure my body truly has a chance to recover, and absorb all that hard effort. So every year I don’t do anything more physically active than the 10 minutes it takes me to bike over to join my boyfriend for lunch in the downtown Boston park. It also means that mentally I have a full break from training, and when it’s time to get going again, my body tells me.
One morning mid-April I woke up and realized that what I really wanted to do was go to the gym and lift weights. So, Wade and I went to the gym! The next day I decided it would be really fun to “play” tennis. I use quotation marks here because I am actually the absolute worst at tennis so we can’t really play the game well, but hey, it’s still fun! The second two weeks of April I spent my time doing whatever I thought would be fun that day. If it was raining and gross outside and I didn’t want to go be active, I didn’t! Because there will be plenty of times later this spring and summer when it’s horrible weather outside and I’ll have to go get my training done regardless. So it’s important to me to keep April fun and free and spontaneous. Then May 1st I started up with official training again, but the plan Cork writes for me started nice and easy, with something like 4×4 minutes level 3 for my first interval set. To put that in perspective, later in the summer I’ll be doing more like 5×10 minutes level 3. It’s important to ease into things, not give myself an overuse injury or burn out!

I always start my L3 intervals solo in the spring to make sure I’m going the right pace for my body. (photo from Kris)

If you want to impress me, don’t tell me how many hours you’re training. Frankly, I don’t care. Tell me about the volunteer work you’re doing coaching little kids. Tell me about the time you realized you were getting sick, so you DIDN’T go to practice and do intervals. Tell me about how you compare technique ideas with your teammates, not training logs. Tell me about the time you truly went your own pace in Level 3 intervals, instead of racing your teammates and going too hard. It’s not difficult for me to put in a lot of hours training, but it is tricky to find the line between recovering and training smart, and not cross that line. The athletes I’ve always been most impressed by are the ones that stick up for what their body needs in training, and feel confident following their plan. We shouldn’t all be training the same hours and doing the exact same plan, because we are different individuals with different body responses to training! So one of my goals going forward is to feel confident in doing what my body needs, whether that is backing off on the training plan for the day if I’m feeling tired and on edge, adding a little volume if I’m absorbing all the training, or doing L3 intervals on my own in order to truly go my own pace.

At the game with Danielle, Andy and Erika! (photo from Chelsey Falzone)

I spent the first two weeks of May with my family in Minnesota, and it was great getting to roller ski once again. It feels so strange the first few steps on roller skis! They’re so short compared to skis! I got to ski over all my favorite loops and interval hills on my old stomping grounds, and go for long runs in the Afton State Park. I was often joined by my high school coach Kris and her daughter Siri, my Mom on her bike, or my high school friends so it was easy to stay excited and motivated, sharing the hard work of training with others.

Siri and I (and Kris, who took the photo) out for my first roller ski of the season!

Mom and me at the Twins game!

On Saturday the 12th we had the big “Jessie Diggins day” in Afton, Minnesota! There were a couple thousand people there to celebrate cross country skiing, try the new ice cream flavor the local shop named after me, and get a poster. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t pick the flavor but it’s delicious – vanilla with strawberry and blueberry fruit swirls, served with gold sprinkles. It’s been so much fun getting to share the excitement of the past winter with the ski community I grew up with! Seeing the faces of young skiers as they get to hold the Gold Medal is priceless, and also the best feeling ever. You can practically see their goals getting set, their excitement to get outside and get rocking and rolling with their teammates growing.

Some up and coming skiers setting their goals high! (photo from John Kaul)

Wade riding in the truck with me as I came down Main Street. It was so special to have him there! (photo from Kris Hansen)

I had such a blast getting to throw the (ceremonial, of course!) first pitch for the Minnesota Twins team. To be totally honest, my hand-eye coordination is TERRIBLE and I am such a poor throw that my boyfriend Wade took me out to the field near his house in Boston for throwing lessons, because I was so nervous! And I have to say, he’s one amazing coach. Not that I’m biased, of course. But he helped me get the basics so that I actually made it to the plate…against all reasonable expectations I had for myself. I just wanted to do better than Fifty-Cent’s throw.

Oh, no. The “focus face” is on. (photo from the Twins)

To wrap up a great visit home, I went to speak to my old High School, Stillwater. It was so fun to come back after eight years, and get to inspire and hopefully motivate the current group of students! It was also such a treat to see my teachers and get to share the medal with them, because after all, they’re the ones who helped me catch up with all my homework when I was flying around the World for ski races all year long!

Happy to say a few words and share what skiing has taught me with the upcoming graduating classes!

I look like I’m still in high school, so I fit right in!

Right now, I’m in New Orleans for a day with the Smuckers company, before flying on to Bend, Oregon for our first US team camp of the season! I’m so, so excited to see my SMS T2 teammates, my national team teammates, and all the coaches. I really miss everyone when we’re going our separate ways in the spring, so it’s going to be good to get the crew back together. Check back soon for updates from Bend!

Fueling up with beignets and jazz music before a long run in the hot sun through the French Quarter!

So beautiful!

Music on every corner.

Things I learned

I’m still learning how much racing and training my body can handle during the season. It’s such a fine line! A little too much and you’re too tired and can start racing “flat”, which isn’t a fun feeling. It feels like no matter how hard you push, you can’t get your body to cooperate and go with you, and you’re missing that last racing gear. At the same time you don’t want to miss any more races than you need to. Racing is so much fun! It’s addicting, and it’s hard to step away for a break even when you know it’s the right call.

Racing for the first time since the Olympics in Drammen, Norway (photo by Ophira Group)

 

What I’m learning is that every year as I get older and add a few hundred hours of training under my belt, my body can handle more and more. After I peak for the championships, I’m more likely to be able to keep racing and riding that wave before I crash. My body will let me do more races without burning itself out. That said, as I was slumped in my seat on the airplane back to the states, my body was WRECKED. I had a deep, come-from-my-toes cough that we call “race hack”…which happens to most racers after a hard effort. I’d managed to become the person that I’d absolutely loathe sitting next to on a plane – the one who’s coughing so hard that their whole body shakes, and you’re sitting there terrified of getting whatever is is they have. I felt the need to explain that I’m not actually sick to my seat mates so I didn’t scare them, but then again, it appears that most people aren’t germ freaks the way skiers are. Amazing.

Racing the Holmenkollen! It was awesome, but the bonfire smoke gave me a cough that lasted 2 weeks.

Working closely with Cork, my coach who writes my training plan, we’re also getting much better at finding the edge before I get too tired and not crossing it! I haven’t always been great at listening closely to what my body is telling me in the past. And yeah, sometimes you just have to suck it up and get things done, like going out for a long training run in the rain and mud when you’d rather be curled up on the couch. On the flip side, there’s the times when you need to realize when your body is off, and react accordingly by being flexible and confident enough in your training to adjust it so that you don’t burn yourself out. Have I nailed this process? Gosh, no! Of course not! But I’m getting a little bit better at it every year, and that’s making a huge difference.
Looking back on the year, I had no idea I could come so close to the Overall Crystal Globe. I mean…what? 40 points? Yikes! That’s so exciting. I had no idea that my body would be able to just keep riding the peak it had from the Olympics and let me keep racing at that level through the last month of World Cup. But man, was it ever fun.

It was so amazing getting to podium at World Cup finals with Marit and Sadie! (photo from Event Bilder)

It would be so easy to immediately turn around and start saying “if only I hadn’t skipped this race to rest” or “if only I had finished just a few places higher in a few races this year”. But the truth is, I don’t think I would have changed anything about the way my coach and I planned out the season. Had I not chosen to sit out Lahti, for example, when I was mentally and physically exhausted, I very well may not have had good races the rest of the season. Or maybe I would have. The point is, we’re never going to know, so it doesn’t help to dwell on it! I’m not going to spend any time beating myself up for not achieving ALL of my career goals in a single winter.

Racing to fastest time of day in Falun in our last World Cup of the year! (photo from Event Bilder)

I’m psyched, and focused on the fact that I’m leaving this season so motivated for years to come, because now I know that some of the very biggest dreams are well within reach.

Chasing down those goals! (photo from Event Bilder)

This year World Cup finals was really bittersweet because it was the last career World Cups for 3 of my teammates, and Andy’s last official season on the US Ski and Snowboard Team. Noah Hoffman, Liz Stephen, Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall have all been on the US Ski Team since I learned what that was and decided that I desperately wanted to be part of it. The incredible camaraderie, fun-loving attitudes and work ethic of this team is what drew me to it in the first place, and seeing my teammates retire is kind of rocking my world.

The last time the group was together – Holmenkollen weekend!

I really struggled with this in the summer when they told us that it would be their last year. I mean, I’ve known them since I was 18 years old, and I’ve spent the last 8 years on the road with them, seeing my teammates more than my family or even my boyfriend! And suddenly, I won’t get to have them around all the time to hang out with, laugh with, bounce ideas off of, share the tough moments with, and be able to be there for them? It’s a hard shift anytime the makeup of a team changes, but it’s easier to add people rather than take them away. That said, I’m so excited for all four of them and I know their next moves in life will be amazing ones, because of the people they are.
Noah picked the 50km at Holmenkollen to be his last race, and wow, was it ever epic. It’s also a very cool thing that Noah, alongside Liz, Kikkan and Andy, got to pick their last races and go out on their own terms. Sometimes the end of your career is decided for you, and I’m so happy for them that they got to say “ok, now it’s time, and I’m walking out happy with how my career has gone”.
As far as World Cup atmosphere is concerned, there are a few venues that really stand out. Ulricehamm took us all by surprise when, in their first ever World Cup, there were fans 10 deep along the entire 10km course. It was a tunnel of screaming sports fans, and it made you feel like such a hero even if all you were doing was warming up! Drammen and Falun always have thousands of fans, and again, you’re faced with a wall of noise that lifts you up and can inspire some amazing performances. But the Holmenkollen is it’s own special place, and it’s basically a national holiday. I’m not exaggerating!

Sadie, Sophie and I doing race prep hours before the men’s race…and people were streaming out of the woods from every direction to come cheer! So fun!

It’s also way more fun if you happen to be a man. Ever since they stopped racing the men and women in the same day, they decided to put the men first on Saturday and the women on Sunday. And as everyone knows, you can only have so much party stamina when you’re camping friday night and cheering like crazy on saturday during the day, and, um, drinking some fun drinks while you cheer. So whomever has to race Sunday gets 1/100 of the crowd. I’ve asked more than a few times for men and women to alternate race days every year.
But I digress. This was Hoff’s day!
We came out to cheer for all the men on Saturday in Oslo, but it was especially emotional seeing Hoff’s last race. He was high-fiving us along the course on his last loop, and on the bridge above the stadium we made a tunnel of high fives for him. Right before he dropped into the final 100 meters for the last time Noah came to a stop to hug his Dad and literally EVERYBODY was crying. They played “Born in the USA” as Noah skied to the finish line and then the whole team was there to hug him and wish him well. When I retire someday, I hope it can be even half as epic.

Sending Hoff off in style!

Liz and Kikkan raced their last races in Craftsbury with the 30km US Nationals race. It was a gorgeous day and getting to hug them after the finish line brought so many emotions, but no more tears (those happened earlier in the year). We’ve had the entire year to come to grips with this and now I’m just excited to see them off on their next big moves! And Andy I’m certain I’ll see this winter as he decides where to go with the races he’d like to do. I’ll be supporting him no matter where he chooses to go!

Erika and I sharing some finish line hugs with Liz in Craftsbury (photo from Reese Brown)

From my SMST2 club team, Anne Hart is also retiring and moving on to law school. As her roommate all last summer, teammate of many years and high school racing buddy, I can say with absolute certainty that whatever “Goobie” tackles, she’s going to give it 100% and find success with it. I’m proud of her career and all the amazing moments she has gifted our team with!

The SMST2 girls at Spring Series – me, Julia, Anne (Goobie) in the middle, Sophie and Erika (photo from Reese Brown)

You won’t always be winning. That’s just a fact. Eventually you get older, retire, move on to the next thing, so you can’t dominate a sport forever. The real difference is what you leave behind when you go. You can be the person who creates a movement that lives – and dies – with you, or you can create a legacy that will last long after you move on to the next career. You can be the reason someone else finds success, even if it means that the kid you’re giving a leg up to might beat you someday.

Getting a finish line hug from Marit, another amazingly classy lady who has pushed the sport forward and shared so much with her team! (photo from Event Bilder)

That’s the real magic of what Liz and Kikkan, Noah and Andy have done here. Not only did they find success as individuals in their sport, but they were able to do what many athletes struggle with and step outside their own egos, openly sharing everything they’d learned to the next generation of aspiring skiers. Every one of them, alongside the current members of the team, have contributed in amazing ways to each other’s careers. They’ve helped create this culture on our team where we lift each other up instead of fighting to be the best among ourselves. They cemented a team atmosphere that makes little kids like me desperately want to be on the ski team! So a big, huge thank you to these friends, teammates and heroes of mine as they tackle their next adventures.

Getting a photo with these inspirations of mine! Bill Koch, and Andy Newell.

This spring has been a continuation of the whirlwind that started the moment I crossed the finish line in that team sprint with Kikkan. It’s been fast, it’s been furious, it’s been fun! And it’s been exhausting, too. It’s always been very, very difficult for me to say “no”, even when I have to. But this spring I’ve come face to face with the fact that there is no possible way for me to honor even 1/10th of the requests that have come in, no matter how much I would love to.

Wade and I getting snuggles from Leo during my brief stay back home in Minnesota!

Going for an adventure hike on my morning off with the Bohacek/Hansen family! (photo from Kris)

Which is why I’ve put so much energy and time into this process of getting a bid to host a World Cup in 2020 in Minneapolis, because that’s how I can reach the largest number of aspiring skiers and help to inspire them, and show them what it is they can be working towards. There’s an entire generation of skiers who have never seen a World Cup race live, because we’ve never hosted one! It’s time for that to change.

Speaking at a press conference while visiting the House of Representatives at the Capitol.

My family with Minnesota Governor Dayton (photo from the Governor’s office)

Sharing my experiences, hopes and goals with the ski community and next generation of skiers in Minnesota! (photo by Bruce at Skinnyski.com)

In my short visit home to Minnesota this April, I got the chance to thank as many members of the ski community as I could. Stillwater threw a parade honoring myself and the three State Champion teams that season – the Cross Country girls, Alpine girls and Gymnastics girls.

Parade time! (photo by Carl Bohacek)

High-fiving the Stillwater community where I went to high school! (photo from Carl Bohacek)

My family, friends and sponsors threw an amazing Welcome Home event and I gave away about 600 posters, got a photo with everyone, and got the chance to share stories and photos from the Olympics!

Getting the chance to thank everyone for their support! (photo by Bruce at Skinnyski.com)

I also visited my elementary school, Valley Crossing, and on the way out of the gym every kid in school got a chance to hold the gold medal. One of my goals is to share this thing as much as possible…because otherwise, what’s the point? Why bother to win at all if you don’t share it with anyone?

Before they left the gym, every kid in school got a chance to check out the medal. (photo from Amie Schroeder)

Back in the gym at Valley Crossing…only a little bit older now, and with a medal to share! (photo from Amie Schroeder)

Before I left, I got to do the “let’s play hockey!” call for the Wild at their first home playoff game. What a blast! The energy in the stadium was electric. My boyfriend Wade and I cheer for opposing teams so it was a pretty funny situation in the stadium. 🙂

Jets vs. Wild (we crushed that night).

Now I’m in Boston with Wade, starting to get back into doing active things when my body tells me it’s time, and enjoying watching other athletes crush their playoff games while my body is resting and healing itself!

When you get invited to a Celtics game and they give you a jersey…you rock it! (don’t worry, sports fans, I’m still supporting my Minnesota teams too).

Looking back on the Games

I tagged Kikkan, pulling my arms above my head and gliding straight to protect myself and my poles from any tangles or crashes. Turning a 180 around the fence surrounding the pit crews, I was still gliding towards Jason and Marek, our techs, when I leaned down and unclipped my bindings, hopping off my skis as they were still moving, jumping right into a jog. They each caught a ski and immediately clamped them to the bench, furiously re-applying powder and brushing them out in under 2 minutes as Kikkan skied her lap. It was an incredibly efficient system, the pair of them working seamlessly as a team. I loved the little details of how the team worked together, fitting all the moving parts into place like cogs on a watch without missing a single beat.

Getting the tag from Kikkan!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Every time I came into the pits, that was our routine – I’d unclip and jump off my skis before I’d even stopped moving, and go right into a jog to shake my legs out. I loved it so much I actually giggled. This was arguably the most important race of my life, but somehow amidst all the craziness, I was having FUN. There have only been a few times in my life when I’ve felt unstoppable, like nothing could possibly go wrong that day. This was one of those times.
Don’t let the ear-to-ear grin fool you, though. When I am smiling and bouncing up and down is also when I’m at my most dangerous. I’m just happy enough to be able to will myself to suffer the way nobody else can.

Happy and ready to go! (photo by Flying Point)

I guess I could back up a little bit. The team sprint prep started…well…technically, it started years and years ago because in our sport, you need thousands of hours of training to build up that fitness base. But for the sake of your sanity, let’s jump in at the day before the team sprint.

The coaches named the team only a few days out, and that’s a really hard process for everyone. The Olympics bring so much inspiration and emotion, and with that emotion comes absolute heartbreak in unexpected places. I love and care about my teammates the way I do with my own sister, and before this story goes any further it needs to be said that Sadie Bjornsen is an absolute champion. As first alternate she handled the heartbreak with more grace and poise than many people would, and she was so supportive throughout the entire process. There were so many girls on this team who could have skied those legs with equal finesse, tactics and strength, and it’s important to me that you all know that. Because the most important legs of the relay aren’t the ones skiing on the snow – it’s the teammates who are cheering on the side of the fence, ready to tear the boards off, cheering in absolute support of the team effort.

The girls, ready to march in Opening Ceremonies. Keeping the vibe positive and happy from day one!

We’ve always said that any medal we win – whether it’s a team event or an individual one – would belong to the entire team, because nobody ever accomplishes anything alone in life. It’s taken years of every member of this team committing to the team goals, coming to training camps and pushing each other through grueling training sessions. Everyone has bought into the team fully, knowing that they’re working for something bigger than themselves. I know my teammates have my back the way I have theirs, and it’s ridiculous that the medal stand isn’t large enough to bring up all the people that should be up there with us.

Couldn’t fit everyone in the photo, but here’s a few of the amazing people that made it happen! (photo from Flying Point)

So the day before the team sprint, we did what we do best. We attacked race prep as a team, doing 2 laps of the course in a team sprint simulation with all the other girls pushing Kikkan and I, challenging us in the tag zone to make a clean and efficient tag among other skiers. Liz wore a balaclava even though it was warm out to make us laugh. She also took off at lightning speed to tag Matt who was her partner (yup, the coaches were in on the team sprint too!) and as she approached he turned to Sadie and I with a straight face and said “well…picture me rolling!” and took off in his classic boots on skate skis. The whole thing was awesome all the way around, and I laughed so hard that it took many of the pre-race nerves away. Not all of them, though.

Sadie sporting the relay day face paint and glitter!

The day of the team sprint we did what was now the usual routine at the village; sleep in until 10:30am (we were on the night train to adjust to racing so late in the day), have the team pre-race meeting, go for a run on the golf course trails outside the athlete village. Because it’s so hard for me to digest food close to race time, I would just eat an incredibly dense breakfast twice. Kikkan and I watched our favorite “Glee” song mashups and, yes, sang along. Adorkable. On the bus to the venue I turned on my headphones and bumped the Shakira station. Just try listening to the dance beat on that station and not feel happy, I dare you.

How I USUALLY show up at the venue…bags everywhere. (photo from Sadie)

In my mind, I was running through every possible scenario. I’d spent a lot of time visualizing the course, how I would ski it, when to switch techniques, what line to take on the downhill and the best places to pass people. By the time I was warming up for the race, I had run through 20 different ways the finals could go down in my mind, so that for every possible situation I’d have a ready response. In team sprinting, you have to be willing to adjust your strategy on the fly. Kikkan and I both knew our respective jobs: as leg 1, her job was to remain in contact with the lead pack at all times. As anchor, my job was to conserve energy at the start and figure out how to maneuver into first place by the finish.
We did our usual warmup, and I tested skis with Jason Cork, my coach but also my tech. He’d been working hard with the Salomon reps and narrowed down many pairs of skis to the final 6 pairs for me to test. One of the coolest things I think Salomon did for their athletes at the games was that the year before, at the test event in PyeongChang, they tested many different ski grinds and types of construction and base materials. They figured out the best kind of ski for the snow at the venue there, and when I arrived at the Olympics they had new skate and classic skis at our cabin that were made just for me, for that specific race. Just another amazing example of just how much hard work from so many different people lead up to that day! Our wax techs tested so many different combinations of waxes, toppings and applications that it made me head spin hearing about it. And they nailed it!

Getting to give Cork a great big hug after the race!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

In the semifinal, I was absolutely stoked with how things played out. Despite getting the random draw into the second semi which meant much less rest, we were able to move through the heat and conserve as much energy as possible. Every lap in the semi was a test run for me; I was taking notes on how our skis stacked up against the field (they were amazing), how other girls were skiing the final downhill, and when and where people were getting tired.
We got ready for the final, and nerves were high. I’d also never felt more fired up and ready to just go out there and do what I love! When the gun went off, I was surprised with how chill lap one felt. We were all feeling each other out that first time around. I came jogging over to Grover, our head coach who was in the pit box with us, and told him I thought there were too many people in the lead pack. I said I wanted to start dropping people and I was going to push the pace on lap two, and did he think that was a good idea? Yes. He did.

Heading out hard!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

After lap two I tagged Kikkan off and yelled “YOU CAN DO IT KIKS!!!!” I was so excited I had goosebumps all over. We were down to three teams, and I knew as I jogged around ready for the final lap that we were going to get a medal. I knew I was in the best shape of my life and I thought I’m going to go out as hard as I can and try to wear everyone out, because that’s my only chance of winning a sprint out”. Luckily, I wasn’t focused on the fact that I was going up against the current Olympic sprint champion and the reigning World Championship sprint winner. I was just so focused on the task at hand and getting my job done.

Kikkan making a good clean tag!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

 

On the final big climb, I had a choice to make. I was positioned on the outside and I could either surge ahead to try and be the first one over the top and into the downhill, or I could pull back a tiny bit and be in third position going into the downhill. I decided to pull back. Downhills are one of my biggest strengths (XC only, I am totally helpless and hopeless on alpine skis) and I wanted to be in the draft. I also wanted to be the one doing the passing, as there’s some psychological advantage to being on the hunt verses being the one hunted down. There was a really sketchy moment when all three of us swung wide out of the corner and I almost didn’t make it back onto the course before the v-boards began. Then I had to put my hands up as I almost caught a few pole tips to the face. But I still had a little more energy to burn so as we rounded the corner I gave it everything I had. A lot of people have asked me what I was thinking in those final hundred meters and the truth is, I don’t really remember! I was so in the zone that the only thing I could focus on was each push of my skis, every plant of my poles, and putting every bit of energy and power I had into going forward. I didn’t even hear the crowd! When we got to the line I threw my foot out and out of the corner of my eye I could see Stina lunge, too.

Final 100 meters.
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

I knew I’d gotten across first. I remember feeling kind of weirdly numb, like it wasn’t really happening.

This feeling…
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

When Kikkan tackled me I asked her “did we just win the Olympics?!?!?” She was screaming and half-crying and that’s when it started to sink in.

Trying to process what had just happened! (Cody Downard photo)

But the moment I’m always going to remember is when we finally got up and saw our team alongside the boards right at the finish line. Everyone was crying, laughing, screaming…there was no way to really process what had just happened!

This moment was the best feeling ever!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Getting to hug the team and see the emotion and fierce happiness on everyone’s faces made it finally feel real to me. I have to say, there’s something wickedly wonderful about making grown men cry tears of happiness. The girls from every other team came to hug us as well, which was a really amazing feeling. It was like the whole world was celebrating with us! I’ve been lucky enough to make good friends on every team and it’s been so fun to share the ups and downs of ski racing with them, as we all know what each other is experiencing.

Happy tears with Liz (Noah Hoffman photo)

Getting congrats from the other girls – although clearly, I’m still out of it!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

My family was there – my Mom, Dad, sister, grandmother, aunt, uncle and my boyfriend Wade. Getting to hug them right after the race was another big flood of emotion! I didn’t even know how to process what was happening. And so began the whirlwind.

A photo from earlier in the week of my support crew! Auntie Holly, Wade, Uncle Blair, my Dad, Meme, Mom and Sister.

We were pulled one way for the flower ceremony, then the media began. Then anti-doping (I was tested 5 times during the games), then a press conference, then the Today Show and more media. We got home well after midnight! At some point someone sat me down and put a piece of pizza in my hand, which felt like the kindest gesture in the world. Then it was time to still celebrate what we had accomplished, but also figure out how to focus in again for the last event of the games. I wasn’t done racing yet!

Getting a hug from Wade right after the race! (Cody Downard photo)

But wait! The Olympics weren’t just centered around the team sprint, although of course that was the absolute highlight! I raced in every single XC event at the games, and when I got curious I added it up and realized I got to race 77 kilometers around those trails. No wonder I feet the need for chocolate every few hours since leaving Korea.

Dancing on the medals stand. Sorry, not sorry for that!
Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

It was an ambitious schedule. I was unsure if my body could handle being pushed so hard every 2-4 days. I was unsure if my mind could handle that, as well! I wanted to do it anyways. There wasn’t a single race I wanted to give up! So headed into the Games, the plan was to keep checking in with my body every day, play it race by race, and keep putting everything I had into each race day.
But…“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try”

My big wall of happy above my bed, filled with good luck pictures and notes from home!

It was such a fun ride, getting to race so many different styles of events. Being mere seconds out of a medal (twice) wasn’t the anguish and heartbreak that people expected it to be, because I knew I had given it my very best shot! And when you’ve done everything you can, you have to be able to walk away proud of your effort and happy with it. The cliff notes on the other 5 races I got to compete in are as follows:
15km Skiathlon: I was so nervous for this one, because it was the first race. But I struggled immensely with cramping in my arms halfway through the skate portion, and couldn’t seem to keep my body and form together no matter how hard I tried! I pushed my hardest and was still happy with 5th place.

Really, really tired after that skiathlon!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Classic Sprint: If you had told me a year ago that I’d make the Olympic classic sprint final, I would have laughed and said “don’t be mean, it’s not nice to make fun of me”. Miraculously, my classic technique came around just in time for a year full of classic sprints! I burned a lot of matches just making it to the final and by the time I came out of the second semi and was starting, I was out of energy. Still, I was psyched to have made it in there!

Classic striding it out! (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

10km skate: I knew I was fighting for the podium the entire race. And I felt like I was sprinting the entire race! I couldn’t have gotten anything more out of my body, and I knew it when I crossed the finish line. The coolest part was knowing that I was so close to bronze, and skiing virtually the same race as these girls who’ve dominated the sport! It gave me confidence and reassured me that I was on track and skiing well. Which is probably the opposite reaction you’d usually see in the first person off the podium. I’m weird like that.

The cheering at the Chilkoot cafe in the middle of the night! I got this after my first race, and it really made my day.

4x5km relay: The morning of the race we went for a team jog, did the team dance that I’d taught everyone this fall on the road, and shared a lot of laughs. The vibe was great and our team chemistry has grown from everyone putting so much of themselves into the team. So even though we were out of the hunt, we all went out charging and fiercely skied our respective relay legs. We shared a special moment after I crossed the finish line, and even though we didn’t medal, having the team run out there to huddle up was one of the most meaningful moments of the Games. I won’t tell you what we said – that’s staying between us – but I CAN tell you that not getting what you’ve hoped and dreamed for shows you the true character of a person, and I like what I saw in every member of the team. We still have this championship relay medal down as a big goal to accomplish, and I know we will get there.

Right after the relay.
Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

30km classic: This one was my hardest day, for sure. It was my “worst” race of the games, and I’m putting that in quotation marks because I don’t feel like I have the right to complain about being 7th in the world – it just feels wrong. However, a few things that day didn’t work out quite right, and if I had a mulligan I’d take it, because I knew I was in better shape than I was able to show. I crashed early on, rolling my boot over in the slush as we entered the stadium. I had to burn a lot of energy making it back to the front, and as I did that’s when Marit made her move and I just couldn’t hang with the break when it happened. Not for lack of trying, though! I was hammering away in no-man’s land the entire rest of the race, and never backed off.

My cheering squad in their “Go Jessie” shirts and Mukluk boots!

Carrying the Flag in Closing Ceremonies: This was crazy! When I got the phone call saying I’d been voted as flag bearer, my reaction was… “sorry, WHAT?” I thought I was being pranked! It was humbling and such an honor to hear that the athletes had each had a vote, and they wanted this particular spandex-clad dork to carry the flag. So immediately after picking myself up from the snow after the 30km, I rushed through the media zone, did anti-doping and then turned it around fast to get to the closing ceremony. Getting to wave the flag and see team USA march in and get hugs from my friends (both old friends and new ones I’d made during the games) put a smile on my face that lasted all night!

So happy! (photo from Noah Hoffman)

After the Games, Kikkan and I flew to New York City for a whirlwind media tour. My whole goal was to help grow the sport, and introduce more people to Cross Country skiing in the hopes that we could get a World Cup in the US someday. It wasn’t a mental break, but it was a much-needed rest for my muscles.
Throughout the games, my body was slowly but surely breaking down. I have a really strong reaction to stress, and what could possibly be stressful about anchoring team USA’s best hope of a XC medal in 42 years? Wink, wink. I did my best to manage all the nerves and pressure of the games by focusing only on the things I could control, and by preparing for each race the way I always do, changing nothing. Although mentally I thought I had it handled, my body knew better, and weird things started happening to it as the games went on. I couldn’t eat enough, no matter how hard I tried. I started waking up at 5am to chug a shake before going back to sleep in order to keep weight on. Finally, I had something in common with the bobsledders! A rash spread across my chest, and skin started falling off in weird patches on my hands. You didn’t need to know that, at all. Sorry. Although a lot of people asked about the band-aids all over my hands…so, now you know. I was convinced at points that my stomach was actually burning a hole in itself because of the post-race stomach aches I’d get when my body was trying to process being pushed so hard while racing at night. The funny thing is, these sorts of things happen to me every single time I’m at a championship event. They stop and fade away literally the day after the last race. This was no different, but at least I knew to expect it and could step back and laugh at the weird things my body was doing as it tried to absorb all the stress I was feeling. Sorry, body. I’ll be taking extra good care of you from now until spring break.

Obviously worth the stress!
Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

It wasn’t just the journalists and various media outlets constantly reminding me that the pressure was on. External pressure you can learn to ignore. I’m bad at it, for sure, but I’ve been getting better at only listening to the expectations I have for myself. But that can also be a problem, because I expect quite a lot from myself! Not in terms of results. I’m smarter than that. I know there are so many things in XC racing that are out of my control, and it would be silly to place any amount of my self worth on a number on the results sheet. What I expect from myself is that I constantly give everything I have and fully commit to each and every training session, team practice, and race. And let’s be honest…that’s how you eventually get the results, anyways. Nobody ever got a medal simply by thinking about a shiny piece of hardware more than anyone else.
Since winning said piece of hardware, though, life has been a little bit crazier. I don’t know if I could have prepared for what it would mean to everyone back home, but the absolute coolest part of all of this has been having the chance to share this experience with all of you (well, that…and meeting Jeff Daniels from “Dumb and Dumber”). If even one young skier gets inspired by this and decides to stick with sport, commits to their team and enjoys racing, then it’ll have all been worth it.

Giving our coaches the medal of Ikkos for their outstanding support! Erik Flora, Jason Cork, Kikkan, Me, Chris Grover, Matt Whitcomb. 
Photo: Reese Brown/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

So the question is now…what do we do with this? My biggest hope for the sport is that this newfound attention and passion for Cross Country skiing can grow the sport I love so much, and help provide more funding opportunities for our developing athletes. I am absolutely certain that this is not the only gold medal we will ever earn, and I want to make sure we don’t have to wait another 42 years for the next one. The best way YOU can help with this is to keep sharing news about skiing, and encourage the people in your life to go give it a try! And if you’re looking to support our future team USA, you can donate to the US Ski and Snowboard team, and in the comments say that it’s for the Cross Country team. Link: https://donations.usskiandsnowboard.org

Let’s make this happen again!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

The other project I’m the most passionate about is getting the World Cup to come to the United States. As I type this, a team of dedicated people are working and the wheels have been in motion for a year already to try to make this happen! I think this is so incredibly important because I saw the fire in the eyes of all the junior athletes and little kids who were on the side of the race courses at the Canadian World Cups. You could feel the energy in the air, and I still remember the spark I felt getting to see the World Cup live and in person for the first time. It ignites the passion for training hard, working towards your goals and dreaming bigger like nothing else can. And I want that for all our skiers back home, to have that chance to come see it and watch the World’s best fight it out right in front of them. So when that bid happens, if we are given the chance to get this world cup, we need to make it absolutely huge. If we ever want the chance to have another one ever again, we need to show that the US wants this and cares about it, so everyone needs to come see it!
I feel like there should be a prize for making it to the end of this blog. Congrats! You got through Jessie’s strange stream-of-consciousness style of writing! More coming later on the end of the World Cup season, but for now, thanks to everyone for the amazing outpouring of support and enthusiasm! It has meant so much to me.

Happy kids! Anne, Andy, me, Sophie, Paddy, Simi. (photo from Logan Hanneman)