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Wild Rumpus Sports
 

The Unexpected

This season summed up in one word: unexpected.

Does the unexpected come from defying expectations (in a good or bad way), or is it from a lack of expectations at all, or both? Do expectations arise from believing that you can achieve something? Or do expectations just add negative pressure?

I put some thought into these questions throughout the year, as unexpected things kept happening and sometimes a lack of expectations lead to some pleasant surprises. The conclusion I came to (for now), is that expectations, beliefs and goals can be separated. I can approach a race with confidence and with a goal in mind, but whether I achieve that goal or not is irrelevant of my expectations, but the belief and process goals I implement to achieve that goal is what is relevant. Expectations are only one’s belief about what one thinks will happen, but lets be honest, if I learned anything this year, it is that that we often really don’t know what will happen, so why waste energy and add pressure with expectations? We can set goals and control a large portion of the process towards achieving our goals, but there will always be some unexpected factors such as crashes, fast skis, random weather, luck, and other competitors’ performance. My sports psychologist reminded me this winter that setting outcome goals (like getting top 3) are important, but what is more important are setting process goals that you can have full control over whether you achieve them or not (like giving it my all in a race).

You never know when crashes will happen in sprints, but you know they will at some point (Photo: NordicFocus.)

With a frustrating training year riddle with injury and illness, I had no idea what to expect this season, so I didn’t set any expectations at all for Period 1 of the World Cup. How did Period 1 end…my first ever World Cup podium!  I will be the first to admit that no one expected that, myself included. I approached the first period of racing with the sole focus on process goals, no result goals or expectations in mind, because honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. When it came to the morning of last race of Period 1, I felt that I was building momentum and was weirdly psyched that it was pouring rain out.  I told myself, “today is the day I make it to the finals for the first time”. I didn’t have any expectation of that, but suddenly I believed I could do it. I think it was largely due to the fact that our women’s team had 5 consecutive World Cup podiums, consisting of 4 different athletes, and they showed me it was possible if you believe. 

When you spend enough time with these speedy teammates, you start see and believe it is possible! Thank you for teaching and sharing all your experience with me 🙂

Many people have asked, “What did you differently this year?” My answer: Honestly, nothing.  If at all, what I did “differently” was have a less than ideal training year than the previous year. On paper, my season doesn’t quite make sense based on my preparation, but I have come to realize that it isn’t just about what you do but what you believe. This year I believed that I could go head to head with the top skiers. This didn’t happen overnight, it was a gradual transition as I spent more time on the World Cup gaining experiencing and learning from my incredible teammates the past few years.

After Period 1, the season continued on with more unexpected highs and lows. I hit a rough patch mid season with a cold during the Tour de Ski that sidelined me for a bit, followed by a leg injury that left me limping around for a few weeks, sitting out multiple World Cup races and unable to ski. I went from feeling the fastest I have ever felt, to coming back from injury, racing a 10km race that felt like the longest, hardest 10km race of my life, just fighting not to finish in last. I continued to believe in myself as I went to work and did what I know works for me: race, race, believe, and race some more….so the Tour of Scandinavia was perfect timing in that sense.  

Injury is never fun, but I have learned creativity is key! Seated ski erg with a spin bike as a seat and a chair as leg rest.
Fighting through the longest 10km of my life (Photo: NordicFocus)

The Scandinavian Ski Tour was filled with new race formats and challenges. How can you have expectations for an uphill mountain sprint, or a 34km race during a massive windstorm on a course you haven’t even previewed? You can’t, and that is fun of it!  The Tour was the perfect prep to find my form again by U23 World Championships, one of my key race weeks of the season.

I was extra excited because the races were in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, the ski trails I learned to ski on with my family, and where have spent every Christmas skiing. I had big goals going in, I wanted to medal in one of the races and be fighting for the Top 5 in all races. Most importantly, I was REALLY excited to race in front of my family who were cheering me on every day there! At the time, I didn’t know my season would end with U23s, and that has made me even more grateful that I got to race at “home” in front of my family and give it my all to finish off the season.

Bronze medal in the sprint at U23s! (PC: Flying Point/Steve Fuller).

Upon returning to North America after having left the U.S. 4 months ago, I was getting really fired up for the last World Cups of the season, the North American World Cups! I had structured my season to “peak” for U23s and the last World Cups, but unexpectedly, Covid-19 cut the season short before the best part 😦  Our whole team was really looking forward to racing a World Cup on U.S. soil, it was really unfortunate timing, but we understood it was the right thing to cut the season short and put health first.

Last race of the season was rocking the stars and stripes in a team relay! (PC: Flying Point/Steve Fuller).
Racing in front of my grandparents on the ski trails they taught me to ski on was extra special (Photo: Flying Point/Steve Fuller).

Looking back on the season, I am glad I raced any opportunity I got because you never know what will happen! Now more than ever, we are in a time of uncertainty, all plans on hold, or no plans at all, living with an unpredictable future. My goal this spring is to take the time to be present in the moment, slow down a bit, and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle while keeping myself quarantined.

A huge thank you to everyone has supported me this season, your support means the world to me and I couldn’t do it without you! Thank you to my family for your unwavering support, to my coaches, teammates and staff, including my wax tech Eli Brown for making me super speedy skis, and to everyone else who has supported me along the way whether it was a kind message, a loud cheer, your belief in me, or financial support. I wish you all a healthy and safe spring!

And if you want a laugh, you can check out my season “goofy highlights” video here!

-JKern

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