The last few months of my ski racing career and life in Switzerland have now come to a close. The epitome of bittersweet. I arrived back on Canadian soil just over a week ago and it has been awesome to feel a renewed appreciation for the wild and freedom that is Canada. My last month of racing meant a lot to me. With the awareness that these would be my last races, I was really able to relish in the moment, enjoy the pain and celebrate my journey. From the Engadine Marathon to the SAS Pentathlon event in Grindelwald, to Swiss National Championships, Swiss Cups and a Night Sprint in Galtür, Austria, the last month went by so quickly!
I am really happy to have won bronze in the sprint at Swiss Nationals as well as the final sprint of my career in the Swiss Cup in Langis. I wish I figured out earlier how to include champagne showers at the finish line into my post-race recovery! After finishing up the racing season, I did a mini version of the Tour de Suisse and visited friends in Bern, Luzern and Basel as well as some ski touring in Graubünden. A little 'farewell tour' to the country and people that have taught me so much.
What makes 'goodbye's' difficult and sometimes painful, is the finality of them. The daunting concept of 'never again' being able to do or feel something. Endings, however, are what give me closure and appreciation. Without a final finish, there can be no new start. Here's my bid farewell to ski racing. I hope you enjoy.
A Love Letter to Cross-country Ski Racing
Dear cross-country ski racing,
It feels like just yesterday that we met and fell in love. I was skiing in the woods, chatting with my friends. Crisp air, giggles, deep breaths and freedom. Then came racing bibs and the desire to discover my limits. You offered me a goal, a target to chase. You quickly developed from a thought that I would only have during certain training hours of the day, to one that obsessed my thoughts for years to come. How can I be the fastest?
At eleven years old, you led me to believe I was pretty hardcore. Training for cross-country ski racing after school on the trails and roads in the Bow Valley, meant I couldn’t always play with my friends. ‘She has training’, they’d say. In a mocking tone as if it was the lamest thing ever. Even if they didn’t think it was cool, you gave me a great sense of pride. I have training, I would think. I had a purpose. I had a secret goal that I wanted to pursue. A puzzle on skis as to how I could propel myself the fastest forward. At twelve years old, I knew I wanted to be an Olympian. I had no idea what it would take at the time, but it was just as well. That’s the way it is with dreams. It’s a trip you plan to a specific destination without any idea how or if you will get there or the terrain you’ll cover.
That twelve year-old me fell more in love with you every chance I had. Each heartbeat, each gasp and each bead of sweat I invested and every sign of improvement I received, added layers to our relationship. Your underlying concept of competition is one of your qualities I admire the most. It brought out my best and made me more human. By making myself susceptible to failure, I opened up space for improvement.
I remember my first Canadian National Championships. It was 2005. Racing my heart out in the narrow forest trails in Prince George, BC, my coach gave me a time split that I was twelve seconds ahead of second place. Just. Keep. Going. That mindset will forever be ingrained in me. Thank you, for teaching me the power of persistence. I remember calling my mom from a phone booth (a partly enclosed area where there is a public phone) to tell her I won. ‘That’s great, honey’, she replied sweetly. Not realising just how deeply in love with you I was falling.
I’m grateful for you on many levels. You’ve opened doors, allowed me to dream and exceeded my expectations to what I thought I was capable of. I am who I am because of you. You’ve encouraged me to become vulnerable in order to become better. You taught me the importance of being a coachable athlete and a good teammate. You taught me the value in practicing the mundane in order to achieve the extraordinary. You taught me that no matter how tough it may be or how big you perceive your failure, it will get better. You’ve engrained the love and appreciation for what my body can do and instilled healthy habits I’ll have for life. You taught me to believe in my abilities and have the confidence to display my talent. You’ve taught me the real meaning of success.
But you haven’t always been the easiest to love. You gave me failure when I wanted success, slapped me with defeat when I wanted to win. I remember racing at World Junior Trials in 2008. I was sixteen years old, it was sprint day and it was the first time I felt this kind of nervous. If I didn’t focus myself completely on that moment, I would loose it all. And then my pole broke in the sprint final. Gosh, I was devastated. The goal to qualify for World Juniors felt robbed from my hands and I thought I’d never have a chance again. I sobbed tears of defeat. But you showed remorse. You gave me another chance and I raced my first international races in 2008 at the World Junior Championships in Malles, Italy. This was a big step in our relationship. I donned the Canadian Maple Leaf on my racing suit for the first time and was giddy with excitement. Having the opportunity to meet athletes from other countries, to travel and to compete internationally was a perfect storm to keep me coming back for more.
The curriculum, however, didn’t get any easier. Necessary lessons and learning, I agree, but boy did it hurt to have my Canadian pride shoved back down throat when trying to perform in Europe. I kept going though. I wasn’t giving up that easy. Even if I was eating cheese three meals a day for a week in France and my farts smelt like rotting manure (2009 WJ Championships Praz-de-Lys, France). Even when the jetlag meant demanding your body to perform at what felt like 3 o’clock in the morning. It didn’t matter. I was racing for Canada, having the time of my life and this was my dream.
I altered my life plans, body and mindset to keep up with you. A textbook definition of obsession. I wanted and did everything I could to answer that burning question. How can I be the fastest?
You introduced me to the most inspiring people. Not even Walt Disney himself could have composed more compelling stories of human spirit that I’ve witnessed thanks to you. Sport at the highest level, is a call to the wild. It required me to conjure up my very best and put it all on the line for judgment. It caused me to question my self-worth, my talent and my purpose. It takes an enormous amount of perspective and grit to train day in and day out in the distant days of summer in order to achieve my best in the winter and winters to come. I took comfort and found purpose in the simplicity of this pursuit.
Thanks to you, I’ve experienced fun, excitement, highs and thrills that you don’t experience without a healthy dose of exercise induced dopamine. Even when I was at my very limit, you taught how me to demand my body for more. Even when I thought I’d had enough, with all the muscles in body seizing, my vision distorted and mentally fatigued, you taught me how to find that last bit of juice and achieve a new level of performance.
I learned how to master my thoughts and body. I learned how to have them communicate as one and align for a goal. At the Olympic trials in 2014, I felt I achieved just that. I was able to synchronize my mind and body to achieve a result. Thanks to you, I achieved my Olympic dream!
As with any relationship, there comes turmoil and conflict. After this achievement, I became impatient and displaced. I didn’t feel like I was getting out of sport what I was putting in. The farther I took sport, the smaller the margins of improvement and the harder the gains were to achieve. I had a devastating 2015 season and was cut from the Canadian National Team. I was so fed up with you. I tried so hard, invested more and you gave me nothing in return. Or so I thought.
Along comes the inner call to my second homeland. You allowed me to embrace some of my creativity and dream a little outside of the conventional box. Why not move to Switzerland? Here they were, asking me to become a part of the Swiss National team. I figured, it would be a great chance to rekindle our romance. How could I not?
Remarkable really; the ‘door closing, window opening’ theory. I had never had such a valid example in real life as I did when I left Canada and moved to Switzerland. Again, I booked a trip to that far off dream destination being unaware as to how difficult the journey would be. I thought I trained hard. I thought I challenged myself and handled myself as a professional. But you showed me your Swiss side and I had to learn you from a whole different angle. The growing pains and uncomfortable situations I put myself in caused me to realign and re-solidify why I love you. Every step forward was a huge reward and more than anything during this time, I learned to only focus on my own progress. Scoring my first World Cup points in the 2016 season was a payday I will cherish forever. I hadn’t expected to have my best races after such a turbulent training year. Thank you for giving me another chance.
I risked big for you, took chances, got burned, crashed … a lot … but got back up again. You have always offered a moment of solitude in the fresh air, a reason to get up in the morning to see what the day has in store. Thank you.
I’m saying my piece now, so I can have my peace with you later. You’ve allowed me to live out my dream and taught me more than I have yet to realize. With that, it’s time for me to move on. I will always take up your offer to spend time together on a winter day, but I now have new dreams with a stronger voice calling my name. You’ve been my mentor and educator, my best friend and worst enemy all in one. You’ve challenged and rewarded me in intricate and long lasting ways that will continue to reward me for years to come. Thank you for everything. I will always love you.
Mit vielen lieben Grüssen
With that, I would like to close in giving thanks to the many people, communities and businesses who have supported me over the years. My mom, for her strength and my dad, for his patience. My brothers. Phil for his enthusiasm and Matt for his trust. My brother-in-law, Louis, for his encouragement. My sister, Ange, for her perspective. My niece for her positivity. My boyfriend, Keith, for his energy. Thank you! To my extended family in Canada, and my adoptive families in Switzerland. Thank you!
A huge thank you, to my equipment sponsors, Salomon (since I was 15 years old!?) and Swix, long-time personal sponsor the Banff Lodging Company and Ticino Restaurant. Businesses and individuals who have supported me generously over the years, Tower Cleaners, Valbella Meats, Jamie Coatsworth, Rancho Vignola, Buff Canada, Bozdech Eye Clinic, Shades on Caribou, Assiniboine Lodge, Selkirk Mountain Experience and Wild Life Distillery.
To every coach, parent volunteer, wax tech, physio, massage therapist, sport psychologist. I am a healthy and complete person because of your work.
To the Swiss Academic Skiclub. I wouldn't have been able to pursue my dream in Switzerland without your support.
To the numerous teams I had the pleasure of training with. The Alberta World Cup Academy, who fostered and helped me develop. To Cross Country Canada and Cross Country Alberta. To Swiss Ski. Thank you for the opportunities!!
To my teammates, competitors and friends. There is no journey nor accomplishment possible without you.
And to you. To each and every strand of encouragement, constructive criticism and companionship. Thank you!
I am currently applying to Royal Roads University for the Fall of 2018 in Entrepreneurial Management and Professional Communication. You can find me in the summer on the trails, at the Wild Life Distillery booth at either Banff or Canmore markets or in Ticino Restaurant.
The future is bright!