When I retired from ski racing I stopped blogging. The rationale was: I no longer have anything to say that people want to hear. No race results to share, no tales about the glitz (and grit) of the World Cup circuit, no stamps to be added to my ballooning passport... But I've always been one to assert that self-worth is about who you are, not what you do or where you go. My professional athletic career may be in the rearview mirror, but I guess I've realized--regardless of role or circumstance--hey, I still have something to say. Whether or not people think it's worth hearing; I guess the beauty of blogging is that it really doesn't matter! Needless to say, I've decided to start posting blogs again.
Below you'll find that I posted a whole backlog of blogs from my old website and from when I was blogging from the 2010 Olympics for King 5 News. Rereading my passages from the Olympics brings back memories of a magical and uplifting experience. I think it's good revisit that kind of stuff every once in awhile.
The Olympic vibe is reverberating across the Whistler valley. Daily we see heartfelt demonstrations of excellence from our Olympic athletes. A melody of world languages resonates throughout the Whistler Village.
What’s happening up here in Whistler, you ask? This town is teeming with yoga.
Yoga? Yep, I said it, yoga.
If you are having visions of the streets of Whistler packed with people practicing yoga, that’s not exactly what I’m getting at, although I guess its not too far from the truth… Certainly, some Olympic athletes prepare their bodies and minds for competition through yoga, and the Whistler Lululemon store is offering daily free yoga classes throughout the Games, but I’m more talking about the ‘true’ meaning of yoga.
Many Westerners credit yoga for being a great workout or stretch, which it is, but the meaning and purpose of yoga extends far beyond physical benefits. It is a state of mind and a way of being. In my admittedly biased opinion (as an Olympian and yoga instructor), there is no better setting to observe that yogic state of mind or way of being than at the Olympics Games.
The word ‘yoga’ means union of mind, body, and spirit. One of my yoga teachers always said, “yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind.” That is, yoga happens when awareness is drawn completely to the present moment, allowing the often-frenetic mind to come into stillness.
It’s funny because I used to describe racing downhill as a very similar kind of state. Even though skiing 85mph down a mountain is totally crazy and chaotic, my experience racing downhill would always be amazingly serene and silent. All physical sensation would fall away—the sound of my skis rattling over ice, the bite of cold wind on my face, any pain from injuries. I became deeply involved in the present moment. When I skied through the finish, my senses would turn back on. I’d start to hear the roar of the crowd, feel the cold air in my lungs, and realize the ache in my feet from my tight boots. The contrast was dramatic. When my mind started darting to the scoreboard, to analyzing my race, to judging my performance, I’d recall the stillness of my run and think, “THAT was nice.”
THAT was yoga. That was cessation of fluctuations of the mind. Olympic athletes experience this every time they compete. A state of total focus, total presence. In essence, focused competition is meditation in its own right.
Even if you’d rather leave the danger and adrenaline to the Olympians, with a little awareness and effort, anyone can access the present moment. I’ll admit it is easier said than done, but it is such a powerful, vital place to be.
As I watched the opening ceremonies a couple of weeks ago, I felt the attention of the world converge on the Pacific Northwest. I couldn’t help but be moved by the notion that, for once, the eyes of world were looking toward a single place for peaceful reasons rather than destructive ones. After all, the Olympics provide a rare occasion for the world to come together to celebrate values like excellence, fairness, respect, peace, and personal growth, not to clash over politics, resources, or war.
While I walked the streets of Whistler Village the past two weeks, I overheard diverse languages and admired colorful fans. It is impossible to ignore that this is an international party just as much as it is an athletic competition. People have come together from all corners of the earth to spectate and to celebrate. Although I’d rather it didn’t take a sporting event to get people to come together in peace and celebration, it still is a beautiful thing.
So what’s so yogic about this international party known as the Olympics? It’s symbolic. Through our collected attention, we are reminded that, despite geographic distance or language barrier, the world is inescapably interconnected. The Olympics represent overlapping world culture and commerce. The Games highlight shared values, and they promote peace over disturbance. Yogic philosophy says that the universe is a dance of energy in flux. At the Olympics, the dance of energy somehow becomes more palpable.
At the Olympics, yoga is everywhere. It is a heightened state of mind, and it is a way to see our world.
And still, the yoga of the Olympics extends far beyond the actual Games. It is the sparkle in the eye of the nine year-old watching her Olympic hero compete. It is the celebratory jumps of the inspired fan cheering from home.
Yoga is simply tapping into the joy already present in your own heart, and letting it shine bright. Like gold.
Watching the men’s Super G race on Friday was the most exciting and emotional few hours I’ve experienced at the Olympics yet. It was a thrilling race with mere hundredths separating top athletes, and once again, the American team turned in inspired performances.
Statistically, Andrew Weibrecht wasn’t a medal contender. After all, he hasn’t been on the podium in a single World Cup race ever. But despite the odds, Andrew’s skiing was consistent and strong coming into the Games. In his third full season on the World Cup circuit, he is skiing with new maturity and tact. Without a doubt, Andrew was my dark horse for the Super G.
At only 5’6” Andrew is the shortest speed skier on the men’s World Cup speed circuit, but his presence is huge. I have never seen any athlete, in any sport, compete with as much tenacity and intensity as Andrew. His famous 2007 downhill run at the Beaver Creek World Cup says it all. It is the most courageous and athletic skiing I have ever seen. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_eAElauc3E) It is through these gritty performances that we see why Andrew lives up to the nickname “The Warhorse.”
My respect for Warhorse extends far beyond my admiration for his athletic prowess. Not only were we teammates while I was still racing on the U.S. Ski Team, but we attended Dartmouth College together for several years, where Andrew is still a student. Basically, Andrew is just a good guy. He is humble and grounded, fun and playful. He is comfortable in his own skin, and he’ll do anything for the people that he cares about. It is for these reasons that I was bubbling with excitement to watch my friend compete in his first Olympics.
In addition to my analyst work for KING 5, I am also commentating the alpine ski events for NBC Radio. Because I have to remain objective and professional while I call the races from the broadcast booth, I can’t let personal reactions slip out when my friends and former teammates cross the finish line. That means I was forced to sit through an excruciating twenty-seven racers after Andrew ran number three before I could take off my headset and celebrate his bronze medal performance.
Once I was free from the booth, I literally burst out the door and started screaming and jumping up and down. After the first thirty, Warhorse was sitting in third place. THIRD PLACE! I could hardly contain myself. I sprinted to the media “mixed zone” for my other job of getting on-camera interviews with athletes for KING 5 and other news affiliates. While I was in my position waiting for the athletes to start filing through, I had a hard time standing still. I couldn’t wait to see Andrew and congratulate him.
When the Warhorse finally started making his way to me, my energy began to shift. As I watched him walk up to me in person, the magnitude of what he accomplished hit me. Tears came to my eyes. I gave him a huge hug and told him how proud I was of him. I don’t know if Andrew noticed any tears coming down behind my sunglasses during his interview, but they were there. After the interview was over, I cried. I don’t think I have never felt so genuinely happy for someone else in my life.
Why did watching Andrew win an Olympic medal carry so much meaning? It’s pretty simple, really. He’s my friend and he’s a tremendous guy. I genuinely want the best for him because I know he wants the same for me.
When I reflect on those tears of joy, I am reminded of what really matters during this crazy Olympic frenzy: An Olympic medal is great, but it is great because of the individual on whom it hangs. No matter how many medals the United States racks up, they are meaningless without the stories and the people behind them.
After Lindsey took the gold in the women’s downhill, and Julia raked in the silver in both the downhill and the Combined, veteran skier Bode Miller pointed out that, “As soon as you see your teammates experience that joy, it makes it much more real, much more accessible. It makes [the younger skiers] reach for it a lot more authentically.” In essence, he says, when a teammate does well it makes everyone on the team want a piece of the same success.
It’s fair to say that the Team’s early success in these Olympics may have helped fuel the Warhorse to his medal. In his usual simple fashion, Andrew agreed, “A little bit of momentum goes a long way.”
Fitting words for a little guy who just achieved a really big dream.
It wasn’t how they planned to come into the Vancouver Olympics. Lindsey Vonn was plagued with a shin injury that kept her off snow for almost a full two weeks leading into her first competition, and Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic Giant Slalom gold medalist, was without a single World Cup podium to her name in over two years. Yet the two Americans dominated the women’s downhill race, walking away with gold and silver in what proved to be one of the most dramatic competitions of the 2010 Games so far.
I can’t emphasize enough the magnitude of what Lindsey and Julia accomplished by taking the number one and two positions yesterday. Not only was Lindsey the first American female to win Olympic downhill gold, but it was the first time Americans took two medals in an Olympic alpine skiing competition in over twenty years. What’s more, in a sport where winners are normally determined by mere hundredths of a second, Lindsey and Julia beat the bronze medalist by 1.46 and 0.56 seconds respectively, a huge and convincing margin in ski racing.
What set these two women so far apart from the rest of the field?
According to Thomas Vonn, Lindsey’s husband and closest on-hill companion, “It’s determination.” He claims that his wife is the most determined competitor out there, and that even though her shin injury derailed their original plan coming into the Games, she gritted her teeth and fought through the pain with signature determination.
Likewise, Lindsey admits that because of her shin injury, which forced her to forgo any on-snow training for two weeks leading into the Games and place an exceedingly heavy emphasis on simply “getting healthy,” she did not have the ideal preparation coming into her first race. She couldn’t just coast into the Games on the wake of what’s been a dominant season on the World Cup circuit like she had originally planned. Instead, she had to spend time explaining her injury to media rather than training, and had to undergo hours of physical therapy rather than soak in the opening ceremonies. Every single thing that Lindsey has done for the last four years has been geared toward these Olympics. This setback wasn’t in the plan.
Julia Mancuso has struggled to find the same groove she had during her World Cup dominance three years ago. Her lackluster results the last two seasons caused critics to question whether she’ll ever regain the top form she had during her 2007 run for the overall World Cup title. But despite her extended absence from the podium, Jules said she knew “the speed was there.” She said, “I just never stopped believing in myself,” and maintained faith that her results eventually would come around. Although Julia didn’t exactly have the track record a top skier would like heading into the Olympics, she had unconditional belief in herself.
And she made it work. Julia laid down the run of her life in the Olympic downhill. She skied confidently through the bumpy and challenging course, a course that caused seven racers to ski out or crash. She wasn’t sure her time would hold up, but sure enough, racer after racer failed to challenge her for the top spot.
That is, until teammate Lindsey Vonn came down. The pressure for Lindsey was tremendous. As her former teammate, even I had intense butterflies in my stomach as Lindsey stood in the start gate. But Lindsey did exactly what she does best: compete. The confidence and composure Lindsey brought to her Olympic run was inspiring. It wasn’t a perfect run, but the impressive part was Lindsey’s presence and patience as she kept pointing her skis in the fall line. I was not surprised when Lindsey came down in the lead. She’s the best female skier in the world and she showed why.
Lindsey says that finally achieving her childhood dream of winning Olympic gold is the best feeling she’s ever had in her entire life. When asked about her mindset before the race, Lindsey said, “It’s not as easy as just saying ‘you can do it.’ I knew Julia was nine tenths ahead so I knew I had to ski an aggressive run. No one is going to give it to me for free. I have to go out there and get it. I have to earn it.”
As I listened to Lindsey and Julia reflect on their historic competition in the finish area, I couldn’t help but think, “This is why Americans love the Olympics so much.” It’s the inspiration these athletes so deftly deliver. For both women, things weren’t going exactly as they would have liked leading into the Olympics, but Lindsey and Julia continued to believe in themselves, and both competed with true determination.
No matter who you are, or what you do, we all can relate to Lindsey and Julia’s journey in one way or another. Just like Olympic athletes, every one of us has some degree of drive to be “good.” To be “better.” To be a better parent, a better friend, a better employee, a better citizen. Better at something. And just like athletes, it’s safe to say that we’ve all been against the odds. We’ve all had our plans derailed. We’ve all had our ability questioned.
So what can we take away from the women’s Olympic downhill race?
Setbacks are common. What matters is how you deal with them. As every one of us is certain to face adversity in the future, can we believe in ourselves regardless of circumstance like Julia? Or can we confront challenges with the same gritty determination as Lindsey?
Regardless of what it is you want in life, like Lindsey wisely said, no one is going to give it for you for free. And like Lindsey did, you have to go out there and get it.