Snow is still on the ground in Winter Park, CO but the mountain is closed and most people (including myself) have put the ski gear away. I sit here looking out at the snow and think about how I am not done ski racing just for this year, I’m really done.
It’s a very odd feeling knowing that the path you’ve traveled for the past 13 years has reached the end. The highlight reel that runs in my mind has so many highs and lows. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and the friends I’ve made! I have been able to do so much and see so many places I never imagined seeing. One part of me feels like the luckiest person in the world while the other side of me is somber with the reality that the ride is over. My family, friends and sponsors have stuck by me through it all and made it possible!
Ironically enough, two years ago today I had the PAO surgery on my right hip. I walked into the operating room knowing that there was possibility of my racing career coming to end that day. Obviously it didn’t end that day but in the many days to follow it seemed to slip away. Somehow despite it all I got back on snow. I didn’t have 2 more seasons of racing, but this last one was just fine. The fact that I persevered beyond that surgery and everything else I’ve endured since, to make it to my 3rd Paralympic Winter Games, is just short of a miracle. Maybe miracle is a bit strong but after lying in a hospital bed unable to move my legs just 14 months before opening ceremonies- it feels pretty miraculous to have made it.
The Vancouver 2010 Paralympics were fantastic! In comparison to 2006; I didn’t have to travel for weeks prior to leaving, it was a relatively short flight to Vancouver, it was a non-snowy and uneventful drive to Whistler where the village was actually complete, our housing was close to other athletes, the gym and the dining hall, and we had strong staff there with us. In addition; I had my parents, my boyfriend and a couple other close friends up there in the stands supporting me!
As far as the mountain and the competition, it was definitely not ideal. In fact it was probably the worst situation and conditions I’ve ever raced in. I always talk about ski racing being a winter sport and it being very weather dependent. When the conditions aren’t good the safety of the athletes is at risk so the organizers generally err on the side of caution. In this case the caution they used was to flip-flop the entire schedule. This does happen occasionally, but I’ve never seen them run the Downhill (DH) training runs to then run the Slalom (SL) race. It may happen but not at any disabled races I’ve been to.
What this meant for me was that I was racing my SL race on the 15th instead of the 21st and my Giant Slalom (GS) race on the 17th instead of the 19th. We’re athletes and we’ve training thoroughly for our events but mentally this was a big hurdle. We hadn’t been skiing or training SL because we all thought we had plenty of time. Plus, the schedule change was because of weather so we knew the conditions were going to be less than ideal. To top it off, SL is my better event and I really wanted to end my Paralympics and probably my ski racing career with my strongest event. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Not only did I not end with SL but I didn't end with the best SL race of my career either. I know that the fresh snow, the fog and the inconsistent conditions played a big part in this as my balance is worse when visibility is decreased and bumps are increased. I’m not making excuses it’s just the way it is. I raced two solid runs and reached the finish, but not the aggressive yet smooth skiing that wins medals. My goal was top 10 but I finished 16th, not what I wanted but 16th in the world isn’t too bad.
My GS race went about the same. We did not wake up to 10 inches of new snow like SL day but we had fog so thick that 3 gate visibility was pushing it and there was a sleet/ rain mixture on the bottom of the course that added to the level of difficulty. I skied as well as I could with the courses and conditions at hand, but again didn’t ski fast enough. I had a better 2nd run than 1st run but not the kind of run I wanted to end on. I know that I have the ability to ski better but I couldn’t ski to that ability on that day. I went, I raced, and I finished. Finishing isn’t a goal I normally strive for, but to end my ski career without crashing, without injury and to finish 15th place is just fine with me. I felt I could walk away with my head held high.
The Paralympics weren’t over after my races but the ending was about the same. Closing Ceremonies were a very rainy and cool, and maybe a bit of a let down. The truth is though; I enjoyed myself through it all as I really am happy and thrilled to have had the journey I did!