This piece was originally published by the National Nordic Foundation to kick off their annual fundraising Drive for 25. The NNF helps athletes like me pay for development training and racing opportunities for American Nordic skiing. They’ve helped me attend races and camps for the past six years, if you’re interested in growing American skiing, I suggest you pay them a visit.
When I explain my sport to others, the description follows a general scheme: mine is the (all consuming) sport of cross-country (with the skinny boards) (where you go uphill) skiing (which is not particularly lucrative) (but incredibly meaningful). Once we piece through the details–the hours, the fundraising, the training, travel and eating schedules–my friends, family and airplane seatmates always arrive at the same simple question: Why?
Or, as a gumwrapper I acquired recently put it more succinctly, “What motivates you to succeed?”
I asked my teammates the same question in June. Squeezed into a booth at our favorite coffee shop, we hunched over our steaming mugs and held our annual team meeting, taking turns describing why we love skiing. When the talking stick got to me, I struggled to put my drive into words. My motivation lived in moments, like the silence before the gun in a chevron, or the feeling in a finishing kick of a sprint. In the end, I decided that those moments embodied the marriage of progress and potential. That what drives me is any sense of improvement combined with the desire for more.
At first it seems paradoxical. How can someone simultaneously feel happy and unsatisfied? And yet, anyone who’s ever been edged at the finish line, stood on a podium or broken a personal record can understand that the crossroads between progress and potential are the most motivating places one can stand.
From a gangly junior to a full-time senior racer, the ideals behind my drive have remained largely the same, but younger me certainly had no means to connect them. The divide between progress and potential were polarized in a way by which I had no idea how my independent improvement would connect me to my goals. Progress was local, as defined by my solo 4×4 intervals after soccer practice, or how many half pullups I could do in the gym.
Potential, on the other hand, felt distant. I had no way of defining my own prospect, of measuring the steps it would take to reach my goals, or even to make them.
At the time, the NNF was a polysyllabic acronym selling the calendars whose photos I’d taped to my wall after West Yellowstone camp. As ethereal as my goals, I had no conception of how the NNF affected me, my teammates, or my age group. (I heard something about trip aid if you could get top 5 at World Juniors, to which I responded, “there’s international racing for juniors?”)
6 years later both the NNF and I, whether or not a consequence of one another, have filled in the conceptual gap between today’s work and tomorrow’s success. Through an immense amount of progress, as seen through domestic and international results, community building and resource development, we’ve begun to define our potential by outlining criteria and making them ambitious. The major difference is that progress is no longer local. The NNF is a coalition of active voices, with diverse and shared ownership across all fields of development, striving to pull each other forward. When our teammates succeed, all of us take pride and celebrate. Additionally, when anyone falls back, they have the resources to spring forward.
As the reach of the NNF has grown, so has my understanding of my role as an athlete. I’ve gained the confidence and knowledge to voice my goals, and have the concrete steps to attain them in addition to access to a huge pool of belief that I can. Our work has bridged the gap between progress and potential so that where we stand as a nation completely represents that feeling that drives me. Today, we have multiple athletes snagging top 10s at World Juniors, OPA Cup and World Cups. You can’t deny our improvement, but we’re left unsatisfied. We still want more. More results, more support, more progress. We see our potential at the end of the road, we have directions to get there. All we need to do is drive.