I consider myself a fairly independent person. I revel in the silence of an afternoon unaccompanied, prefer to make and follow my own deadlines, flew across the country alone for the first time at age five and tend to be the person that takes the ‘group’ out of “group project.” I’m no hermit, anyone who knows me knows that I socialize with the best of them, but I definitely can attest to the brilliance of getting to run my own show, having the freedom to organize my own life. You know, do it myself.
And, while it is heavily (and rightfully) acknowledged that cross-country skiing is not an individual sport, the individual part has certainly always had its appeal to me. Ultimately, at the end of the day, or end of the race, when you stand at the line and assess your effort, the effort is yours to assess. Regardless of conditions, competitors, equipment, your race is what you make of it, and you earn whatever place you finish, choosing whatever light you want to color it. Being the analytical, existentially driven skier that I am, I like that last bit: the racing-being-what-you-make-of-it part of our quote unquote individual sport.
Of course, as we know, getting to that point takes a lot of productive teamwork. It takes supporting and pushing each other, respecting the abilities and timelines of your teammates and adjusting to enhance the experience of the group in addition to yourself. It requires that you commit to the progress of everyone and the time of your coaches by showing up (all of the meanings of the phrase). When a team works together, the combined potential of its individuals exponentially grows, #bettertogether, and we know it. I know it, and I believe in it, and pretty much all of the time, really, really love training with other people.
But also, I’m the person that takes the ‘group’ out of “group project.” And so, when, just about a month ago too much travel and a poorly timed illness had me looking down the barrel of several weeks of solo training, a small, bashful piece of me felt excited. While most of me was devastated, that little independent devil on my shoulder whispered “but think of all the alone time you’ll have.”
And at first, admittedly, it was glorious. After a solid five days of being completely buried in the Death Cold 2k16, and the massive amounts of streaming that entailed, I got to take my me-time out on the trails. What brilliant, spiritual, lone wolf experiences I had. Whether it was a frosty solo sunrise, or a quiet moment with mountain wildlife, or the calm sufficiency I felt getting lost on previously unexplored trails, there was something epic about my solitude. Each day meant less about following a schedule and more about following my heart (figuratively and literally, as my post-cold rebound depended greatly on my heart rate). Some days that meant getting up before the sun, or staying out past its set. Others, it meant slow mornings, reading the full paper and downing an entire french press before deigning to change from pajamas to spandex (she typed, thinking what a bummer it will someday be to have a more traditional job). I was still working hard, but on my schedule, on my time. I just felt so free, man.
But then, predictably, my stoke over my newfound independence faded. As a few sessions shifted into several, and days into weeks, my solo sessions seldom resembled the stoic missions of my past and instead morphed into obligatory-but-not-enforced exercise. There were less sunrises and more…nothing. Without a schedule that tied me to the dependency of others, it took me hours to motivate to get out and train, and just as much time to decide how I wanted to do so. And, in the meantime, I couldn’t seem to get much done in the way of side projects (read: I haven’t posted a blog since September). Was my love for skiing fading? Had I lost all motivation in the name of Friends re-runs and half-finished crosswords?
Luckily, no. Turns out, I just missed my team.
Last night, as I set my alarm for the first time in nearly a month for team training, I expected to feel reluctant climbing out of bed the next morning. Instead, when that alarm went off, I found myself bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, pulling on my spandex and jetting to the kitchen to get my breakfast down in time to be comfortable for skiing. I had a sense of urgency about me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I had places to be. People to see. Something to live for!
This morning’s session, clocking in at just under 2 hours, slipped by incredibly quickly. Getting to our home base early, I reconvened with my returned teammates, before embarking on our microadventure to gain strength and fitness, pushing, chatting with and racing each other along the way. Mid-workout, it occurred to me that while I like to consider myself a free-form independent gypsy woman, I actually love the structure afforded to me by team training.
What’s more, I love just having a team.
When people ask me what I love about skiing, I have a few ready-to-go answers. I talk about how it feels to actually ski, how the gliding and the cresting and the fitness to physically do both affords me a great deal of empowerment and agency. I talk about how skiing has connected me to nature, given me a vehicle through which I can explore and climb and see the world in a way that so few get to experience. I also talk about the discipline, how learning to push yourself and others to unexpected pains and abilities instills in me an incredibly optimistic view of the world and trust in my work hard when pursuing my goals.
I also talk about team, about working together, succeeding together and all of the beautiful experiences that go along with that. After my weeks of solitary training, I have a little more to add to that last bit. Because one of the reasons I love skiing is that I get to surround myself with other people who openly, and perhaps irrationally, want to spend their time running up mountains, lifting up weights and skiing up hills on edgeless, weightless pieces of carbon. That when you enter this community, you encounter a kind of enthusiasm that makes all of those activities fun and important and worth scheduling your life around.
And that while experiencing those lone wolf silent sunrises remains important to every independent young woman’s sanity, it’s getting to share those moments with people who equally appreciate them that makes them meaningful.
That when you’re a skier, even at your most individual athletic moments, you’re never alone.