On living the dream

 

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a long time. Longer, perhaps, than you might think. Like many folks consider what might be said at their weddings, or funerals, I’ve wondered how, or when, these words might appear.

Because, friends, this is the blog where I say that I am no longer skiing full time, and tell you what happens next.

This is the one where I thank everyone who has read my words or donated to my campaigns. The one that is supposed to encapsulate ten years of pursuing glory on skis. The one that tells my story, recounts what I’ve learned and leaves whoever reads it feeling hopeful and excited.

There’s supposed to be humor, and wisdom, and an honest tribute to the frustration and challenge and brilliance that is skiing full time.

It’s supposed to have all that, my own metaphorical two-weeks notice, in blog-length format.

Turns out, writing ten years of skiing into 600 words isn’t all that easy. This one’s a long read. But hey, I got some things to say.


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As long as I can remember, the spring has always been for goal making. You look back on your season, consider your accomplishments or skills you’d like to improve, and you begin piecing together how you’re going to make the next year better. In high school or college, your goal pyramids top out at World Juniors or NCAAs. If you’re beyond college, you begin planning for fundraising, travel, higher hours and better circuits.

But, first, you have to consciously and intentionally choose to continue racing.

That’s the interesting thing about professional Nordic skiing: there aren’t many clear end-points. There aren’t graduations or deadlines, there are few contracts and fewer firings. The beauty of our being a fringe sport, one that’s sustained by those who directly participate in it, is that, as long as you maintain the desire, motivation and willingness to support yourself through another season, you can ski full time for as long as you’d like.

No one can make that decision for you. And it took me a while to make mine.

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Ultimately, my goals outside of skiing have taken precedent over those within. My passions have shifted away from competing, and my goal pyramid has toppled in a way I didn’t expect, at least not quite so soon.

It’s hard to avoid feeling wistful because, in a lot of ways, it does seem too early to walk away. On the surface, I have not accomplished my goals in skiing. I have not skied a World Cup, won a SuperTour or vied for an Olympic spot. After years of filling my journals with aspiration–copying and pasting motivational speeches and telling myself I will–that’s a tough pill to swallow.

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But, you know, if you asked my Grandmother, she wouldn’t know the difference between my experience and the Olympics. Which leads me to consider what, if not medals, this sport has given me.

Piecing through my memories of the travel, frustration, hard work, poverty and pure happiness that have fueled my last decade in this sport, the formative moments weren’t strong performance or podium finishes, but all of the experiences leading up to them.

Admittedly, among my best memories are those of winning races. Winning is awesome. It’s fun, validating, and one of, if not the main point of sport. However, it was the work itself–the belief, the perseverance, the gratitude–required to ski full time that has challenged me to think beyond myself, beyond what I thought I could do, and pour my efforts into one direction.

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And I’ve realized, that, the way US skiing is going, success requires nothing less than pouring oneself into it. I’m no longer able to make that commitment, but, for the moment, let’s reminisce on the time that I did.

Because, you know, not that many people can say that they truly went for something the way that many of us in the ski community can, and do, every day. Not many people have experienced the 24-hour athlete life, where every daily decision falls in line with athletic goals, and our days are filled with plans to compete all over and conquer the world.

When I first started skiing full time, I was compelled to it in a trance-like state. After witnessing my first World Cup, it was all I could do not to drop out of school right then and chase the dream (I did myself the courtesy of waiting 4 months). I remember feeling such intense clarity, like talking to God or falling in love, in my decision to pursue skiing full time. I didn’t care how much it would take, or what other people thought of my choices, it was what I wanted, so I went for it.

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That all-consuming passion, that energy, that inconsolable motivation is what I consider to be the centerpiece of being a Nordic skier. It’s at once alienating and empowering, a conscious choice to opt out of ‘regular’ life in pursuit of a dream that seems conventionally impractical. But, as long as you want it, that choice just doesn’t seem like a sacrifice. Because, in what is arguably the hardest sport to sustain mentally, physically, and financially, you have to want it. You can’t fake your way through a season. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Alongside the glitter, the perfect kick days and the shiny Instagram, skiing full time involved a lot of doubt, anxiety and failure. It had to. That’s athletics. That’s life. But skiing gave me a space in which I could effectively, and regularly, fail. I failed in big and small ways. Some failures were more dramatic than others, and not all of them had to do with racing. But in that space of dedication, I always had the spark to continue.

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That’s how I know that, while I was in it, I was doing the right thing. Even on the hardest days, the ones of greatest disappointment, missed opportunities or lost time, I wanted to be better. I continued making goals, continued getting up in the morning, pulling on my spandex, and deciding to do better next time. That’s the beautiful part of all-consuming passion: it’s blinding. It compels us to keep going, to push harder, even when there are reasons not to.

Ultimately, that’s how we succeed.

Which I feel I have, by the way. Don’t let this parting blog about anxiety and failure and challenge make you think any differently. When I first decided to ski full time, I did so because skiing made me immeasurably happy. While I cited my Olympic dreams in sponsorship meetings, fundamentally, I just wanted to have a good time. I wanted to ski more, travel more, and see what I could do in the sport that had shaped my youth.

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At the beginning of my professional career, I was conscious that there would be an end. I knew that I was signing up for a massive challenge and hoped that, when that challenge lost its luster, I would have enough self-knowledge to leave when my heart was no longer in it. I didn’t want whatever highs or lows of a professional career to ruin the formative and lifelong relationship I had with skiing. To that end, I’m proud to say that I have no plans for burning my skis.

Today, as I look back on my skiing full time, I see a thriving community in which I still have a great deal of investment. More than anything, though, I’m proud to say that–in my four years skiing professionally, and 10 years racing–I have had a really, really good time.

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I have gotten to travel the world, meet some of the most passionate, interesting people on Earth, push myself past what I thought were my greatest limits, AND get my dance on at over a dozen end-of-the-year parties. I’ve made my best friends in this sport, found my best places, and experimented with who I want to be in all types of situations, while having the space to consider what was happening, and write about it here.

In that way, skiing led to its own demise. Having such rich experiences to process and share led me to find a passion for writing, for wandering and trying new things. I have a lot of plans for what’s going to happen in my life after racing, and I’m not totally sure which direction they will take me, but I can tell you one thing: this will not be the last you see of me.

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It will not be the the last of my writing, or my writing about skiing, or my providing my opinion where it was not asked (on a site much like this one). You’re not getting rid of me that easily, because I still feel that I owe so much. I feel that I owe so much to the sport and community that taught me how to believe in myself, how to push past failure and how to experience and express gratitude.

Oh, yeah, the gratitude part.

I would be remiss to not conclude this post with a massive thank you. First, to the people who have read this blog, who have shared it with their friends, commented or emailed me. Your thoughts and support have instilled an extra boost of meaning in my ventures. Additionally, to those who have supported me not just through shares and likes but donations and equipment, thank you. Funding a full-time athletic career is no small feat. You became an important part of my journey, and I am so proud to have had your support.

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I owe thanks to the ski community as a greater whole, to the organizers, volunteers, technical staff, photographers and timing operators who sacrificed their time to give us a venue to pursue our passion.

Thank you as well to my coaches. I feel grateful to have worked with coaches from nearly every region, team and level. You all have seen me at my best and worst, helped me bounce between the two, and given me direction in so many arenas beyond skiing. This transition will be a hard one for me, I’m probably not done crying in ya’ll’s offices.

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Also, my teammates. From Spokane Nordic, to Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, on to Middlebury, SMS Elite, Middlebury again and the SVSEF Gold Team–I have gotten the chance to work alongside some of the world’s most gifted athletes, who double as equally incredible people. Along with my teammates, I owe thanks to my competitors. Thank you for pushing everyone around you to be better, including yourselves, and contributing to what has turned into such a rich, successful community. I will be cheering for each and every one of you in the coming seasons.

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Thank you, also, to the people outside of skiing. To my friends, love interests, classmates, professors and bosses who made such sacrifices in order that I could make my own. For believing in my quest even if you didn’t understand it, and cheering me through each early bedtime, case of the tireds, and emotional moments of hanger.

And, of course, thank you to my immediate family: my mom, dad, and two brothers, Trey and Logan. To the boys, I’m not sure you totally understand what an influence your own athletic careers were on mine. Through my entire experience, you became a source for me to seek wisdom, empathy and motivation. Our entire lives, you’ve tested the waters for me before I dove in, I suppose that we’ll experience the same in the real world.

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And Mom and Dad, Val and Al, my original sponsors and forever motivators. Thank you doesn’t seem to do it. It doesn’t seem to cover what it took for you to arrange your lives around mine, to move to new places, transfer schools and chase a life on skinny skis with me. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like when, in that steak house in Utah, I told you I wanted to leave school and pursue skiing full time. What’s more, I can’t imagine what it takes to jump behind your kid doing such a thing. Thank you so much for you belief.

The spring is for goal making. This is how we work. Today, as I think about my goals for the next year, two years, five years, it’s the first time in my life that I haven’t cropped them towards cross-country skiing. After a decade of choosing everything–my meals, my friends, my college and major–with an eye on my athletic goals, I’m not altogether sure of where to start.

One thing I know for sure: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Talk soon,

AP

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5 thoughts on “On living the dream

  1. Oh Annie,

    You are such an amazing young lady. Having watched you grow up and mature through all this; I admire you and respect you so much. You have such a beautiful gift of writing and sharing with the world. You are inspiring and so genuine. I am excited to continue to read your writing.

    Hope to see you soon.

    Love ya, Doni

  2. Dearest Annie,
    I have so enjoyed reading your blog over the years!
    Please continue to keep us updated on your many adventures to come. Best of luck to you and warmest regards to your folks !

  3. Wishing you the best in whatever your next pursuit may be! I hope you know that you have a big fan club of PNSA girls, and their moms, who follow your blog and have gained so much from your honest, fun, and hilarious experiences of being an endurance athlete. I hope your future includes continuing to share all that wonderful skill, knowledge, and sense of humor with the Nordic community and young girls with dreams just like you❤️. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and being a huge inspiration and promoter of this sport. You are most definately a success! I know first hand your blog has kept many racers going when results don’t meet expectations, the reminder of the passion and joy of skiing, with a dose of humor has kept more than a few PNSA girls in the sport and helped them to keep trying. Your writing skills will take you on new journeys!
    Sincerely, a nordie’s Mom

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