Wednesday, February 10, 2010

But at what cost? (Part 127 at least, in a series)

Reading Bill Pennington's incredible article about Lindsay Vonn has once again shone a light on a piece of my path that I try so hard to paddle carefully along. (hmmm... that's quite the mixed metaphor, but you see where I'm going with this...)

At what cost, success?

I know what it takes to get there. I've seen those that have made it and those that haven't.

I lived at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Arrowhead for a time, and while I was there, I saw more talent than I could believe. The thing that floated the champions to the top was their team, support and the selfless giving of those around them.

Whether it was their family or just a group of coaches, these people had the ability to build a team around them, to be gracious and thankful and humble, and to rely with confidence on the fact that their team was there to hold them up.

Michelle Kwan moved to the Ice Castles when she was 11. Her parents lived over an hour away. They took turns living at the training center in a cabin with Michelle and her sister Karen. Her parents never saw each other. They had a brutal commute, and incurred incredible expense helping their kid achieve her dream. And Michelle was succesfull in part because it was her dream. She loved to skate. She ate up her coaching, and she rested comfortably in the support of her parents and her dedicated team. She said thank you by working hard, staying positive and believing in herself. And she rose to incredible heights. I never felt that Michelle lived in a world of entitlement. I never saw her struggle with gratitude and guilt. She seemed, at a very early age to understand how to balance her job, her goal and her desire with her obligation to those who were helping her get there.

The balance between the emotional state of focusing so strongly on yourself and being grateful to what is given to you can kill an athlete. I felt it myself when I stood at line up the first time I took my full cert.

People have given me so much. What if I fail? What if all the time and effort and energy that Weems and Squatty and Megan and Michael and Josh have given me... what if I fail and what they gave me was for nothing? What if I can't say thank you by winning?

And there it is. What if I can't show my gratitude with the success they expect.

This thought is yet another filter that stands between you and your ability to perform in the moment. Mermer Blakesly was there that day, and she walked up to me and helped me feel my skis slice into the snow, and pull me back down out of my head and into my feet.

I didn't pass that day, but I did feel that I skied as well as I could. My team was still there, around me. I wished that I was stronger, strong enough not to feel guilty for letting them down, and needing them to work even harder telling me that it was okay that I hadn't passed. I wished we could skip that part and just go to an evaluation of the performance and how to make it better.

That afternoon, I found out that Weems had lost his son. My swirling world opened up. Weems was holding my hand with his friend, and my mentor, Squatty, and telling me that he was proud of me. In spite of the wave of grief that he was riding, he had something to give me.

In that moment, I dedicated myself to selfless gratitude for my team. I let go of my guilt and poured myself back into Weems, whom I had only recently met. I realized that we are all vessles and that I needed to be able to fill myself up if I was going to have the strength to accomplish what I wanted, and the strength to believe that the people who are supporting me are doing it to the extent that they are able to. That I am not taking more than they can give, that they will take care of that end of the bargain. My job is to listen with every cell, practice hard, implement and come back with questions. My job is to never forget that they are filling me, and be sure that I fill them as well.

I look at where I am now, that this path is not a daydream, or some ridiculous fantasy. I am halfway through my trainer passport on my way to qualifying to be an Examiner for Rocky Mountain. I teach at a full cert school, and not just any full cert school, but one of the oldest and most respected in the country. I am surrounded by incredible, giving, fluid people who are strong enough and have worked hard enough on themselves that their sense of self is solid and true.

Yesterday, I had a tough day. I rode the gondola with my boss and good friend, Andy. We had on our GS skis and were blowing out the cobwebs at fifty miles an hour or so. I was feeling lost, wondering if I was asking too much from Mike, wondering if a person can do this without becoming so internal and selfish that the goal becomes narcissistic rather than healthy.

Andy, in his beautiful, gentle way, told me brutal truths. I love this. I love to just hear honesty. I love to get it straight. It feels so clean, so clear.

I ended the day knowing that when I ski, my world makes sense to me. I ended the day knowing that my kids are happier and healthier with me reaching for this goal. I ended the day knowing that my mother has made huge sacrifices in her life to help me reach for this goal, and that I am dedicated to my path.

I knew as I rode up the gondola and saw the world falling away below me and the sun intensifying as it reflected off the highland's bowl across the valley that I was home, where I belong, doing what makes sense to me. I know I am on my path. I know I can honor those who help me get there.

I know that staying true to my path means facing brutal truth, and that facing brutal truth makes the path and the people who walk it with me clear. Crystal clear.

I ended the day fatigued and banged up, with the sensation that you get when you've been pounded by the ocean and your body is bewildered, but you know you've survived.

Today, I am back in the GS skis, I am with my kids in my heart, I am flowing to my mom who holds space for me so I can believe, I am on the phone talking about the fact that its impossible to accelerate out of a turn, I am learning more about tuning my skis, yes, I need to tune them every single day to keep them in good shape, super sharp and fast, I am reconnecting to my dedication to fill in all the corners that will let me succeed.

Fitness, mental and emotional and spiritual and physical, nutrition, technical understanding, gear, my blog, my support group, my team, my sponsors, my children, my home, my nest, filled with ski books underlined in pencil and highlighter, films, meetings, movement analysis... friendships and gratitude.

If I am going to get there, I must allow myself to believe I am allowed to focus intensely on these things, that it is my job to focus on these things. And I love to do my job well.

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