Friday, April 27, 2012

National Alpine Tryouts

(Special Note: Photo uploader isn't working right now, so I have 19 great shots that go with this post... but we have to get in the car and drive back to Colorado now! I'll update the post with photos as soon as I can. Meanwhile, check Facebook for photos!)

Its over! Its the morning after and I didn't have to set an alarm and get up and motivate myself to do every thing I could to show my absolute best again today. Ahhhh sleeping in is goood....

The last four days have been so interesting. It was like a Bikram  yoga class, every single day it was hard. I expected it to be hard, but it was harder than I expected it to be.

Here is how it went.

The week of National Academy, which was the week before tryouts, Kurt and I were staying in the Cliff Lodge here at Snowbird. I was in Katie's group, (when Schanzy found out, he said, "Strong effort, Kate!" Which I thought was funny, and true.

I meant to go ski with someone who I don't always get to ski with, but I was trying to keep the upcoming tryouts in mind, and the group that was skiing the speed and terrain I wanted to play on ended up being Katie's group. Which turned out to be a great thing.

Since she's been the Teams manager for 12 years, and a member of the team for a couple of terms before that, she knows what it takes to try out, so she was able to help me carve out an appropriate space while still staying plugged into the group.

Our group was just awesome. A bunch of ripping skiers who would willingly go anywhere, but we didn't have to get there at a hundred miles an hour. The group was fun, funny and supportive, and I felt the amazing thing that is the PSIA family coalesce around me during the week.

Meanwhile, Kurt was diligently tuning both pairs of my skis to try to make them feel the same. I know so many people who have broken skis during the tryout only to end up on a backup ski that was not at all what they wanted to be on.

He came out and skied with our group and because we have the same boot sole length, we could switch skis back and forth.
Spinning out the legs on a jog up to Alta after a day in the mank training for the toughest turn.
My skiing felt good, strong, and getting stronger. We got about 15 inches of fresh winter snow that week, and I felt really good in it. I mean, who doesn't feel good in winter pow!?? I asked Katie what she thought, and she told me that she needed me to be consistent at that level. I understood that my best skiing on my best day was in the bottom of the box of what was acceptable (if I skied my best in every turn, they might be able to consider me).

The challenge was big, and I was up for it.

On Friday, I took the day off and wandered around Salt Lake. It was 80 degrees, I put on a sundress and flip flops and went to the bookstore. I got myself to yoga for the first time in a week.

I hadn't realized that I had building nerves until I stepped into the yoga studio, I stood there, fingers interlocked and fists under my chin, breathing in for a count of six while my head went back, and on the third breath, I was suddenly, abruptly and fully in my body.

The familiarity of the practice was intensely grounding, the yoga community is a powerful one, especially in the Bikram practice, its a bit strange actually. No matter what Bikram studio you go into, the 26 postures and 2 breathing are the same. So the ritual aspect becomes powerful. And after having a daily (sometimes twice daily) practice for a couple of years, when you stand in any studio anywhere in the world, with people around you doing the same thing, the familiarity is powerful.

Because the yoga helped me heal and strengthen and prepare my body, as well as hone my meditation skills, balance, focus, will, and determination, it was the perfect way to reset my body and mind for the upcoming challenge of tryouts.

Did I really think I had a chance?

Well, ya, kind of.

I felt that if I could ski the way I had been skiing during academy and continue improving all week, I would be teetering on the edge of hire-able around my feet. I wasn't worried about the teach, or the technical, or the interview or the presentations, I'm happy and comfortable in those situations, I love to play with the group, but I knew that the two days of task skiing had the potential to be my undoing.

Kurt and I got back on snow for the next two days, as it continued to heat up. The turn that worried me the most, that actually scared me, was the medium radius turn on the 35-40 degree slope in the slop. So that's what we worked on. Three hours each day, every time I lined up at the top of the Rasta chutes and he said, "Okay, go" I had this thrill of dread.

And I did it. It got better each time. My coaching cues were patience in the transition, patience in the fall line, retract to change. Set the turn up, don't rush and twist the ski. Stay with the ski. Don't start the movements with the upper body going into the turn. Don't rush. Patience, patience, patience.

We did it with no poles, and the snow was so gluey... this was my biggest fear, that we would get a bunch of new snow and it would heat up and turn to glue, and before we had a good freeze thaw cycle and get skied out, we'd have to ski in it.

But with Kurt's incredibly patient guidance, I did it. I brought the skis up to speed, I was quick but not rushed, I sliced them through the glue, he gave me the nod. That was it.

And then, it was Monday.

I skied with all of group 1 for the first two days. Inspirational skiing, YOU BET!
5:45 am time to get up. I put Richie Berger on my computer screen, Kurt got the oatmeal and coffee going, and I was down on the floor, warming up my back. Sets of Bridge, Cat Cow and Cobra over and over. Then onto the foam roller, where I rolled out my spine, coccyx to neck, then onto the sides, hips, shoulder blades, rolling and rolling to stretch and heat. Coffee's ready. Sip, start the next video, back onto the floor, roll out the front.

Thighs, it bands, shins, then rolling pushups into child's pose on the foam roller. Heat building. Finish coffee, starting to feel awake, tennis shoes on, out the door and down the hall to the stairwell, where I ran from the sixth floor to the basement and then back up. 20 squats on the bottom landing, 20 squats on the top, 90 second rest, run again, this time skip 2 steps.

The first trip back up the stairs sucked every morning. My legs burned and felt heavy and tired, but I knew that if I kept going they'd feel good by the middle of the second trip back up. Knowing that was one thing, believing it was another. Keep running.

I'd rather have the lactic burn and exhaustion here in the stairwell than on the hill. Get it out of the way. Keep running. As I was resting i would look at the tattoo on my left forearm. It says "Finish" which to me means every moment you have an opportunity to give more effort, emotionally, physically, your commitment to this goal you say you want is only really true if you work as hard as you can.

I smile and think of Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill V2. Kurt calls me Kiddo sometimes. She's a bad ass. She worked hard enough to punch her way out of a buried coffin. I can run up these stairs. (Don't tell me she's fictional, right now I'm busy trying to be inspired, thanks).

Back to the room, sweat has started, there's heat from the inside out, my back feels loose and good. I'm ready. And so is the oatmeal. Thank god for my friend Peter who made it possible for me to live in this condo this week. The food here in the restaurants is really abysmal, I had a stomach ache for most of academy. Being back on the organic home cooked food feels good, and Kurt is amazing, every morning there are fresh blue berries and raspberries, soaked almonds, flax seed meal and cinnamon waiting for me.

I fill myself a little past full, wanting to be sure I have energy for the day, and change into my gear. Its time. Kurt has the backup pair of skis and a backpack full of coconut water, jugs of water, mojo bars, ginger treats, red bull (just in case) hand warmers and the video camera.


Out the door we go, onto the snow, and I'm skiing down Chickadee to the tram dock and thinking, wow, this is it!!

I don't feel nervous, I'm just really really happy. Excited. Thrilled, actually. I have finally stopped asking myself if I belong in this group. It was the hardest thing to do.

The week I spent in Katie's group helped me tackle what had been my biggest emotional struggle for this whole season. I started working on it with Peter in Whistler, Kurt, Andy Docken, Schanzy, Megan and Josh Fogg helped me through it during the season, and the dregs of it, like sticky fingers, were still on me as I came to academy.

I'm so used to being the shittiest skier in the group, because I've put myself there for six years. I've been chasing down a group of skiers that are leagues above me, because I want to train right, to consistently see the images that are in the ball park. I watched Cindy break that line, change her skiing and live solidly in the group. I know it can be done.

I know it can be done by a woman.

And there were moments when I felt it. Andy told me a few times, Kate, that's good. My mountain, my obstacle was adding the words, "for Kate." to any compliment I got in training.

For instance, "That's good, Kate" I would change to "That's good (for) Kate."

I had to break that pattern, part of owning the changes I had made in my skiing, which were occasionally "in the box" was believing that I was skiing at that level and could do it consistently.

It does nothing to say "I believe it" if you don't actually, deeply, believe it.

So we did a lot of video. Not as much for diagnosing mechanical issues, because now I can feel them and self coach, but so I could see myself skiing and compare it to images that I knew were in the box of hire able skill.

And I saw it.

Now I had to own it, under pressure, in the toughest snow I've skied. When it counts. I wasn't nervous. I had nerves, which are good, but I wasn't nervous. But it was time to see, with pressure applied, when you have one run per task and no do overs, each turn scored, to see, could I own it?

The idea that I didn't belong in the group, that the group was tolerating me because I was good enough not to slow it down, that I am a novelty or an annoyance was gone. I had been invited to this event. I had brought my skiing up enough that I felt comfortable demonstrating in front of people I respect.

On Monday morning, I was comfortable in my skin, happy to have developed the skills that I have, and I was ready to show what I had. It would either be good enough to hire, or not.

We rode the pre-public 8am tram up to the top of Snowbird, clicked in, and took our warm up run. 42 candidates from all over the country poured down Regulator Johnson, the level of skiing was just awesomely inspiring. So many of them are friends, and I felt this incredible group energy. We are all wishing the best for each other.

There are only so many spots they can hire, and the level of talent on the hill was astounding. There were more women in this tryout than in previous ones, and while there are no incumbent spots for women, the competition is getting stiff. And that's a good thing. The more the bar goes up, the better the team is. The better the team is, the harder the membership has to work to become a piece of it. We all improve as the standard stays high.

My warm up run felt okay. The snow was firm, the grooming full of holes, ruts and chunder. But that's Snowbird in the spring. I had Kurt's voice in my head, there aren't that many coaching cues, really. Set the turn up. Patience. Don't twist to the edge. Tip then steer as needed. Level. Hands UP. And Dance on your Skis, as Weems says.

My heart was full of gratitude for the community that helped me get here, Weems, Squatty, Kurt, Peter, my mom... Nick McDonald was a selector, and he was one of my first PSIA clinicians a month after I started skiing. How amazing six years later to have him selecting at the National Tryout. I had made it.

We got to the top of regulator for our second run, the selectors spread out down the hill, Kurt was down there with them, camera pointed up, and it was game time.

"Be safe, ski in control, don't let it get away from you, no one get hurt" was a consistent theme all morning. I watched Jonathan Ballou go before me, he was getting after it on our first task and down he went. A fall. From one of the best, most athletic skiers on the hill. Suddenly, a tactic came back into my mind.

Ski conservatively. Better control than dynamics. Do not fall. Not because you won't get selected if you fall but because it will hurt. It will hurt your neck, falls during selection are historically really bad. They result in broken necks, arms, dislocated shoulders, torn up knees, hospital trips. 

This had not been in my mind at all leading up to it, I have finally healed and strengthened my body enough after surgery to feel strong. But suddenly the thought was in my mind that a bad wreck with this plate in my neck would be really painful. And while I have a high tolerance for pain, I really have never ever felt pain like that which has occurred while I'm healing from this surgery.

By the third task, I had missed the ski cut.

And I knew it. I was not skiing like Kate. I wasn't sure why. I wasn't nervous of the task, the environment, the selectors, my competitors. I wasn't nervous of falling. I was nervous of feeling pain if I did fall.

And it undid me.

I could feel Megan looking at me, and on the third chairlift she looked at me and put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Well, Kate, you should just be proud that you are here. I'm proud of you for just putting yourself on the line and giving it your best."

Shit.

That's not what you want to hear three hours into something you've been training for for six years.

No poles skiing in the deep mank in the book ends. 35 degree slope, fresh snow barely skied out, its hot out, now its thick monkey snot. This is the turn we were training for, this is the turn I proved to myself I could do.

Rogan asked Kurt to ski the line on his way to set up the camera, and, 40 pound pack on his back, he skied it beautifully. We could see the snow changing as he went down, and I knew, this was the task, the make or break, this is the one that is going to show if the mechanics are there in place or not.

And I know I can do it. I have to go fast enough to make the ski work. I have to stay with it when it changes. What if I guess wrong when it changes? This is the kind of run where people wreck and get hurt. A wreck at speed in this stuff is bad.

My first three turns were fine. I relaxed. Take your time in the transition. Stay in the fall line. I crossed where the snow changed. I moved inside. I got stuck on my inside ski, I moved back, now I'm on a ride, I'm not in control, I'm going where the ski wants, not where I want.

In my mind, NEW TASK: stay on your god damn feet. Steer it up the hill, lose speed that way, strong core. Three shitty turns and I'm back over my feet, but the run is over, and that's enough, I'm out of the running.

I know it as I ski to the group. But I'm not angry at myself, this snow is really, really tough. Tough enough that Robin Barnes has a bobble in it. Hafer struggles. Docken has a Double E, goes endo. But my skiing isn't dynamic enough for me to botch any tasks, I have to ski my best in every turn to be in contention with someone who can ski dynamically through all of it and takes a fall.

That night, Megan asks me what happened to my skiing. I have to think about it.

I realize I am afraid of how it will feel to fall on the plate in my neck. I got as far as I have gotten by being willing to fall. After all, that's why I got sponsored by POC in the first place. I needed the protection because I was falling so much. I fell so much the first two years of skiing that they nick named me "Lawn Dart".

And now, because if this metal plate, I was not willing to go down.

I meditated on that sitting in a tub full of Epsom salts.

I needed to be willing to go down if I was gonna save this. I had three days to prove I could ski. But what I really had to do was get all the way back to my best skiing on the first turn of the first task. And even that might not be enough to save it. I had to be willing to fall.

Tuesday morning. Warm up, coffee, run stairs, eat oatmeal, Kurt hands me skis, he's spent three hours turning them, they are perfect. He's not embarrassed to be by my side, to stand in my corner. he's willing to continue to work with me as though I'm in contention for the top spot. His dedication to me fuels me with a willingness to give it my all. He could have easily said, "She's not gonna win, why bother tuning?"

But he didn't. He made each pair of skis absolutely perfect every night. He loaded his pack and carried food, he encouraged me to sit, rest my legs, get in the shade, warm back up when I needed to. He saw me as I needed to see me and I could not give up even if I wanted to. Finish. Tram ride up for 8am tasks. Finish.

New task. I would improve my skiing every single run. I would find my turns by the end of this. I knew they couldn't hire me based on my skiing on the first day, so I let it go. I would show myself and them that inside there IS a skier that CAN make the cut. I texted Peter, he sent me incredibly inspirational texts back.

I was worried, if I didn't make it, would I lose my sponsorships, my readership, what would happen to my blog? What would happen to the people who have been there for me and helped me get there? Was I letting them down?

Kurt helped me through that. Back on track. We have always known it was unlikely that I could be a contender, let alone get hired. Yet here I was, on the snow, invited to participate and its time.

First task, better. Second task, even better. Transport to third task, feeling good, feeling happy, not feeling hard on myself, feeling some freedom. I crank it over, and I crash.

Hard. With a selector right behind me.

As I'm going down I think, oh god, if I don't hang onto this as long as I can, this will be a bad one. The way I am falling is not good. (I was in a big right footed GS sized turn heading around a corner.) I see a dead tree about 20 feet from me, the tangent to the arc I was on heads straight towards it. In that split second I realize while I'm falling I must hold the ski in the snow as long as I can or I will hit that tree at full force and it will be big time game over. As I hang on I realize the new trajectory is going to flip me over, I'm going to de-camber and high-side. And that's gonna hurt my neck.

I hold my head up and curl my stomach as the ski releases and I get sprung into the air. I am lucky enough to spin, my head bounces on the snow, but not as badly as it can be, I'm about 15 degrees off the line of the tree, and I'm okay.

Back on my feet, we head to the next pitch for the next set of drills.

Ive taken the fall, its a day like any other day on skis. Falling is part of it. I didn't die or hurt myself, and I'm in the game.

The skiing comes up.

It takes until the end of day 3 to find my turns again. And by day 4, when they are really just looking at four or five people to slot into the last two spots, I'm skiing like Kate again.

Over the course of those four days, we had indoor presentations and teaching segments, movement analysis and discussions. All of those were fun for me, I love doing them, and I thought they had gone well. We did a 30 minute behavioral interview which was fun and interesting.

I texted my mom and my sister, both of whom were planing to come out for announcements. I told them that there was no way that the selectors could consider me. I ski well, but not well enough consistently enough to be in contention for a spot on the national team. Not yet. I told them that they didn't need to spend the money, time and energy to come out.


Wednesday afternoon, Kurt and I were up in the hot tub. It was getting harder and harder to motivate myself to give everything I had in every turn. My commitment to myself had been to improve my skiing steadily through the event. But I was getting hard to run the stairs, to keep performance coming up when I knew I couldn't get hired.

I texted Peter. I'm not sure I can put my family through another four years of this. I'm not sure I can take resources away from Ethan and Bodhi, the money I would spend going to race camp and going South to teach and the time I have to spend in the Crossfit gym and in yoga while they are on their way to ages 12 and 14 is huge. I'm not sure my body can take it. I may be staring at the end of my dream. Knowing that makes it hard to run up and down those stairs and make this turn better than that one.

My mom, who is not a fan of tattoos, texted me back. "Of course I am coming. You have one job right now. Finish."

Kurt looks at me, and says, you have a choice, you can quit, or you can finish.

Peter tells me, its not about the financial support. Its about getting it done. He keeps my flicker of hope alive, Kurt goes back to the room and tunes my skis. I have an obligation to myself, to my kids, to my journey to give it all I have. To and through and across the finish line. Finish strong.

I want so badly to warn my readers and sponsors, who are posting "good luck!" and rooting for me, hey guys, I'm not gonna make it! Don't get too excited!

But I don't want the selectors to read that I know that I'm not getting selected. My job is to focus and to follow my new commitment. My finish line is to make each turn better than the last, to keep performance coming up regardless.

I let go of outcome and I think of Bikram yoga. I think of the focus and dedication in each posture and how you must let go of the last moment to perform well in this moment.

And the last two days of tryouts, although difficult to retool and rededicate every morning, become fun. The teaching is my favorite. The camaraderie in the group is awesome. My job now is to support my friends who are in contention. I shift energy to supporting Heidi and Matty. I want them to know how well they are doing. How inspirational their skiing is. That they are getting it done.

Suddenly, its over, we are done. The final teach is finished, the hugs on the middle of the mountain are awesome, and I realize I did it. I finished happy, satisfied, in one piece and I gave it everything I had. I overcame my mental obstacle and learned some great lessons.

As we ski down to the bottom, Kurt asks me if I'm tired, and about ten turns later, it hits me. Yup, I'm exhausted. We stop to take a break and he asks me what my journey was like. How do I feel, now that I've gone through it?

I think back to Bridger Bowl, to the ridiculous and audacious statement I made when i started writing, "Hey, i want to be on the National Team one day". I had no idea what I was saying. I had no idea how hard it would be to get my feet to the ridiculous level of consistency and athleticism. 

I think about all the gifts I've gotten along this journey.

The lessons I've learned.

One of the biggest gifts was one of the hardest lessons. Along the way, I got a letter. A piece of hate mail. A truly venomous, angry letter that made me feel horrible about myself, my goal, my journey, the fact that I had shared it. This person wrote that I was a terrible mother, a terrible person. They said some of the harshest things I've ever heard, they made remarks about the fact that Kurt and I were together, and I was devastated.

During that time, Kurt, Weems and Schanzy, as well as my sister, helped me with some pretty tough love. What part of this can you own, Kate? Even if nothing in the letter is true or accurate, why is the perception out there?

I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to own any of it. None of the accusations were true, but the fact that this person, and apparently 20 of his friends felt this way was in some way something I would have to own in order to move forward.

I wrote him a thank you note.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, because it had to come from an authentic place. I had to find a way to feel grateful that this person had brought to my attention the incredibly negative perception that existed in this group of people. And I grew because of it. I had to take it as a lesson.

And then, later, I found out who it was. And ever since then, I've wished I could run into him at an Academy or some other event and sit down and say, hey, can we talk about what happened? But I haven't run into him since. And so I had to put it down and walk away from it.

But as i looked back on the journey, opportunities for more humility kept presenting themselves. The journey that Kurt and I took, the journey of our relationship was integrally tied to my journey to the tryouts. He forced me to stand on my own two feet. I always thought I was looking for a coach who would be as dedicated as I was so that I could perform fueled by their dedication to me.

Kurt taught me that what I really was looking for was someone who could teach me that that coach was myself. 

I feel like I've been through so many hard lessons in life on my own that I was looking for a soft place to land. But you can't look for softness if you are trying to compete at the highest level. At the end of the day, you only have yourself. On the hill, no matter who helped get you there, it finally comes down to you. Your internal structure, your ability to call up your will and your power and your touch and your life and your belief and to do it from and for you.

Kurt made me a better me, there were so many times I had to go train on my own, there were so many times I wanted the answer and he wouldn't give it to me, there were so many times that I was relaxing as I got off the chair and he would look at me and say, don't stand on your skis like that.

I thought, when I got here, that because I had learned to go run by myself, for myself, to go to yoga by myself, for myself, to not eat sugar by myself for myself, without someone pushing me, that at the tryout, I would stand on my own. And ultimately, I had to, at the top of every run. And I was comfortable doing that, because what Kurt had given me was depth of comfort in my own ability to be my own coach.

But the miracle, ultimately, was that I didn't have to do the rest of it by myself. He was there, suddenly and completely, making sure I had taken my supplements, eaten well, was re-hydrating, sleeping well. His quiet, beautiful, gentle presence was all around me, ready, while I stood on my own two feet. He gave me the gift of a better me.

That afternoon, my mom and my sister and my best girlfriend walked in the door. They knew I couldn't get selected, but here they were.

We went downstairs and sat in the room full of anticipation as they announced the team. It was hard to hear the announcements, people who I really love and admire, who have what it takes, had not made it. Oher people who I love and admire had. Heidi and Matty and Ballou had.

My mom and my sister got to meet my mentors and the people who drive this industry forward, who dedicate themselves completely and get very little in return.

I got my feedback, they really liked my presentation, teaching, ma, and I did really well in those. It was the skiing. It seems that there may be some possibilities for working with PSIA in the next four years with those strengths of presenting and speaking.

Here was the feedback: Ski. Ski ski ski ski and please come back in four years.

I'm not sure how in the world I will pull it off financially, how I will pull it off while giving my boys what they want, need and deserve, but guess what?

We'll figure out a way.

2016, here we come.

7 comments:

Andy Matthews said...

Thanks for a sharing such a great story. I was at Snowbird for the demo-team selection in 1996 with a good friend who also didn't make. You brought back some wonderful memories. I hope that you keep writing and look forward to reading about you next adventure. Thanks again.

judyanne said...

Kate, I loved reading this, you need to share it in our PSIA publication. Thank you for sharing this. I am in awe at such an elite group of athletes and you are one of them. I have every confidence that 2016 all is yours. The fun part is the ski ski ski part now, and then you will be prepared prepared prepared. I promise to help you out, you are truly deserving. Kate, you are an inspiration, and you have the spirit that make all things possible, and I acknowledge the light in you.
Namaste
Judy

Agape Ann said...

Being a Champion is about more than winning. You taught me that it is truly about the journey and sometimes the best lessons come in times like these. I have said this over and over: you were born to teach and you do so every day. Keep going, Kate. Ski, ski, ski and take time to love along the way. In some hideously perverse way, there is a small part of me that is glad the journey is not quite over yet- it's like a great book that you don't want to end. You will not lose your readers or your supporters, Kate. You've got us hooked for another 4 years. Go Team Kate! Love you dearly.
Ann and Charlie

Anonymous said...

The destination is only the impetus for the journey. Thanks for taking us along.

Kate Howe said...

Thank you so much! It is wonderful to have your support and your readership. Thanks so much for coming along with me and encouraging me. Onward we go!

Sofia - Winterstays said...

Great story! Stay positive, and good luck for next time in 2016!

Matthew Sawyer said...

Kate - Thanks for sharing your story. We too often only hear of success - your story helps put into perspective the dedication that any participant needed to make to this goal. Your goal ended up being to FINISH and you did. And through your struggles you learned. Should you dedicate yourself to move further along toward this goal you will be all the stronger as a result of this journey. And should you choose not to you - it's OK - You have shown others the sacrifices necessary. Thank you. - Inspired!

ps: The quotes section of your blog is truely inspirational.