Those are the things I've already done on this flight. I've also sat here in this seat thinking. I've thought about the things I've yet to do. I’ve yet to score World Cup points. I haven't competed in the Olympics. I have zero World Championship medals and obviously, I have zero Olympic medals.
I'm writing this while moving 499 miles per hour, 34,987 Feet off the ground. Five hours and thirty-one minutes left. I can't sleep on airplanes so these next five and a half hours will be grim. I've already watched two whole movies, which is more than my attention span could handle under normal circumstances. I've already used a half hour convincing myself I don't miss my girlfriend yet. That was unsuccessful. I've already played four games of chess on my phone. I got cocky and changed the difficulty level to expert. I'm a sore loser so I quit after I got slaughtered. I already ate my vegetarian lasagna. It was vegetarian so it didn't have meat. It also didn’t have any vegetables. Just cheese and pasta. So now I'm a little gassy because cheesy pasta isn't a typical staple of my diet. I've already further mastered the art of peeing with turbulence. Pro tip. It's all about that athletic stance.
Those are the things I've already done on this flight. I've also sat here in this seat thinking. I've thought about the things I've yet to do. I’ve yet to score World Cup points. I haven't competed in the Olympics. I have zero World Championship medals and obviously, I have zero Olympic medals.
I can't accomplish any of those things on this flight, but I can dream about them. The reason I'm on this flight in the first place, is to take myself one step closer. It's easy to be on the verge of breakthroughs, it's much harder to actually make them. To make it, that will require hours upon hours of training, days upon days away from home, and flight after flight of eating cheesy pasta.
Our team will land in Paris. Teammate Grant Andrews will get an entire tub of hair gel confiscated while going through security. It will be heart wrenching but everyone will survive and we will board our next flight. Then after a few more hours of fighting off sleep midair in order to expertly conquer the jet lag, we will land in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Upon landing, an hour drive will leave us at a destination that would have once upon a time felt very far from home. Now, this sort of is home.
To those of you who have yet to visit Europe, it probably seems like an unfamiliar world. On my seventeenth trip to Europe my perspective has shifted. As an American athlete in a European dominated sport, I've embraced the necessary leaves of absence from my own country. I have found familiarity over here. I find comfort in this familiarity. I love driving along roads I know and spotting the places I have roamed. I find pleasure in revisiting my favorite trails and roads for training. After five races in eight days at Summer Grand Prix, you can find me at Bor Pizzeria in Kranjska Gora. Best pizza in the world for under ten euros. I enjoy greeting the same Slovenian woman, who has worked in the same small store, in the same small town, ever since I can remember. Just a five minute walk from my apartment, this women supplies my pastries and I love her for that. I'm not a tourist, but I'm also not a local. My spot lies right on the in between. I like my spot here.
I parked my car in the McDonalds parking lot in Moab, Utah on April 13th. I then embarked on a solo mountain bike ride along the infamous Pipe Dream trail right above town. I hate this trail. In reality it is a great trail with a lot of difficult sessions, tons to love. Except I ALWAYS crash on this trail. An hour into my ride I took part in my to be expected crash. This one was solid. I climbed my bike and myself back up the ledges of boulders and found the trail that had just booted me. I finished the ride, mounted the bike on the Subaru, grabbed a coffee and an Egg McMuffin, then hit the road again. Moab wasn’t my final destination, I was headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the next month.
I was hypnotizing the drive away with a good mix of This American Life Podcasts and The Vaccines discography when my phone beeped. Yeah I’m well aware that phones are off limits while driving but I glanced. One word, just one word on the screen of my phone. A dreadful feeling rose up in my gut when I read that word. I immediately felt sick.
The message read, “Cut.” The message was from my girlfriend. No I wasn’t getting cut, this wasn’t a breakup text. My girlfriends name is Brenna Egan and she is a member of the University of New Mexico Ski Team. On April 13th the University of New Mexico decided to cut the ski team. She got cut.
For her, April 13th started just like most days. The one difference was midway through the day when she received a text from her head coach. The text message informed her to skip the rest of her classes and get to a meeting as fast as possible. No further information. She showed up for the meeting and met eyes with the rest of her team made up of alpine and cross-country skiers. “What is this all about?” they were thinking. The instant that meeting was opened it was very apparent what the meeting was about. They were done. Just like that, no warning. Tears started to flow in that room.
The rest of my drive was horrific. I couldn’t hypnotize myself with music. My brain was firing around thoughts rapidly. How could something like this happen? This brought flashbacks of when I was eighteen years old. That winter I had achieved the criteria to qualify for the US Ski Team, an elusive dream I had since a seven year old boy. After the season I figured “the call” would come any day. “Hey Ben congratulations on a great season, welcome to the US Ski Team, lets get to work.” I never got that call. The call I got came weeks later. It went something like this. “Ben, Nordic Combined was cut from the US Ski Team. We have no funding and no idea what is next. You are welcome to move to Park City, train, and see what happens.”
Yes I could relate on a fundamental level but emotionally, I could never understand what if felt like to truly be in these athletes’ shoes. I had so many questions that I could not ask from the driver’s seat of my car, so I drove a little faster hoping to get some answers. I arrived to the saddest home one could imagine. Brenna’s home consisted of five skiers and a swimmer. The girls were all stunned. They had traveled here to Albuquerque from all over the world to represent this team. This team was no longer. I didn’t get any answers because these young men and women didn’t have any either. There was one answer though, “We are going to fight.” Earlier I said that on April 13th the University of New Mexico Ski Team was cut. I would like to rephrase that accurately. On April 13th, 2017 the University of New Mexico Ski Team began to fight.
This wasn’t just a fight for their careers, although it most definitely was that. This was a fight for the future of skiing. This was a fight for Collegiate skiing, USA skiing, skiing in the state of New Mexico, and for the next generation of kids. A fight for kids growing up with the hope to get an education through their passion. For the next month I got to witness this teams fight. In my twenty-one years of life, this was truly the most unbelievable feat I have witnessed. Every time I sat in on a team meeting, protest, or discussion, I felt the pain of their loss more and more. More importantly though, I felt the determination and belief that it couldn’t be over. I got to know these athletes and their backgrounds. From Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and USA, these athletes all descended upon Albuquerque in their own unique ways. Once in Albuquerque they formed a bond because no matter where they came from or how, this was their team now, their shoulders carried this team together. These young men and women ended up here because they were granted a promise. A promise that they could continue their education and ski careers while representing a team full of history and pride. This promise was broken and the result was a scar that cut every athlete to the core.
Over those four weeks the Lobos Ski Team devised a plan and attacked head on. Whether handing out fliers around town and campus, taking part in interviews, holding press conferences, or reaching out to the ski community, the team stayed diligent. On top of all this responsibility they continued to train and study for the final exams that were looming ahead. Many believe that the Ski Team belongs in Albuquerque because of their extraordinary results. Others believe it is because of their school leading GPA. Obviously those are valid reasons. For me though, I believe that the Ski Team belongs in Albuquerque because when they were told it was over, they said NO.
On May 11th Brenna and I were driving back from Albuquerque to Park City. We were right outside of Durango when she received a text. Her phone beeped and she looked down quietly for what felt like minutes. Then softly said, “Ski team reinstated.” I lost it. I released a couple strong fist pumps and proceeded to hoot and holler.
Brenna though, she remained composed. Yes the ski team is back but it isn’t that simple. The effects of the cut will last. There are many unknowns still. Unknowns such as budget size, stability of the team in the future, and athletes coming back to ski. However she is a Lobo and she will return. She will return because that is her team. That is where her loyalty lies. That is where my loyalty lies as well, now more than ever. Not with the university or the athletic department. My loyalty lies to the team of incredible humans who fought back and won. Well done Lobos.
It was a beautiful day for a Nordic Combined World Cup in Chaux Neuve, France. The weather was sunny and spectators were packing into the venue. The atmosphere was awesome. I got to the top of the hill and felt good. My jumps in training were solid and my head was clear. I remember coming off the end of the jump and feeling everything work. It was so simple. I did all the right things on the takeoff and was rewarded generously for that. I flew. The air was holding me up so well. That is what ski jumping is supposed to feel like. Most ski jumps are over before I can even think. Not this time. I remember flying through the air and just knowing I got it right. It was a slow five seconds before I landed at 112 meters. I threw up a rowdy fist pump and got that dirt off my shoulder. I’m sure Jay Z was watching. I sat in the leaders box and watched as nobody could defy my jump. Finally the great Jarl Riiber of Norway got me. After all 50 jumpers had gone; he remained the only athlete to out jump me.
“Holy shit.” That was the only thought in my mind. I had just jumped to second place on the World Cup. To put this into perspective, it has been five years since a US Nordic Combined athlete jumped to second or better in a World Cup. Bryan Fletcher in 2012 and Johnny Spillane in 2010. I knew I couldn’t get too excited because I still had to race. If I got too excited I would go out too hard. If I went out too hard, I would waste this heroic moment. Before the race, I got interviewed for the Euro Sport broadcast. I told them my game plan. “I’m just going to relax, go out easy, and not try to win the race on the first lap.” I let out a little laugh after saying this. As if to say, obviously I wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that. Well I’m sure to everyone’s amusement, I was absolutely stupid enough to do that.
Eric Frenzel started 8 seconds behind me. The same Eric Frenzel who has won the Overall World Cup 4 years in a row. I went out HAMMERING. I don’t know what got into me. Maybe it was pure guts, win or die mentality, maybe I was trying to increase my TV time, or possibly I was just clueless. After the first 2.5 km lap I was still in second place. A quarter of the way into the race, I was on the World Cup podium. When the best Nordic Combined skier in the world can’t close an 8 second gap on ME, we have a problem. This meant I went out too hard. He caught me along with a pack of nine other skiers. They proceeded to blow me out of the water. They were speeding up after their slow start as I was suffering the consequences for being an idiot. Where I was at, I should have let that pack go, regrouped, and tried to finish strong. Instead, I fought. I wasted an absurd amount of energy trying to insert myself into that pack. I kept trying to dive into the pace line at every open spot. There were zero open spots but I did manage to shatter a Germans pole in the process. I’m sure Bjoern Kircheisen with ten World Championship medals and four Olympic medals loved that. Rookie. The next day I told everyone on our team that Kircheisen cornered me on my warm up run, threw me in the snow bank, and gave me a whitewash. If you are unfamiliar with a white wash, here http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=white+wash&defid=2143663. The funniest thing was that my teammate Taylor Fletcher believed this story. In all reality Kircheisen accepted my apology and zero whitewashes were received on my end. Here is the thing. Nobody wants me in that pack. When they pass me, everybody tries to get as close to the guy in front as possible. Here is why. Whoever gets stuck behind ME is going to have to hustle their ass off when I fall off the pace. Which in their minds is inevitable. I don't care what they think, I will forever believe I can hang. Once I had abandoned the previous tactic, I just tried to sit on the back of this group. This was a short-lived affair as the next climb was an absolute wall. If Trump builds a wall, he should just replicate this hill along the entire border. Nobody will want to go up it. So I said adios to those nine skiers and watched them ski away into the sunset. As the race proceeded, large groups of skiers continued to pass me. I continued to not have the speed to hold on. After 5 km’s I was in 14th place. After 7.5 km’s I was in 26th place. On that last lap I was running on empty and pushing myself to stay in the top 30. I HAD TO. I didn’t though. I finished in 32nd place. Fifteen seconds out of the top 30. Fifteen seconds away from the first World Cup points of my career. Since that day, fifteen seconds has become an obsessive thing in my mind. Did you know that a piece of pizza will be the perfect temperature after fifteen seconds in the microwave? This is actually just a good fact to know.
I had no idea whether to be heartbroken or pumped. This was really confusing for me. I had accomplished this amazing feat. Only to absolutely fail a mere hour later. Human minds love to focus on the negative over the positive. Mine was no different. I had spent the entire race panicking and trying to stay with people instead of skiing my own race. I had floundered this opportunity. I wanted a mulligan, a do over. I needed another chance to do things again differently. What if I never jump to second place again? What if that was the best jump of my life? What if I peaked in middle school? After some reflection I’ve answered all these questions. I’ll jump to second place again, that jump wasn’t even that great, I’m peaking at 40. On the other hand, I had finally proven how good I could be at ski jumping. I finally performed on a level I’ve always known I was capable of. For one day, I was the second best in the world at something. That feeling will stick with me forever. That feeling is what drives me. I am determined to do it again. I am determined to start at the front again. Next time though, I will do it right.
Later that night I remembered the World Cup in Chaux Neuve a year prior. I was so caught up in my own self-loathing that I had forgotten how far I’ve come. Last year, I jumped to last place. I started the race with bib number 49. I have to say, 2 looks better on me than 49. It’s much more slimming. Last year was a nightmare. I remember on the second to last lap, racing not to get lapped by the same Eric Frenzel. I was lapping through the stadium as Frenzel came sprinting in for the victory. There was a brief moment where I went from athlete to spectator. I glanced over and watched as Frenzel raised his arms in triumph. I could just imagine how he felt. That must be the best feeling in the world. Then all at once I came back into reality. I still had a lap to go. Shit. I am not the same skier I was a year ago. A year ago I finished 5 minutes and 33 seconds behind the winner. This year I had finished 2 minutes and 26 seconds behind the winner and beaten a lot of talented skiers.
The next day I jumped to 13th place. It was a tight race and I skied much better. This time, I put to use the lessons learned from the day before. I started easy and to my surprise, I was hanging onto groups no problem. I skied in the pack comfortably for two laps before losing contact. At one point I was in a group with 2nd place to 23rd place. Man that was fun. In those big groups it’s all about tactics and quick decision-making. It feels like racecar driving in spandex. I finished in 37th place, only 2 minutes and 6 seconds behind the winner. This is the closest I have ever finished to the front of a World Cup.
I’m a competitor. I thrive on competition. As a kid, everything revolved around winning for me. These last few years have been tough on me mentally because it sucks finishing at the back. Now for the first time in my life, I can show up to the World Cup and really compete. I can give amazing athletes a run for their money. I can mix it up. Yeah I’m not on any podiums but I’m finally competing again. I can honestly say this last period of World Cups is the most fun I have ever had in Nordic Combined. I’m totally hooked. The results aren’t there but I can sense how close I am. Give me a little time. I’m going to get this thing. Here is my cliché end of post life lesson. Goals take years to accomplish, so enjoy the little victories of your grand pursuit. Thank you to everyone for the support. Love you all!
Every summer the best Nordic combined skiers in the world face off in an event called Summer Grand Prix. There is a lot of excitement as all the athletes, staff, and volunteers get to reunite for a fast paced two weeks. The overall atmosphere during Grand Prix is different than the winter. World Cup points/spots aren’t up for grabs so the stakes are much lower. There is a much more relaxed aura presiding over the venues. However, the second that the competition starts the smiles turn to grimaces and the true competitor comes out in us all. This years Grand Prix was no different.
Saturday August 27th
We started off in Oberweisenthal, Germany. This is a great venue with a tremendous fan turnout. The first day was a two-man team sprint. Since Bryan Fletcher was at home awaiting the birth of his baby girl, I had the opportunity to ski with Taylor Fletcher for this event. We ended up balancing each other out in the competition. Taylor did not have his best jump but skied fast in the race while I had an awesome jump but skied a slow race. We finished in 14th place both a little disappointed with our performances but looking forward to the next day.
Sunday August 28th
Unfortunately I woke up in the morning with a sore throat, stuffy nose, and wicked headache. I was quarantined to my room for the entire day while my teammates competed. I certainly did not picture my Grand Prix starting off with lying in bed all day watching The Office on my computer. However I was determined to get healthy and compete in the next competition.
On Sunday Taylor jumped well and raced even better. He was the fastest skier on the course and moved his way into the group at the front fighting for the podium. In the end he was outsprinted and finished in 7th place, just seconds off the podium. The talent level of Nordic combined is outrageous at the moment. Every year athletes show up jumping further and skiing faster. There are athletes who can out jump some of the best ski jumpers in the world as well as athletes who can beat some of the fastest cross-country skiers. So for Taylor to be fighting it out at the front with these guys was a very good sign.
On Sunday afternoon we drove from Oberweisenthal to Munich. I had a good nights rest and awoke Monday morning feeling relatively healthy. I knew by Wednesday I would be ready to compete.
Monday August 29th
Monday morning we drove from Munich to Villach, Austria. The rest of the team took the afternoon off after racing hard on Sunday. I chose to go take an afternoon jump session with coaches Nik Huber and Dave Jarrett. After sitting around in my own misery for almost two days I was ready to move around. It was fun being the only athlete on the hill with two coaches all to myself. This session ended up being very productive and I felt confident going into the competition.
Tuesday August 30th
For anyone who doesn’t know what a provisional jump is, I’ll explain that. The provisional jump is the back pocket competition for the weekend. What I mean by back pocket is that the results from the provisional jump can be pulled out and used for a race in case the weather gets too gnarly for jumping over the weekend. The provisional is always held the day before the competitions actually start. You would be amazed at how often these provisional jumps are used. Every athlete has a love/hate relationship with the provisional. If the provisional goes well, you immediately get back to the hotel and check the weather forecast hoping for a tornado, typhoon, volcano, or a simple 20 km/h of wind. The most hilarious part is when the weather actually does get nasty the entire field of 60-70 athletes splits into two groups. There is one group who, “don’t think the conditions are very safe for jumping” and another group who claims, “The conditions look fine let’s go!” This has nothing to do with anyone’s actual beliefs or safety concerns and everything to do with who had a good provisional jump the day before.
In Villach I believe 62 athletes jumped in the provisional. My provisional jump of 90.5 meters was the third furthest jump on the hill. After style and wind compensation points I would have been in 8th place. I say would have because I was disqualified. In my four years of competing internationally I have never been disqualified. I did some research and found that I have competed in 71 International FIS events in my life… zero disqualifications. So you can understand my shock when I was disqualified for a suit infraction. Also I was pissed because I had just jumped to 8th place in a competition containing 62 of the best Nordic Combined skier in the world and now it doesn’t count.
Our suits are allowed to be 3 cm’s bigger than our body measurement. So for example, if I measured the circumference of any spot on my body, my suit can only be 3 cm bigger than that measurement in that spot. This is an extremely annoying process which I hate dealing with. That night I went home, measured my suit, and marked where it needed to be brought in. FYI we are talking centimeters here. Our suit guy brought it in and I passed equipment control the next day with flying colors. Equipment control does a great job and I feel very confident that nobody is getting away with cheating. On the other hand, I know guys who have suits they have measured a hundred times but somehow cannot pass in the comp. I’m not naming names but there was a competitor from a different nation who was disqualified for his crotch measurement in three out of first four events during grand prix. I know this dude wasn’t cheating because he was trying his hardest. Before the provisional in Villach he looked me right in the eyes and said, “fingers crossed this time,” I could see how nervous he was. Our performance isn’t the only thing we have to focus on as athletes. So much energy and attention to detail must be put into our equipment. One tiny mistake and an athlete won’t even get an opportunity to showcase his performance.
Since I have brought up crotch measurements I might as well delve into it. I know guys already have a terrible habit of talking about their crotches too much. Well Nordic combined skiers take that a step further. Every athlete has to have a crotch measurement. The process consists of standing with your feet 40 cm apart wearing nothing but underwear. Then a metal rod is moved up as high as possible until it hits your junk. The measurement is essentially junk to floor in centimeters. At the top of the ski jump every athlete must have his crotch measured while in his ski jumping suit. The measurement from the spot on the ski jumping suit where the legs begin to the ground must be the same number or higher than that particular athlete’s crotch measurement. Even if you measure your suit 1000 times and it is legal, there is still a chance that in the stress of the moment the athlete doesn’t stand the right way and it is a little off. What follows next is something I have termed the "walk of shame”. If an athlete fails the crotch measurement at the top he does not get to jump. The only way back down is the way you came up. This means the athlete must turn around, walk to the lift, then ride it back down to the bottom. During his walk to the lift he must pass all the athletes sitting at the top getting ready to go. Then once on the lift, he has to pass all the athletes who are taking the lift up for their jumps. When is the last time you saw someone riding a ski lift down? It's impossible not to notice. The one thing I have learned is don’t make eye contact with an athlete engaged in the "walk of shame”. Once eye contact is established, awkwardness ensues. Am I supposed to say something? One time I squeaked out a half assed, “sorry.” It ended up sounding oddly sarcastic and I vowed to never do it again.
Wednesday August 31st
If there is one thing Nordic Combined has taught me, it is how to be patient. The amount of sitting around and waiting we do is unreal. FIS Nordic Combined should have a mission statement that reads, “hurry up and wait”. Here is what our schedule looked like for the day: 4:00 pm trial jump, 5:30 pm competition jump, 7:30 pm race. During SGP the schedule is catered towards the fans with night competitions. It’s a blast because we get a large crowd cheering us on but waiting around all day for everything to happen kills me. Here is the thing, Exercising results in guilt-free laziness. That is why we all do it right? During a World Cup in the winter we jump in the morning and race in the early afternoon. This means the whole afternoon post race consists of guilt free laziness. When we don’t need to be at the venue until 3:00 pm this results in a whole day of guilty laziness. My day was spent lying in bed watching season 6 of The Office. During the next Nordic Combined World Cup I’m going to do some investigative journalism and find out what all the other athletes waste their time doing. I know that the police have shown up to hotels before because athletes were illegally downloading movies. This makes me think my time is spent just like everyone else’s.
The competition went really well in Villach. I didn’t have my best jump but it was competitive. I started the race in 19th place. I was lucky to start around some skiers close to my speed. This allowed me to work into my race and not go out and blow myself on the first lap. Here is how the race looked from a lap perspective.
Lap 1 (2.5km): 19th place, Front of group in 17th place
Lap 2 (5 km): 27th place, Front of group in 16th place
Lap 3 (7.5 km): 28th place, Front of group in 15th place
Finish (10 km): 33rd place
I just stayed relaxed and sat on the back of a really good group. Even though my placing changed, I was still in a group with 15th place going into the last lap. On the final lap I lost contact. Everyone kind of stood up and look around before we entered the last lap. I was sitting on the back feeling impressively comfortable. The second we started the last lap though, I got absolutely torched off the back. I didn’t have the speed these other guys had. I know I can ski with these guys for a majority of a race. My endurance is on a good level. If I want to start scoring consistent World Cup points next winter I need to improve my speed on the last lap. I’m pissed off because I was so close but I’m psyched because I was so close with an average jump and a lot of improvement left in the cross-country. I know I will be there soon. I finished 1:42 behind the winner and that was 33rd place. This goes to show how tight and competitive the Nordic Combined circuit is right now.
By the time the race was over, all of us had cooled down, showered, eaten dinner at the hotel, and packed the van it was 8:30 pm. Now we had a seven-hour drive to Oberstdorf, Germany ahead of us. Oh joy.
Thursday September 1st
We arrived to Oberstdorf very late. Actually I think early would be the correct term, 2:00 am to be exact. Luckily we had the morning off. Sleeping in would have been nice but I was wide-awake by 7:30, which is actually sleeping in for me. Probably the highlight of waiting around all day for the provisional was coffee and cake at 4:00 that afternoon. If you don’t know me very well I’ll give you some insider info. I will never say no to coffee and cake. On this day I went pretty overboard. After three cups of coffee complimented by three pieces of cake I was feeling great. One hour later when we arrived at the venue, I was not feeling great. Fighting my way through the sugar/caffeine buzz along with the three kilo’s of cake in my stomach I jumped to 19th place. I remember telling my teammates after the comp, “If I can jump to 19th full of cake, I’m going to crush it without cake.”
Friday September 2nd
The schedule for these events was even later than Villach. 6:00 pm trial jump, 7:00 pm competition jump, and 8:45 pm city race. I spent this day watching The Office and finishing We The Living by Ayn Rand, which is a book I’ve been trying to read all summer. By the time we arrived at the venue this had felt like the longest day of my entire life. My trial jump was beautiful. Possibly the best jump I have had all summer. This is exciting and also super stressful. Imagine doing something really epic and realizing nobody was watching so now you have to do it again. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it again. I completely blew it. The conditions were perfect for me (they sucked). I love when the conditions are terrible. When the air on the hill is bad I always seem to have an advantage. Somehow I still ended up in 17th place but I knew with the right jump I would have been top 10.
The night race in Oberstdorf is a crazy experience. There are a couple spots on the course where street lights are not present and it is pitch dark. The organizers require all athletes to wear glasses. Last year I didn't get the memo and showed up to the start without them. Some random dude gave me a pair of glasses that had the darkest lenses imaginable. I had no idea where I was going. This year I made sure to borrow a pair of clear lenses from Taylor Fletcher.
Although 17th is a good start position, the start times were brutal. 30th place was starting a mere 25 seconds behind me. I hung in the points for a few laps but ended up fading to 35th place just 25 seconds out of the top thirty.
Saturday September 3rd
Another 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 8:45 day. I can’t even remember what I spent this day doing but it obviously wasn’t memorable. My trial jump was TERRIBLE. In fact, I did everything I’ve been coached not to do on a ski jump. Knowing I couldn’t possibly do worse than that, I felt good. Then I absolutely crushed my comp jump. The conditions were tough and I flew. I was in 12th place after all 54 jumpers had gone. I truly thought this was my night. Without a doubt this was the night I was going to finish in the top 30. I raced well and fought hard. I did everything within my power but it just didn’t happen. With a better jump and a race time that was a minute faster than the night before I finished in 36th place. I couldn’t help but think, “How can this be possible?” I found the answer to be pretty simple. Nordic combined is a crazy unpredictable sport and sometimes it’s just not meant to be.
I took some time after Grand Prix to sit down and really appreciate how far I have come since the end of last winter. Growing up I never imagined I would be out jumping guys with World Championship medals and Overall World Cup podiums. However, now that I’m doing that it just seems so normal. This is the crazy thing about sports. You always dream of competing at a certain level but when you finally reach that level, all you want is more.
As a team I believe Summer Grand Prix was a success. Our team wasn't complete without Bryan Fletcher. It was weird not having him around but we are looking forward to having him head to Europe in a few weeks time. Taylor showed improved jumping form and cemented what we already knew, that he is the fastest dude out there. For the rest of us younger guys, we gained an understanding of just how close we are. The results weren't quite there but a lot of positives can be taken away from those two weeks. Ben Loomis is on fire and coming close to World Cup points at just eighteen years old while sixteen year old Stephen Schumann finished his first ever SGP in 42nd place. It's going to take a little time but Team USA will get back on top.
My sights are now set on the first World Cup of the season. I don’t feel out of place competing on this level anymore. I’m excited to work on some weaknesses and show up to Ruka, Finland ready to battle. Thank you to everyone for the support! Love you all!
Since most of the athletes are traveling and competing in Europe all winter, it is impossible to hold national championships with everyone present. So for ski jumping and nordic combined we compete for our national titles in the summer. This year for the first time in my life, I truly believed I had a shot to be on the podium.
I want to back track and explain how I got to this point. When last season ended, I traveled home feeling pretty positive about my season. I had proved that I could be competitive with the best in the world ski jumping. I had one part of the nordic combined equation figured out. All I needed was the second half, cross-country skiing. I traveled home to see my family and watch my buddy Lars Hannah race in the NCAA Championships. While I was spectating one of the races I had a funny encounter. I spotted this Austrian man who I used to work with at Honey Stinger. He also happens to follow the sport of Nordic Combined. I walked up to him and said hello. The first thing he said to me was, “So not a very good season huh?” I was left stunned and speechless. Nobody had ever been so blunt and honest with me. At first I was incredibly offended. Those words lingered in my mind for the rest of the day and I slowly started to come to terms with something. He was right. My season was crap.
This guy lit a fire in me. After I returned from Europe I was planning on taking two weeks completely off from training. The very next day after this encounter, I was out skiing. Not just fun spring skiing either. This was intense focused skiing. So my offseason only ended up lasting five days. Honestly this wasn’t the smartest idea but the way I saw it, I couldn’t improve from my couch with a plate of nachos (my post season heaven). I decided that I was going to bike less in the spring and roller ski more. Intensity sessions I had done on the bike in the past were now done on the roller ski treadmill. I can’t stress enough how focused this training was. Every time I put on a pair of roller skis I had a goal. My mind wasn’t wandering and most of these sessions were on my own with no distractions.
I picked up a knee injury along the way. Originally I thought this would put a huge damper on my training. It actually might have been a blessing in disguise. Roller skiing was the only activity that didn’t bother my knee. Somehow I could barely walk but roller skiing was no problem. I went to Bend, Oregon for two weeks and our team Physical Therapist Dave Cieslowski fixed me up. While in Bend, I had one of the best training camps of my life. I felt like I was really starting to become a different skier. My suspicions were cemented in Steamboat Springs when I skied the Fish Creek time trial 40 seconds faster than my previous best time. A few weeks later I set a new personal best in the Soldier Hollow time trial by 40 seconds as well. My confidence was building just in time for nationals.
I’m sitting at the top of the K120 in Park City, Utah. The competition has started but my bib number is late so I have time. The nerves are starting to spread throughout my body. I feel anxiousness in my legs, tightness in my chest, and expectations in my head. The usual. I don’t fight off the nerves or ignore them. I accept them graciously. I decided some time back that the day I don’t get nerves is the day I should stop competing. They are a wake up call, a friendly reminder of the competitor inside. I start to go through my routine: Tie my boots with ten jumpers to go, descend down to the start with five jumpers to go, carefully put in my jets with three jumpers to go, and zip up my suit with two jumpers to go. There is one jumper in front of me now as I clip my bindings into my boots. I close my eyes and imagine myself jumping to the bottom of the hill. In a hush voice I whisper key phrases to myself: Nice balanced inrun, strong push down from the legs, patient over the knoll, solid landing. Then all at once, my mind shuts off. The yellow light glares and I slide out onto the bar. Not a single thought crosses my mind as I look down at the massive jump below. The light turns green and I let go. My skis shudder side to side in the porcelain track as the curve of the inrun puts more and more force on my legs. I push down firmly with my legs and feel the air take control. The air lifts me high over the ground below. I keep my eyes focused on the bottom of the hill because this is where I want to go. This is where I do go. My distance is announced at 125.5 meters.
This is every nordic combined athletes dream. To see 0:00 after their name. It means there is nobody to start behind or chase down, just you alone at the front, waiting for the storm to come. It’s a small victory however nothing is given when starting first. There are no medals or prize money. That must be earned in the race.
I start the race in first place and set out a blistering pace. My body feels good and allows me to pull deep from within its depths. Every time I feel fatigue creeping in, I put it into a faster gear and keep battling. My body would have fought this speed a year ago, but now it invites it in with open arms. This is the feeling I’ve been searching for yet has always eluded me. The race consists of four 2.5 km laps. Going into the third lap I am still out front alone. However, I can hear the sound of poles striking the pavement behind me. It sounds like two people. Taylor and Bryan Fletcher chasing me down. I slow my pace down with hopes that I can latch onto them. They catch me at the end of the third lap and by the looks of it we are all pretty busted up. I sit in behind them hoping to stay in this position for as long as I possibly can. Finally, we get to the last climb and I can only spectate as Taylor Fletcher flies up the steep gradient with Bryan Fletcher right behind. I could have sent a postcard with those guys to the finish line. They were UPS Next Day Air and I was Fed Ex ground. The kind that says 1-5 business days to get your hopes up but actually takes a couple weeks. I struggle up the final pitch of the climb as my girlfriend is screaming at me to go faster. This is a huge dilemma because I want to impress this beautiful girl but I’m also starting to taste my oatmeal from three hours prior while at the same time my vision is starting to turn into a shitty Instagram filter. Luckily I am able to make it to the finish line with food still in my stomach and enough mental clarity to realize how stoked I am. The feeling is surreal. Just a short time ago, this result would have seemed nearly impossible. Now it is my reality.
This is a milestone I have always wanted to achieve. The best part is that I got to accomplish this dream of mine with all my people watching. My family has supported me since day one in this sport so to be able to perform well for them is just the best feeling in the whole world. I love you guys! Thank you to all my coaches, teammates, and supporters. Nothing would be possible without you.
In a little over a week our team will be traveling to Europe for Summer Grand Prix (Summer World Cup). From there, Adam Loomis, Jasper Good, and myself will be living in Slovenia training until the end of October. I’m really looking forward to this next adventure and will write lots of updates along the way.
A cornerman, or simply corner, is the term for a coach who assists a fighter during a bout in the ring. While watching a fight you will notice that a cornerman will get the boxer liquids, towel him off, and apply ice to bruises and cuts in between rounds. These seem like requirements that could easily be met by a lot of people. Then why are boxers so picky about who is in their corner? Because there is more to the corner than meets the eye.
The cornerman needs to instill confidence in his/her boxer with passion and reinforcement. The words a boxer hears after getting knocked around for three minutes will directly affect the outcome of the next three minutes. The person in that corner better believe their boxer will win. No matter how battered the boxer is when returning to the corner, this belief should never waver. This is the kind of faith that can’t be taught or replicated. It exists fully or not at all. I truly believe that the words and expressions exchanged in that corner can determine the entire outcome of a fight. Most of us aren’t boxers but everybody is fighting for something. Everyone has goals, dreams, and aspirations. Everyone needs a cornerman in order to win his or her fight.
I feel blessed to say I have many people in my corner. However right now I want to describe one of these people in particular. His name is Dave Ceislowski. He works with Recharge/Focus Physical Therapy in Bend, Oregon and travels with our team in the winters. He also used to be a very competitive cross-country skier. I first met Dave during the 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden. I remember clicking with him right away. I loved his spirit and enthusiasm. Over the last year and a half our relationship has continually grown stronger.
A little over two months ago I felt a strange feeling in my right knee during a bike ride. This feeling continually became worse as time went on. I kept training but was losing the ability to partake in activities such as biking, weights, and plyos. I saw some physical therapists and doctors. I completed specified exercises and even received a cortisone shot in the knee. Nothing was helping. In fact, it was only becoming worse. I was missing training and losing sleep due to stress. I sent Dave a text message describing my frustration. He texted me back immediately and said, “Come to Bend, I’ll find you a place to stay and fix you up.”
I remember my mood changing drastically the second I received that text message. I was on board immediately. My mom said, “Why would you drive 10 hours up to Oregon when there are plenty of physical therapists A LOT closer?” To her it made no sense, but to me it made all the sense in the world. I trusted him.
The next day I packed up my Subaru and hit the road. Ten hours later I was sitting around the table with Dave and his family eating dinner. After dinner we went for a walk around the town and I was limping badly. After sitting in the car all day my knee was definitely the worst it had been. However, over those next two weeks in Bend my knee improved drastically.
Dave worked with me everyday strenuously. He woke up at 4:30 am to train with me before work and even set aside his lunch breaks in order to fit me in for PT. He worked with me on my mechanics walking, running, biking, and skiing. He even completed two brutal roller ski time trials with me. His knowledge and passion for helping athletes impressed me. For those two weeks Dave gave me everything he had. He was and will remain to be, my cornerman.
I have returned to Park City, Utah and am looking forward to getting back into all my usual training activities. I was able to continue roller skiing while injured and feel my fitness is in a good spot. The next step now is getting onto the ski jumping hill.
Thanks for reading. Today, be sure to thank all the people in your corner.
It was a fast paced winter in Europe. 9 weeks, 11 countries, 17,000 miles, and 16 hotel rooms. The memories from this season, I will keep forever. There were days spent trying not to hold my head too high in triumph as well as days spent trying not to hold my head too low in defeat. I want to write about two of the most positive days I had on the World Cup this season. First however, there is some backstory involved.
With 11 World Cup starts this season, I gained significant exposure to the highest level of skiing. The first couple starts were pretty shaky. I was forcing things and had too many nerves. In most sports trying hard is a positive but trying too hard in ski jumping usually ends up with my name at the bottom of the results sheet. I’m at my best when my mind is empty. This means sitting at the top of the ski jump with a real laid back “I don’t care what happens” type of attitude. This goes against everything I believe in because yeah, I do care what happens. Late in the season I found a perfect mindset that allowed me to tap into some of my best performances ever on the ski jumping hill.
As a kid, ski jumping was fun for me because it was an adrenaline rush. Strapping on giant skis and sending myself down a huge ramp with a jump at the end seemed like the scariest after school activity possible. So I had my mom sign me up. Sure enough, it didn’t disappoint on the scare factor. I used to get these insane butterflies in my stomach that would leave me amped up for hours afterwards. At some point along the way though, those butterflies disappeared. As I started to really improve, the sport totally changed for me. It went from being this gnarly dare devil stunt to a beautiful art form. To this day, nothing is more peaceful to me than soaring through the air. I feel comfortable up there, like I belong there.
The jump in Lahti, Finland breaks the mold of everything I just wrote. It truly brings the fear back into ski jumping for me. The inrun rises up into the dark Finnish sky for what looks like a mile. The elevator ride to the top seems to take hours. When the door finally opens at the top, the cold wind rips in like an assassin. The wood in the start area has a thin layer of ice permanently frozen to the top of it. This makes maneuvering the stairs in ski jumping boots extremely difficult.
I have bad memories of the jump in Lahti. Last season I couldn’t even manage to jump into the top 50. On top of that, going into the Lahti World Cup I hadn’t ski jumped in eight days. This was not on purpose. Logistically I just didn’t have access to ski jumping for eight days. That is a long time to go without training, especially in the middle of the season. So on this day I truly just let go. I realized this hill was probably going to give me the beating of a lifetime, just like last year. I stared down the monstrous inrun and just gave up all expectations. I truly in all senses of the phrase just shut down mentally. I let go of the bar, sped down the inrun, flew off the end of the jump, and went pretty damn far. Whoa whatever I just did worked! I ended up jumping to 20th place in Lahti. I finished the race in 34th place, just 12 seconds out of the top 30. It was heart breaking to be so close to scoring my first World Cup points but also really exhilarating to even be that close.
Another day that I want to write about took place in Val Di Fiemme, Italy. It was a miserable day by all accounts. When I woke up at 7:00 it was raining. Judging by the amount of water on the streets, it had been raining for quite some time. Due to the weather, our training jump before the competition was cancelled. This means the first jump of the day is the one that counts. Often times some people need a warm up jump to get the feel of the hill. For me, my first jump is often times my best because my head is empty. This seemed to do the trick because I had an amazing jump. Because I didn’t have world cup points, I was one of the first jumpers to go. This means that I had time to change out of my stuff and watch the rest of the comp from the athlete lounge. I got to the athlete lounge and realized just how good my jump really was. The conditions were tough and everyone was struggling. I watched athlete after athlete jump shorter than me. Then all 50 athletes had jumped, and I was in 10th place.
It was pretty extraordinary seeing my name at the top of the results sheet with some of the biggest names in the Nordic Combined world. The three hours before the race seemed infinite. I have never been so nervous in my entire life. I knew that the conditions on the cross-country course were bad the day before, but they would be even worse on this day with the rain. Historically I have struggled in sloppy conditions.
To make a long story short, I suffered. I slowly slipped back to 34th place. I couldn’t manage the difficult conditions as well as the other athletes. 34th place in the World Cup is not a bad finish. It is a bad finish though when you start the race in 10th place.
Looking back on my season, I’m psyched about the level of my ski jumping. It’s pretty amazing to see how far I have come. As a 15 year old, I was probably the 10th best Nordic Combined jumper in the country. Now I can be the 10th best Nordic Combined jumper in the world on a good day. However, I feel very frustrated about the number of great opportunities I couldn’t take advantage of on the cross-country course. Next year my goal is to take advantage of these opportunities. I’m looking forward to improving my weaknesses and making my strengths even stronger. I’m determined to come back as a more complete athlete next year.
This sport seems to get more difficult every year. The jumping and cross country levels of Nordic Combined keep breaking barriers that were laid down years ago. I’m learning how tough it actually is to be a professional athlete. It is going to require an unimaginable amount of work to accomplish my goals. I am determined to put in that work and realize my full potential. I know how good I can be, but soon enough, everyone else will know too.
Thank you to everyone who helps make my ski career possible. I want to thank my family, sponsors, supporters, teammates, and coaches. I couldn’t accomplish anything without you!
I wake up, roll out of bed, and glimpse out the window. Grass is everywhere. Not the green kind of grass, the brown kind of grass that was expecting winter months ago. The rain continues to fall into piles where the cross-country trails used to be. Instead of those strips of freshly groomed corduroy that existed days ago, all I see is a puddle that is actually starting to resemble a small lake.
It’s on days like these where I have to really dig deep. It’s days like these that make me curse at all the times I took snow for granted. Negative thoughts try to cling on and cloud my mind. I don’t want to go outside but something inside of me knows I have to.
I slowly get dressed. Putting on clothes that I already know will not stand a chance against the elements outside. I packed three months worth of clothes into a suitcase but am unbelievably unprepared for the rain. Maybe I was being optimistic when I packed up, or maybe I was just being stupid. With the climate in Europe nowadays, I think the latter is correct.
I leave the hotel and begin to run up the bike path. The path winds its way along the Slovenian countryside, which is hardly visible in the torrential downpour. I try to keep my mind empty and ignore the rain. For the first five minutes this works. Then I begin to feel the cold. I try to focus on my running stride. I remember what Physical Therapist Dave Cieslowski told me, “Run with the hips, drive the knees up.” This helps take my mind off the freezing rain. Another five minutes go by. Now I’m starting to feel the moisture breaking through my outer layers.
A thought comes to mind and I get lost in it. I remember a story my mom still loves to tell. My mom would put me on my little bike (with the training wheels still on) and we would head up the bike path that winds along the Yampa River. She would insist on turning around at a point she thought reasonable. I would dismiss this idea and keep going. A few minutes later she would bring it up again saying, “Ben you’re not going to have enough energy to get home if we go any further.” Once again I would shake off the idea sternly and continue on. This would continue until finally, I would become too exhausted to pedal any further. Then my mom would have to carry my bike and myself all the way home. I had a terrifying amount of energy as a child and these walks
Just like those days on the bike path with my mom, I keep refusing to turn around. I need to make it for at least an hour. I need to drain my energy. By the time I make it to the next town, I’m absolutely freezing. I turn around and ramp up the pace. By now my clothes are becoming heavy with moisture. My shoes are already soaked and the puddles now seem pointless to avoid. As I get closer to home I kind of hit that, “Oh shit I’m cold moment”. It’s that moment where it goes from being kind of funny to serious. I ramp up the pace again.
I make it home and head straight to the shower. I know I need to warm up fast but I can’t help but glance at my watch. I scroll through all the stats and start to smile. This is what I read:
Time: 60 minutes
Distance: 9.5 kilometers
Average Heart Rate: 121
Running Index: 68
Running Index is a measurement that puts time, distance, and average heart rate into a formula that calculates efficiency. I’ve found that this number is very representative of my fitness level. 68 is the highest running index I have ever achieved.
Turns out the numbers don’t lie. I had a very solid weekend of competing. My jumping was average but I skied well and held my own in a very strong field. The first day I jumped to 14th and skied to 24th and the second day I jumped to 16th and skied to 20th. After last weekend I am sitting in 22nd place in the Overall Continental Cup Standings. I believe I finished somewhere in the 70’s last season.
Cheers to staying positive no matter the forecast! Cloudy with a chance of rain in February.
The last two weekends I had the opportunity to compete on the World Cup. As a professional skier, competing on the World Cup is the ultimate goal as it is the pinnacle of the sport. It’s always exhilarating moving from the Continental Cup to the World Cup. The atmosphere definitely changes. All of a sudden there are cameras, fans, and noise! I cherish these opportunities to compete against the best skiers in the world and I truly love being on this stage.
I remember when I first started competing on the Continental Cup when I was 17 years old. I experienced a lot of the feelings I now get on the World Cup. The pressure seems higher and the athletes are more talented. It’s kind of a shock to the system. When I was thrown into the Continental Cup I had my ass kicked at first. I remember it seeming impossibly hard. I would watch the best athletes and wish I could walk a day in their shoes at the front of the race. Over time though, I adjusted to the higher level of competition and I improved. I went from finishing in the 40’s and 50’s to finishing in the 30’s. Then I started finishing in the top 30. This year I have finished in the top 10 twice. This took years of hard work and it didn’t happen over night but I went from hardly being able to imagine finishing at the front to actually doing it.
Last season I got my first couple starts on the World Cup. It gave me flashbacks to when I was a seventeen-year-old kid stumbling around on the Continental Cup. It felt very familiar. This gave me hope. I knew that I just needed more experience and a little more training and I could be competitive at this level too.
Two weeks ago I competed in my first World Cup of this season. It took place in Chaux Neuve, France. Things did not go well and I knew I didn’t perform even close to my best. Once again, it felt like I didn’t belong. Luckily I had another chance in Seefeld, Austria the next weekend. I jumped better and I skied better. This lead to better results and a personal best 43rd place. I know 43 is a very high number but it is improvement. I finished about 45 seconds behind the top 30, which is closer than I have ever been. Everything seemed to slow down. This has me feeling very excited and optimistic. I am making progress!
The best part about the weekend in Seefeld, Austria was having some American fans to cheer the team on. Two of those fans happened to be my dad and uncle. On Saturday I was winning the jumping during the beginning of the round so I got to sit in the leaders box. My uncle hopped the fence, ran up, and gave me a hug. I’m pretty sure the whole scene was aired on EuroSport. It was an awesome moment. I feel very blessed to have a family that supports what I do.
I am back in Planica, Slovenia now training and getting prepared for my next shot on the World Cup. Two weeks from now I will travel to Lahti, Finland (The site of next seasons World Championships) and I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off. Four weeks in Europe down… Six weeks to go!
Every athlete has breakthroughs in sports. They don't happen every weekend. Sometimes they don't happen for years. I remember my first really big breakthrough two years ago. I finished in 14th place in a Continental Cup and my previous best finish was 36th place. I surprised myself because honestly I had no idea I was capable of that result.
Since then I've matured as a person and an athlete. I was confident going into the first weekend of Continental Cups last weekend. More confident than I have ever been before. I've learned that sports are won and lost in the mind. Fitness and talent matter to a certain point but I truly believe the mind is the most important tool. This past weekend I made the biggest breakthrough of my career so far. I used my newfound confidence to post career best finishes three days in a row.
Starting at the front of the race is important for me. While my xc skiing has improved drastically, I still feel most comfortable and always have my best races from the front. On the first day I jumped to 4th place which put me right where I want to be. I was able to start out smooth and controlled while getting a grasp of how the skiers around me were skiing. As the laps went by, I began to realize this was going to be a career day. I was still towards the front of the race around the halfway point. However, on one of the downhills an Austrian skier came flying past me and pointed at my feet saying, "Your ski is broken." I glanced down and saw that the base of my ski had peeled off from the tip and was catching in the snow. Instead of panicking, I tried my best to remain calm and not get pulled out of the zone. In every race, my goal is to get into "the zone" or "flow state". This means that there are no thoughts running through my head. I'm existing in the present moment and the pain my body feels from racing kind of just becomes numb. All of my best races come from this "zone" or "flow state". An incident such as a crash, getting passed by people, or in my case a broken ski, can try to pull you out of this state by making your brain kick in and start producing unnecessary thoughts. I kept skiing for probably another half kilometer. My coach yelled at me when I passed saying, "Bryan is going to give you a ski before the next climb." I made it to Bryan, popped my ski off, put a new ski on, then kept going. I could have created thoughts in my head such as, "I'm screwed, why did this have to happen," but I blocked the negative thoughts out and kept fighting. In Nordic Combined, the fast skiers that do not jump to the front of the race usually form packs. They work their way through the field with the goal of catching the lead pack. Unfortunately on the last lap I was passed by one of these descent sized groups. I ended up coming into the finish line in 12th place. New personal best!
Even though I had my best ever finish on the first day, I couldn't help but feel unsatisfied. I had lost 8 places in the race and really believed that I could do better. I wanted to jump to the front again and race better. I had another solid jump on the second day which put me into 4th place once again. Having one race under my belt, I was confident I could start a little bit harder than the day before. Luckily I started the race with a Norwegian who was racing well. We switched off leading each other around the course. The drafting effect isn't quite as big of a deal as it is in cycling, but it certainly helps. By switching off leads we allowed ourselves to ski faster than if we both had to race alone. Going into the 5th and final lap of the 2km loop, it was pretty apparent that the large group coming from behind would not be able to catch us. I crossed the finish line in 8th place. Four positions better than the day before and my first ever top 10 finish.
I was happy with the result but I was even more happy with my teammate Ben Loomis's result! He jumped to 2nd place and finished in 4th place just off the podium. For those of you who don't know, Ben Loomis is 17 years old. Stephen Schumann who is 15 years old finished 25th, 27th, and 26th. The development pipeline of our sport is stronger than I can ever remember. I'm stoked for these guys as they have garnered results that will put them on the national team next year!
On the third and final day, I was tired from the previous days of racing. I was also determined to have an even better jump. The day before I started 15 seconds behind third place and watched as the podium unfolded in front of me. I had an even better jump than the two days prior and started in third place right behind David Pommer from Austria who had won the previous days competitions. I figured I had nothing to lose and this time, I would go out a little too hard and see what happened. I tried my best to stick with David Pommer on the first lap. I hung in behind him and we passed bib number one on the first hill. Coming into the stadium after the first lap I was sitting in 2nd place about 10 seconds behind David. Some very fast skiers started fairly close behind me and whenever they caught up, I gave everything I had to hang on. Going into the 4th lap I was already dead and had exerted far too much energy. I was in 5th place though so slowing down just wasn't an option. On the 4th lap I was caught by a Russian skier and dug deep on one of the climbs to get rid of him. On the 5th lap, things were getting messy for me. I was digging deeper than I ever have before. Everything hurt. Every muscle in my body was screaming at me to slow down. I could hear the Russian skiing hard behind me trying to catch back up. I was blowing up harder than I ever had before. The Russian caught me at the base of the last long climb. This was evidence to the fact that I was slowing down rapidly. It was on this climb that I pushed past another mental limit and kicked things into a faster gear. Once again, I dropped the Russian on the climb then descended the downhill back towards the finish line. There was a gap between the Russian athlete and myself but I could tell that he was gaining time on me. I rounded the turn into the finish and sprinted as best as I could (which obviously wasn't very good). As I crossed the finish line, I saw a foot fly into my peripheral vision. Then I collapsed. About five minutes later I was able to peel my aching body off the freezing cold snow. I found my family in the crowd and gave them all a big hug. My dad was freaking out. I don't know if I have ever met someone more into Nordic Combined than my dad. He loves it.
I stood there with my family just taking in the moment. I could see the happiness on their faces. This was as much their accomplishment as it was mine. They are the ones who have supported me day in and day out. Through the good days and the bad days. I was happy, but not ecstatic. At first I couldn't figure out why. Then I thought about one of my all time favorite quotes.
"When you make a choice and say, 'come hell or high-water, I am going to be this,' then you should not be surprised when you are that. It should not be something that feels intoxicating or out of character because you have seen this moment for so long that when that moment comes, of course it is here because it has been here the whole time because it has been in your mind the whole time" - Kobe Bryant
It's not that I wasn't happy, I just wasn't surprised. My mind no longer holds me back. I knew I was capable of results like these before the weekend had even started. Cheers to unlocking the minds potential and not setting limits on achievement!
I later found out I had been beaten in the photo finish for 5th place. I guess I need to work on my sprinting. There will always be improvements that need to be made and better results to strive for. In this sport, one guy goes home as a winner and the other 40 to 50 guys go home as losers. It's important though to celebrate and cherish days like this. I may not have been on top of the podium but I improved, and improvement is the only way to get there. I'm so thankful for all my sponsors, coaches, family, friends, and teammates. I want to say congratulations to all my teammates who competed this weekend as almost all of them set new personal best finishes which is huge! Thank you Rudy Project, One Way, Madshus, Sport 2000, Feed The Machine, and Honey Stinger. Also a huge shootout to all the people who have donated money to our organization USA Nordic Sports. We wouldn't be where we are without you. I feel blessed to have this amazing support. Love you all!