I made it to college. I truly never thought I'd make it here, especially not by the ripe age of twenty-three. I’m a little older than most of the kids in my classes, though I haven’t hit creepy old yet. I feel I can still raise my hand in class to ask the professor a question, without kids imagining the plot of my mid-life crisis. This is good.
I forgot to tell my immune system I was going to college in the first place, which I feel terrible about. College is disgusting. I’ll never forget my first class in a big lecture hall. I was sitting in the front row (nerd). Behind me I could hear an orchestra of coughing and sneezing. I’m a renowned germaphobe, so this was stressful. I started to hold my breath, which is usually how I handle such a situation. The problem is, I can only hold my breath for forty-five seconds and the lecture is fifty minutes long. My fight or flight instinct kicked in. I chose fight. This was Monday. By Wednesday I was sick. Two weeks later I was sick again, even worse than the time before. Now though, my body is adjusting to the occasional sneeze on the back of my neck.
I look back on attending school from 8:00 – 3:00, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years straight and think, ‘How humane was that?’ Now I spend about two hours a day in class- It’s perfect. Also, you don't have to go. To be clear, I do go. I just like the idea that I technically don't have to.
I have the opportunity to take some really interesting classes here at UNM. My prior credits would only transfer into one degree. Liberal arts. This has given me a lot of flexibility with the classes I can take.
Me: Wait, I can take any classes I want?
Advisor: Yes, it’s liberal arts. You choose your degree.
Me: Cool. So why don’t more people do this?
Advisor: Well when you want a job…. No never mind. Enjoy your semester.
I'm using this flexibility to learn more about journalism, media, and entrepreneurship. Liberal arts is a lot like the Subaru Baja. Laugh all you want, but a Subaru with a truck bed? Genius.
Living in a city and attending a college which enrolls 30,000 students is a lot different than living in the small farm town of Ratece, Slovenia with six smelly dudes. In Slovenia I used to wake up to the sound of cows outside my window every morning. Here, I awake to souped up cars without mufflers and the couple in a nearby apartment screaming profanities at each other. I'm so tuned into their lives now that I find myself laying in bed thinking, 'Angie's right, it's her apartment, he should clean up after himself better.' I'm rooting for their breakup but love conquers all, especially my sleep.
Jokes about college kids eating terribly- yeah I relate to that. After a full day of school and training, the last thing I want to do is spend any time cooking. Thus my cereal addiction.
The difference between me carefully calculating every meal as a nordic combined skier and my current diet of Annie's Mac n Cheese, Cinnamon Life, pizza, croissants, peanut butter by the spoonful, then enough spinach to balance everything out- two pounds. This is startling.
I love skiing and I simply wasn't ready to give it up. However, I needed to make a change. It's hard work being a student athlete but I am finding it incredibly rewarding. I'm very proud to be a part of this team. Everyone here is balancing tough classes, crazy schedules, thriving social lives, and up to twenty hours of training a week. This is all new to me because before, I was just an athlete. Learning just how much we can all comfortably manage is pretty inspiring. I'm looking forward to seeing this team perform come winter time as I think it will be pretty special.
Here are some photos I've captured. I've always been a believer that where I am doesn't matter so much. Who I'm with, that is where the real importance lies. If I had one wish, it would surely be to slow down time- just a notch. So that I can enjoy a few more moments with all the weird and wonderful human beings pictured below. Cheers - BB
It was nice to escape the desert during fall break and go to the desert. Seriously though, a change of scenery was nice. Moab holds all the things which I miss while in the city of Albuquerque: Silent nights, bright starry skies, and miles of robust trail.
I basically grew up in Moab. My family bought a house down there when I was in the 5th grade. It was the perfect retreat during the cold springs and falls in the mountains. Sometimes my sister and I would get to bring friends on our weekend trips. Mostly though, this was family time.
I have the fondest memories of Klondike Bluffs, the trails where I learned how to ride the technical slickrock Moab is famous for. I remember pushing the limits of my old Giant hardtail to the point where I would lose my derailer more often than not. I remember the struggle our family encountered when trying to get my younger sister out the door and onto a bike. The temper tantrums would end once she realized riding bikes was the only option. Post ride she would always say, “that was pretty fun.” We would bring this statement up during the next temper tantrum but to no avail. My sister Sabina doesn’t mountain bike anymore but she owes her title of “the outdoorsy girl” in the CU Pi Phi chapter (which is a relative statement) to these forced family excursions- or what we used to call “forced family fun.”
I love Moab and I love sharing it with new people. That is what made me so excited about fall break with the University of New Mexico Ski Team, getting to share my second home with my teammates, mostly from Norway of course, like any good ski team. So, what happens when you take three Norwegians to Moab for the first time? They shred so hard, that’s what happens.
Meet Julie Spets and Kornelius Grov both from Trondheim, Norway. Prior to the trip, both had never mountain biked before.
Johan Eirik Meland (our third Norwegian) has some experience on a bike. He boasts this with glossy red Converse high tops, I <3 bikes socks, and copious amount of padding. Little does he know, this actually makes it look like he doesn’t bike. Johan purchased a mountain bike just weeks before our Moab trip. In Moab, he completed his 3rd and 4th rides ever. Here is the progression of Johan’s mountain bike career:
Ride 1: Rides with Alpine team in Albuquerque. Slowest rider on trail due to him snapchatting the entire ride.
Ride 2: Two-hour ride with Nordic team in Albuquerque. Goes guns blazing around a corner, sees trail disappear before him, squeezes his brakes like a fart in yoga class. Instead of going over the drop on his bike, Johan goes over the drop while simultaneously going over his handlebars, which most certainly added a few more feet to the drop.
Note: Between Ride 2 and 3, he buys an incredible amount of padding. He now looks like a three year old ready to try rollerblading for the first time.
Ride 3: Johan rides the entire Slickrock loop in Moab, hardly gets off bike.
Ride 4: To be discussed
For those who mountain bike or even road ride- imagine your first couple rides ever. It was probably a mellow trail ride or an hour town loop. We didn't give those kinds of opportunities to anyone. Julie, Kornelius, and Johan rode 45 km’s of technical Moab riding in 4.5 hours- without padded bike shorts, which I feel is important to note.
I’ve been mountain biking my entire life, much of it in Moab. I have spent hours upon those trails. What I’ve learned is even the best mountain bikers struggle with the technical riding.
Kornelius was dropping me on a rental bike with flat pedals and tennis shoes while I was cursing under my breath. When asked if she wanted to turn around and make the ride shorter, Julie smiled and said, “No thank you.” Johan was tight on my wheel and did show weakness saying, "maybe we should slow down a little." I didn't. He didn't either.
Around that same point, our coach proposed an option of splitting into a slower and faster group. We all looked around confused. Who was in the slower group? My girlfriend Brenna later revealed to me, “I realized I might be in the slow group.” Brenna is a Utah State Champion in mountain biking. So, who belonged in the slow group? The idea was scrapped because the answer was nobody.
The bikes are now in storage, with winter soon approaching. We are skiers, though there are already whisperings. Whisperings of Slickrock, suntans, and the Quesadilla Mobilla. By the end of March, these whisperings will be more like howls.
Views upon where people roamed
Before fast cars and big dumb homes
Open land so hard to find
We pull the earth straight out of mines
Is it beautiful or is it sour?
This human will, to devour
Things we want but do not need
Funded by paper at full speed
Fuck exploring outer space
What I want, this gorgeous place
Land with creatures hardly seen
In big cities where buildings gleam
It still exists and I reside
Along the mountains stretching wide
I refuse to leave this charming land
Here I am small, a grain of sand
A grain in this massive universe
A grain avoiding the human curse
I recently sold a road bike to a friend of mine. His previous bike was ancient. I couldn't get the comparison out of my mind so I wrote this. Since the sale, the Surly had its back wheel stolen. So she truly has been forgotten, sadly.
It seems unfair to place these bikes side by side. They belong in different weight classes. Different social classes. Different eras. One rests weary on too many miles. Reliable but barely. Poor shifting, even poorer handling, a wobbler. The other waits restlessly- an infant in comparison. Needing to feel the pavement. Needing to lean into hairpin corners and fly up reveled climbs. Bred for precision. It’s hard to say goodbye to the steel frame of Mr. Reliable. Those were simpler times. When nickels and dimes had worth. However, acceptance is the only path as legs, lungs, and mind will garner the reward. One ride. That’s all it will take. Then old will be forgotten.
When I was sixteen years old, all of the athletes on my team were required to start blogs. The purpose was to keep donors in the loop with our lives. I remember thinking, ‘A blog? No way.’ I also remember thinking I had nothing important to say. I quickly found I loved writing these blogs and there was a lot I wanted to voice to the world- or at least the few people who actually read it. Over the last couple years, I have decided I’m extremely fond of words. In a world full of innovation and technology, moving ever faster- words slow things down. Nothing is more truthful than words on paper. They express scenes, emotion, feelings, and love better than any other outlet. There isn’t a replacement. The simplicity of this has drawn me in tightly.
Recently, I haven’t been able to use words a whole lot. Maybe I’ve had the chance but I’ve shied away from it. The words I’ve wanted to voice felt too soon. I felt as if I might disappoint others with my words. First there was the devastation of watching my dream of competing in the Olympics crumble. Not the good kind of crumble either, I prefer raspberry. No, I am talking about the crumbling of something that was in a very solid state before. The kind of crumble that needed a ton of force to make possible.
I am ever grateful for this brief moment in my life. This moment where everything I had worked for seemed to be coming to a close. It was humbling like nothing has been before- puberty is a close second. It was heart wrenching in a beautiful tragic kind of way. Looking back on it, there is no difference between the Ben who made the Olympics and the one who didn’t. The only difference was circumstances. Either way, I made myself vulnerable to the world and the failure which exists when one does this. I take a lot of pride in that because it can be absolutely terrifying. I’ve learned not to judge others on their successes but rather to applaud their willingness to put themselves in a place where failure is possible. These are the type of people I could speak with for hours.
In the end, I did compete in the Olympics. Not only that but I got to do it my way, with smiles and fist pumps and joy. All things that have been seriously lacking this year on my end. I was able to prove that I belonged on the World’s largest stage which is something I questioned throughout this tough season. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in life. The best part about the Olympics was getting to share it with everyone else. I received so much love over the last month from so many people. My phone was blowing up to the point where I couldn’t get anything done. For those of you who were able to watch me compete, thank you. I hope I was able to entertain you for a few minutes. I hope I was able to inspire someone out there.
From the outside looking in, this life I lead is a dream come true. I get to use “big words” like World Cup, World Championships, and Olympics in sentences. I tear up a little just writing that because as a kid I would have given anything for this. I get to travel the world and experience so many different cultures. These are great gifts, especially because I never was the most talented kid. I always had this underdog mentality, and that wasn’t a false identity- I truly was. This mentality made me scrappy as hell and willing to block out just about anything that wasn’t going to make me better in sport.
Sport gave me an outlet for my insane energy as a kid. It also gave me an identity when I so badly needed one. As a kid, I was clueless to how difficult this dream would become. The love I had for this sport was so pure. This was my only love and maybe that was unhealthy but it was also the greatest love ever, one which I would never in a million years take back.
The sacrifices seemed so easy once upon a time. Now I’m just not so sure. The truth is, I have lost that scrappiness when it comes to sport. Individual sports are tricky. They require so much self-focus. I’m a little worn out from focusing on myself. I would like to focus on others a lot more. I’ve changed and whether that is temporary or permanent- I have no idea. I think to keep doing this half-heartedly would be a travesty to all the years I gave this my all. I owe it to myself not to ignore this feeling and take a little time. I’m going to take a little time to clean out my life and figure out what’s important.
I want to share something with you. This is a letter written by my favorite musician, Lewis Del Mar. He wrote this down on a typewriter and I stumbled upon it about a month ago. I’ve read it every day since because I connected with this in a really meaningful way.
I was inspired so I decided to write down my own thesis. The rules by which I strive to live and create.
Moments are the greatest gift on earth. Find the people who light a spark in your heart and create these moments together. Never underestimate the importance of good people and deep laughter. Love deeply, give back to others, kill small talk. Ask important questions- find wholesome conversation. Speak the truth and accept failure as currency. Get outside, mountaintops have the greatest views. Life should never feel like a trap. Every decision is yours to keep. Emphasize the little things. Things like warm croissants, fresh black coffee, fluffy powder, pale ale, irrationally competitive card games, stellar dance moves, and climbing up into trees for no good reason. Live simply.
There is one last thing I want to say. I know some may not be pleased with this decision of mine or maybe it won’t make sense. This is the hardest part for me. The only pain I feel about this decision is when I think about my teammates, coaches, staff, and sponsors. Deep down I want to please everyone. I want everyone to be happy. Yet it cannot be at my own expense. Cheers - Ben B
The first World Cup of the season in Ruka, Finland is always special. The world’s best cross-country skiers, ski jumpers, and Nordic combined skiers all gather beneath a Finnish mountain (which is really just a small hill) to showcase their talents where there is no sun.
When executed correctly, the sport of ski jumping rewards an athlete with the gift of human flight. Human flight, the feeling of it is irreplaceable. On the other hand, something that I feel is very replaceable, ski jumping poorly. Nothing is more uncomfortable than touching the ground far too soon.
What follows a bad ski jump is an extremely awkward amount of time straight lining down a steep slope on 252 cm long skis with rounded edges in a thick yet oddly tight suit thinking to myself, “What the !%$# just happened.” There is nowhere to run or hide. At the bottom I am greeted by a large camera, this is just a reminder that my previous failure was just broadcasted to millions of viewers worldwide. This is a reminder of all the unreal celebrations I had prepared for that camera but no; a celebration wouldn’t be suitable at this moment. I take my skis off as quickly as possible and exit the outrun.
Here the athlete standing in the leaders box greets me. He is always a good guy but at this moment he just seems like a show off. Being the guy in the leaders box is tricky- the key is to not assume eye contact with anyone who goes shorter than 110 meters. That’s my rule at least. This guy doesn’t follow my rules so we exchange an awkward look. I watch as his is trying desperately hard to wipe the stupid smile off his face, as to not rub it in. However, he is also winning a world cup so that is impossible.
Now I walk back to the cabin, undress and glance at my phone. The date reads November 23rd. Oh yeah, I almost forgot Thanksgiving. I think to myself, worst thanksgiving ever. I head to the athlete cabin in pursuit of its abundant supply of treats. I don’t know who is in charge of deciding which snacks to provide in these cabins but whoever it is has a twisted sense of humor. Donuts, cake, candy bars, pizza, and soda are the nutritional staples of these athlete cabins. These are all foods that professional athletes in a sport that involves flying should most likely avoid. However, there is a bonus to this madness. My thought process is I either jump far or I jump short and eat a donut. Both equate to about the same levels of happiness. So I eat a dry donut, pretending for a second it’s pumpkin pie, and watch the rest of the jumping event.
I watch my name slip further and further down the results list. Only the top 50 athletes from the qualification round get to compete in the World Cup. By now I know very well that my name, along with 15 other athletes, will fall below that number 50. If I truly was the social planner I believe myself to be, I would throw a party for all 15 of those athletes. I think I would name it something dark and dramatic like, “The Forgotten Ones”. Anyways, I can’t help but feel sick about the whole situation. My name belongs at the bottom of that list like the Kardashian’s belong in a world without social media: it doesn’t.
On Saturday, once again I did not qualify. By now, we had quite a club forming. Austrian Nordic Combined Athlete Mika Vermeulen said when asked about his jump, “I think I could have jumped again after I landed and nobody would have noticed.” This was actually a very thoughtful observation. Maybe I will try this next time, just jump again.
In addition to a party provided for the 16 unqualified athletes, I recommend that FIS provides some kind of services, most preferably in the form of a therapist. However we aren’t there yet so I assumed this role myself on Friday and Saturday. My mother is a counselor so I’ve been bred for this my entire life. I don’t even have to look at the results list to find the unqualified athletes. They can usually be found in the café eating a donut. Anyone eating a donut didn’t qualify. Anyone with bloodshot eyes didn’t qualify as this indicates recent tears. I like to walk up to these sad guys and offer my condolences. I remind them that it truly isn’t the end of the world, if I can smile and laugh about this then so can you. French athlete Laurent Muhlethaler tells me when explaining his sadness, “I think I would like some whiskey, and a girl.” We both laugh. Humor is a universal language.
If I had to create a list of the places I would prefer a vacation, it would probably read like this.
However I woke up on Sunday just one jump away from turning my competition trip into a vacation. I didn’t feel nervous, just relaxed and confident. I have this trick I use when I’m worried about the future or caught up in the past. I believe that any stellar idea deserves an even better name so I have coined my trick, “Trump it” (trademark pending). Can be used in a sentence as, “Hey don’t worry about that, just Trump it” or “I was super stressed out until I shut my eyes and just Trumped it.”
This is how it works. I close my eyes and see all the past failures I’m identifying with. Then I find the futures worries I’m hooked up on. The next thing I do is imagine a massive brick wall rising from the ground in front of all my future worries and behind me closing off all the past failures. This relegates me to only one thing, my present moment.
On Sunday I qualified in 33rd place. Which had me thinking, “Jeez dude was it really that hard?” The answer is no, I believe as humans we sometimes make things much more difficult than they need to be. Everything was starting to flow again. It felt amazing to finally be back in my realm. I believe the prior two days gave me a lot of perspective and gratefulness for the opportunity I get to compete on the highest level of my sport. Something that I have always taken for granted, qualifying, re awoke me to the challenge of this pursuit. On Sunday the result wasn’t perfect, I didn’t have a mind-blowing performance or finish inside the top 30. However I got to take part in something incredible and move one step closer than I was the day before.
I went on a cool down ski after the race with Bryan Fletcher, my teammate, role model, and father figure while on the road. We got to chat and I congratulated him on his solid performance all weekend long. Before we finished our ski, we stopped in front of the ski jumps. He pulled his phone out and asked me to take a picture of him. “My wife wants me to take a picture in front of every venue this year, we are going to make a photo album of it.” This is Bryan’s last year on the World Cup Circuit. From a first glance the picture is simple, just a man in front of a ski jump. However this isn’t just a photo. It’s a goodbye, a cheers to all the good times and bad. “It’s kind of bittersweet,” he says. With one last glance at the dark complex flooded by light, I replied, “I bet.”
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!