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.