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!