I absolutely love the sport of Nordic Combined but I believe I love the challenge of it even more. The last couple weeks have been especially challenging. I went from jumping into the top 30 of a World Cup to underperforming over and over again on the Continental Cup. I jumped to 30th, 35th, and 34th over the course of two Continental Cup weekends. I know that I am capable of jumping into the top 10 in these events consistently and that’s what makes these results so frustrating.
After two disappointing weekend in Scandinavia, our team traveled to Planica, Slovenia for another weekend of Continental Cups. Unlike the previous weekends, in Planica we were competing on the K125 (Big hill). I was really looking forward to this because I know how strong I am at jumping big hills. Jumping big hills is a whole another game. Jumpers can’t get away with as many mistakes and the time gaps tend to be bigger for the cross-country race.
In the competition on Saturday I laid down a 123.5 meter jumps which put me in 10th place for the race. This was my best jumping results so far this season. I was getting so psyched for the race and that’s what made the next event so scary.
I finished up testing my skis at the cross-country venue and was walking them back towards our wax cabin. Ever since I injured my ankle I have been pretty cautious about putting myself in any situation that could cause injury. This is kind of ironic because in this case I was too cautious. Instead of walking down the steep path all the other athletes were walking down, I thought the powder to the side would have more grip. I set my left foot down in the powder and slipped on a patch of ice underneath. As I slipped, I felt my left knee buckle out to the side and pop. Honestly the first thought that went through my mind was that I just blew my knee out. Anyone who has ever felt the feeling of a knee going in a direction it shouldn’t go understands how scary it can be. I regained my composure and walked around a bit realizing nothing was torn because I could walk a bit and put weight on it. I quickly came to the conclusion that it was an mcl sprain because I’ve had this injury in the past and the inside of my knee was extremely sore.
By this time, it was one hour until the race and time for me to start warming up. I went out and skied for about 30 minutes very easy and it felt alright. Usually my pre race warm-up consists of a 30 minute ski, 10 minute run with plyos and light stretching, then go race. At this point my knee was feeling fine so I tried to stick to my routine and started running with my teammate Jasper Good. Right away I realized this was not a good decision. I couldn’t run at all. I returned to the locker room, changed into my race suit, and headed to the start. I could reevaluate my knee after the race, but for now I had one focus. Competing.
I love being towards the front of the race. It’s a fact that the better I jump the stronger I race. I got into a really good group from the beginning. I was skiing with a group of about 8 skiers. After the first lap we had caught a few other skiers and the group got even larger. I don’t know what place exactly but the front of my group was definitely in the top 10. On the first two laps I was in 14th position at the top of the biggest climb. At the end of the second lap (5km) I dropped off the back of the group. I was fighting to grab back on for most of the 3rd lap but eventually they got away for good. By the 4th and final lap I was absolutely spent and skiing alone in 18th place. I remember seeing two Austrians skiing together ahead of me with bib number 3 and 7. Also a group of 5 guys was closing on me fast. I put my head down and hammered but it wasn’t enough. I got passed by the group behind me and ended up finishing in 23rd place. I looked at the results after the race and it killed me how close I was to the top 15. The two Austrians just ahead of me held off the pack that passed me and finished in the top 15, just 25 seconds ahead of me. After going a few weeks without a top 30 finish it was nice to get my confidence back. Also Jasper Good collected his first ever top 30 finish on the Continental Cup finishing in 30th place, which was awesome.
During the race I completely forgot about knee. The beautiful thing about pushing yourself so hard is your brain shuts off. After the race my knee was busted up pretty good and I could hardly put weight on it. I immediately put ice on it and kept it elevated for the rest of the night.
I am an extremely competitive human being. I’ve been wired this way ever since I can remember. My mom can tell anyone about the time I berated my teammate for scoring on the wrong goal in soccer, I was five years old. I always have been and always will be a competitor. That’s what made my decision on Sunday so tough. I woke up and had no doubt in my mind I would compete. After trying to warm up however, I started to question if it was smart. While trying to run I could feel how unstable my knee was. The ligaments on the inside of my knee were pretty stretched out. I made the call to sit the day out. It crushed me because I knew I could get another top 30 finish but at the end of the day it was the right call. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with my dad who stopped by in Slovenia to cheer on the team with Rick Mewborn. We had a good time and they were able to cheer me up.
After consistent ice and elevation on Sunday and Monday I was ready to train again. The World Junior team had a great week of training in Planica, Slovenia. Tomorrow we will fly to Almaty, Kazakhstan for the Junior World Championships (Under 20 Championships). Our team consists of three new faces. This will be Jasper and I’s third JWC’s. Ben Loomis, Koby Vargas, and Somer Schrock will be competing in their first ever JWC’s. It’s really fun to be able to compete and train with some of the young up and coming kids in the sport of US Nordic Combined. I’m excited to keep everyone updated on our results and experiences in Kazakhstan!