I figure that if I'm going to be writing on this blog all season long, surely I must introduce the Lobos Ski Team.
Johan Eirik Meland:
aka "Johnny", aka "Johnny Bravo".
Johan's biggest problem in life is being too damn pretty. He claims that he has good luck but nobody has THIS GOOD of luck. His ignorance is surely endearing. The first week Johan was in Albuquerque, he had to take a bathroom break during a rollerski. He knocked on a random door in a random neighborhood. Let me make one thing clear, Albuquerque isn't the type of place where you go door knocking for a bathroom. In fact, this is something I've never even considered doing in my small hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Johan then proceeded to explain to the poor house tenant that he had to take a shit. Not only did they let him, it seemed they were ever grateful for that shit he dropped in their toilet.
When you ask Johan how his day was, it usually sounds like this. "I got my bike stolen so I was going to walk home. Then these girls drove by, so I smiled and waved. They gave me a ride home. They also gave me a bike. I have a date with one of the girls tonight. Then my tutor came over and she brought me cookies."
This is obviously where I interrupt.
"Wait wait wait, your tutor bakes you cookies?"
"Yeah," Johan replies, as if this is the norm.
In addition, Johan consistently orders the same size clothing as me. I keep trying to convince him that he is not a small but he refuses to agree. So, we mostly wear the same size clothing. Here is Johan and I standing next to each other. Now that I look at the picture, he doesn't really look much bigger than me, just fifteen shades darker than me.
Aka "Big Fudge", "Korn", "Korn Dog", "Kelly Slater", "Slenderman"
Kornelius is taking a break from his doctoral studies back in Norway to race for the Lobos. It's nice having a doctor on the team. All questions regarding health get directed towards Kornelius. He has a weakness for American fast food and Mr. Pibb soda. Whether or not those weaknesses correlate to the gas that comes out of his ass, that's yet to be determined. A few weeks ago, we went to go see the new Mission Impossible movie on campus. Brenna sat right in between Kornelius and I. This was a decision she later regretted after two hours of non stop farts. Don't sit in between the two of us, I feel as if people on the team should know better by now.
Kornelius is tall but not that tall. He actually looks taller than he is because his arms and legs never end. This dude is seriously gangly thus the nickname "Slenderman". During our team soccer games Kornelius just stands in front of the goal and waves is limbs around in all directions making it impossible to score a single goal.
Kornelius kept showing up to training in a Quicksilver rash guard. This was the beginning of the "Kelly Slater" nickname. I loved it so much that I created this.
Aka "Ricky", "Slick Rick"
Ricardo is a training god/fitness legend. This dude trains in his sleep I swear. A few weeks ago we had a 12X400 meter track workout. Ricardo ran his twelfth 400 meters of the day in 56 seconds. For those unfamiliar, this is stupid fast. We have decided that Ricky could probably be on scholarship for the track and cross country running teams as well. Slick Rick also set the new course record for the infamous Sand Hills time trial. (running up and down hills of shin deep sand). This record has been intact for six years. More recently, Ricky also broke the UNM Ski Team record for the 3,000 meter on the track. He ran it in 8:56, a whopping thirty seconds faster than the last record which was set seventeen years ago.
Sure this is all great but I do need to boast a little. I set the school record for pull ups. Exactly one minute later Ricky did one more pullup than me, record gone. Come on man. The former UNM Nordic Coach Fredrik Landstedt kept a very meticulous excel spreadsheet with every time for every time trial since about 1996 (one year after I was born). By the time Ricky leaves, his name will be at the top of almost every list.
We've also decided that when picking up girls, Ricky should just be French- not French Canadian. Canadian just isn't foreign enough for American girls.
Sidenote: I've decided that French Canadian is my favorite accent because it's a combination of two very polarizing things.
aka "Dasha", aka "Dash"
Somewhere in Russia
Also Steamboat Springs
Dasha is from Russia. She moved to Steamboat Springs a few years ago to finish high school. I plan on adopting Dasha someday because I love her so much. Dasha chews 6 pieces of gum at once: Three pieces of mint flavored gum, and three pieces of fruit flavored gum. As Dasha puts it, "Mint gum is too minty and fruit gum is too fruity." Honestly, that's pretty damn logical. As if a Russian accent isn't thick enough, don't expect to understand a word Dasha says when trying to communicate to you with six pieces of gum in her mouth.
Dasha is also an incredible artist. She only draws and sketches in black because Dasha says, "I don't like colors." She has started to print her drawings on t shirts. Here is one of the t shirts. If you are interested in buying one, let me know. I named the little guy on the front Leroy. As you can see Brenna completely destroyed her shirt for the sake of fashion. In fact, it looks more like a rag than a shirt. If you like, you can leave the sleeves and belly of the shirt intact. Your call.
Julie Stendahl Spets
We are currently teaching Julie how to wax her skis. How a 22 year old Norwegian skier doesn't know how to wax skis, that is beyond me. However, in typical Julie fashion, she has been incredibly shameless about the whole thing. Big kudos on this because I probably would have just lied to everyone then tried to watch some youtube tutorial videos on the matter. She is really taking a liking for waxing skis. In order to give her more practice, I'm going to ask her if she would like to wax my skis for the rest of the season.
Julie adds a lot of laughter to the team. You never know what laugh you are going to get from her either. She has three laughs: evil, over the top, and creepy.
Julie and Johan take home the award for best Instagram profiles. Also in Brenna's words, "If our team was in a scary movie, Julie and Johan are the two pretty ones who would be making out in the woods, and obviously get killed first." This is very dark Brenna, though I couldn't agree more.
Park City, Utah
Considering that Savanna was training in her puffy coat a month ago when it was still fairly temperate in Albuquerque, makes me concerned about how she will fair when the weather actually gets cold. Everyone will be doing intervals in shorts and t shirts meanwhile Savanna will be in long pants and a ski jacket.
Savanna may take home the prize of hardest school schedule. When I hear tales of the quantity of math and science homework she puts up with on a daily basis, I thank the liberal art gods. In addition, it turns out that Savanna is WICKED on cross country skis. She placed 11th in last weekends races in West Yellowstone, Montana.
The funniest part about this, a week ago Savanna was convinced our training plan wasn't working for her and she needed to write her own plan. Last weekend she was the fastest girl on the team and undoubtedly had the race of her life. I think our coach Christian Otto was loving this.
Savanna is one of two "foodies" on our team (Brenna is the other). You may ask, what does it mean to be a "foodie"? Well Savanna defined this for me just a few weekends ago. When tasked with cooking spaghetti out of the box, she needed help from the boys. We were pretty proud to be needed because truth is, we aren't needed for much. But, if there is one thing us boys know how to do, it is cook spaghetti out of the box. When I asked her, "you don't know how to cook spaghetti?" Savanna replied, "I've only made it from scratch before." BOOM! "foodie".
Park City, Utah
Brenna is my girlfriend. If I'm being totally unbiased, she is the hottest girl on the circuit by far. Also, without her existence in my life, I would have never been apart of this team. In fact, without her existence many things would be different:
1. I still wouldn't make my bed.
2. My cooking would mostly consist of nachos and quesadillas.
3. I wouldn't know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.
4. I would spend far more time unknowingly walking around with food on my face and in my teeth.
This may sound fairly pathetic on my part but I look around at other gross, messy college aged boys and know that the only thing separating my world from theirs, a cute girlfriend.
This is Brenna's seventh semester on the UNM Ski Team. The next most tenured athlete is Ricardo who has been on the team for two semesters. Brenna is the rock on this team as the rest of us have basically no experience on the college skiing circuit. It's fair to say that Brenna has seniority around these parts.
Brenna is currently binging the show "Vampire Diaries". The plot isn't too hard to explain, it's about a bunch of sexy vampires. I think she feels guilty by sitting on the couch and watching a tv show so instead she is always multitasking. I've learned that four episodes usually equals one loaf of beer bread or one batch of cookies. How a show with such a basic plot has eight seasons, I have no idea, however I'm very okay with this show never ending.
Brenna usually listens to podcasts during her workouts. This means that after every session, she has a million fun facts to share with the team. Brenna is going to graduate in the spring with a Bachelor's in Environmental Science, then she is going to go change the world and ride her mountain bike a lot. Brenna shreds on a mountain bike. Don't ever let her catch you drinking out of a plastic water bottle or putting recyclables in the trash, she will kill you.
I've had coaches from Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Austria before. However, I must say that having a German head coach is unlike all of the above. There are a lot of stereotypes out there about Germans. Coach Otto seems determined to cement them all.
Christian is the most organized person I know. I receive more emails from Christian than I do from Pizza Hut, and Pizza Hut sends me a lot of emails.
In addition, the training log which he created on excel spreadsheet is so detailed and elaborate that it sometimes represents a maze which has no exit. Considering the amount of time it takes to fill out, I can't even imagine how much time it took to create.
Coach Otto has a very direct style of communication. There is no sugar coating. If he is unhappy with something, he says so. For the first few weeks this was unsettling because I'm very used to a lot of sugar on top (My mom is way too nice to me).
Coach Otto hates our roads and the way people drive in our country. He informs me of this frequently while reminiscing about the ease of the German Autobahn. "In the US you just seal the cracks on roads, in Germany we build a new road."
After every session in the weight room, Christian makes us take part in "mental toughness pushups". We are all convinced that he picked up this cruel torture in the German military. "Mental toughness pushups" consist of twenty pushups. This sounds easy except for the fact that Coach Otto makes us hold the pushups down at the bottom for five seconds. If anyone raises their butt we have to start over. This is also the kind of thing that never gets easier. I thought I would just get stronger but it actually just sucks every single time. Everyday we hope he forgets. He never does.
Before Christian joined the team as Head Coach, he was actually one of my best friends. I'm proud to say that we are still very close and having him consistently semi disappointed in me hasn't affected our friendship. He is doing a great job.
aka "Praznik", "AP", "Aljaz" pronounced "Alhaz", "Jersey"
Aljaz is from Slovenia and is a former Lobos skier. We have the perfect good cop, bad cop scenario on our team. Christian is the bad cop and Aljaz Praznik is the good cop. We aren't allowed to eat chips, however Aljaz will always get us chips. It's kind of like if you have one parent who says no to everything and one who always says yes. As a kid, you always knew which parent to ask if you wanted to have a sleepover. I think everyone on the team knows who to ask when we want chips.
Aljaz probably should have had ten years of eligibility. This dude is an athlete for life. He probably trains more than most of the athletes on our team. You can always find him doing pushups somewhere. He is notorious for trying to do intervals with us. This consists of him starting way too hard on the first interval and blowing us all up. Then he takes a break the rest of the intervals session while we are all dying. At the end, he hops in for the last interval and goes all out again. This tactic basically defeats the point of doing intervals in the first place so I've learned, "don't follow Aljaz."
Aljaz is known for always wearing tank tops. This is the right move because the key to any good wardrobe- clothing which shows off your best features. The tank tops really show off one of Aljaz's best features, very hairy shoulders.
So these are the Lobos. Maybe later in the year I can introduce our Alpine team as well, they are surely not lacking in personalities either. Thanks for reading. Cheers. - BB
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!