I wake up, roll out of bed, and glimpse out the window. Grass is everywhere. Not the green kind of grass, the brown kind of grass that was expecting winter months ago. The rain continues to fall into piles where the cross-country trails used to be. Instead of those strips of freshly groomed corduroy that existed days ago, all I see is a puddle that is actually starting to resemble a small lake.
It’s on days like these where I have to really dig deep. It’s days like these that make me curse at all the times I took snow for granted. Negative thoughts try to cling on and cloud my mind. I don’t want to go outside but something inside of me knows I have to.
I slowly get dressed. Putting on clothes that I already know will not stand a chance against the elements outside. I packed three months worth of clothes into a suitcase but am unbelievably unprepared for the rain. Maybe I was being optimistic when I packed up, or maybe I was just being stupid. With the climate in Europe nowadays, I think the latter is correct.
I leave the hotel and begin to run up the bike path. The path winds its way along the Slovenian countryside, which is hardly visible in the torrential downpour. I try to keep my mind empty and ignore the rain. For the first five minutes this works. Then I begin to feel the cold. I try to focus on my running stride. I remember what Physical Therapist Dave Cieslowski told me, “Run with the hips, drive the knees up.” This helps take my mind off the freezing rain. Another five minutes go by. Now I’m starting to feel the moisture breaking through my outer layers.
A thought comes to mind and I get lost in it. I remember a story my mom still loves to tell. My mom would put me on my little bike (with the training wheels still on) and we would head up the bike path that winds along the Yampa River. She would insist on turning around at a point she thought reasonable. I would dismiss this idea and keep going. A few minutes later she would bring it up again saying, “Ben you’re not going to have enough energy to get home if we go any further.” Once again I would shake off the idea sternly and continue on. This would continue until finally, I would become too exhausted to pedal any further. Then my mom would have to carry my bike and myself all the way home. I had a terrifying amount of energy as a child and these walks
Just like those days on the bike path with my mom, I keep refusing to turn around. I need to make it for at least an hour. I need to drain my energy. By the time I make it to the next town, I’m absolutely freezing. I turn around and ramp up the pace. By now my clothes are becoming heavy with moisture. My shoes are already soaked and the puddles now seem pointless to avoid. As I get closer to home I kind of hit that, “Oh shit I’m cold moment”. It’s that moment where it goes from being kind of funny to serious. I ramp up the pace again.
I make it home and head straight to the shower. I know I need to warm up fast but I can’t help but glance at my watch. I scroll through all the stats and start to smile. This is what I read:
Time: 60 minutes
Distance: 9.5 kilometers
Average Heart Rate: 121
Running Index: 68
Running Index is a measurement that puts time, distance, and average heart rate into a formula that calculates efficiency. I’ve found that this number is very representative of my fitness level. 68 is the highest running index I have ever achieved.
Turns out the numbers don’t lie. I had a very solid weekend of competing. My jumping was average but I skied well and held my own in a very strong field. The first day I jumped to 14th and skied to 24th and the second day I jumped to 16th and skied to 20th. After last weekend I am sitting in 22nd place in the Overall Continental Cup Standings. I believe I finished somewhere in the 70’s last season.
Cheers to staying positive no matter the forecast! Cloudy with a chance of rain in February.
The last two weekends I had the opportunity to compete on the World Cup. As a professional skier, competing on the World Cup is the ultimate goal as it is the pinnacle of the sport. It’s always exhilarating moving from the Continental Cup to the World Cup. The atmosphere definitely changes. All of a sudden there are cameras, fans, and noise! I cherish these opportunities to compete against the best skiers in the world and I truly love being on this stage.
I remember when I first started competing on the Continental Cup when I was 17 years old. I experienced a lot of the feelings I now get on the World Cup. The pressure seems higher and the athletes are more talented. It’s kind of a shock to the system. When I was thrown into the Continental Cup I had my ass kicked at first. I remember it seeming impossibly hard. I would watch the best athletes and wish I could walk a day in their shoes at the front of the race. Over time though, I adjusted to the higher level of competition and I improved. I went from finishing in the 40’s and 50’s to finishing in the 30’s. Then I started finishing in the top 30. This year I have finished in the top 10 twice. This took years of hard work and it didn’t happen over night but I went from hardly being able to imagine finishing at the front to actually doing it.
Last season I got my first couple starts on the World Cup. It gave me flashbacks to when I was a seventeen-year-old kid stumbling around on the Continental Cup. It felt very familiar. This gave me hope. I knew that I just needed more experience and a little more training and I could be competitive at this level too.
Two weeks ago I competed in my first World Cup of this season. It took place in Chaux Neuve, France. Things did not go well and I knew I didn’t perform even close to my best. Once again, it felt like I didn’t belong. Luckily I had another chance in Seefeld, Austria the next weekend. I jumped better and I skied better. This lead to better results and a personal best 43rd place. I know 43 is a very high number but it is improvement. I finished about 45 seconds behind the top 30, which is closer than I have ever been. Everything seemed to slow down. This has me feeling very excited and optimistic. I am making progress!
The best part about the weekend in Seefeld, Austria was having some American fans to cheer the team on. Two of those fans happened to be my dad and uncle. On Saturday I was winning the jumping during the beginning of the round so I got to sit in the leaders box. My uncle hopped the fence, ran up, and gave me a hug. I’m pretty sure the whole scene was aired on EuroSport. It was an awesome moment. I feel very blessed to have a family that supports what I do.
I am back in Planica, Slovenia now training and getting prepared for my next shot on the World Cup. Two weeks from now I will travel to Lahti, Finland (The site of next seasons World Championships) and I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off. Four weeks in Europe down… Six weeks to go!
Every athlete has breakthroughs in sports. They don't happen every weekend. Sometimes they don't happen for years. I remember my first really big breakthrough two years ago. I finished in 14th place in a Continental Cup and my previous best finish was 36th place. I surprised myself because honestly I had no idea I was capable of that result.
Since then I've matured as a person and an athlete. I was confident going into the first weekend of Continental Cups last weekend. More confident than I have ever been before. I've learned that sports are won and lost in the mind. Fitness and talent matter to a certain point but I truly believe the mind is the most important tool. This past weekend I made the biggest breakthrough of my career so far. I used my newfound confidence to post career best finishes three days in a row.
Starting at the front of the race is important for me. While my xc skiing has improved drastically, I still feel most comfortable and always have my best races from the front. On the first day I jumped to 4th place which put me right where I want to be. I was able to start out smooth and controlled while getting a grasp of how the skiers around me were skiing. As the laps went by, I began to realize this was going to be a career day. I was still towards the front of the race around the halfway point. However, on one of the downhills an Austrian skier came flying past me and pointed at my feet saying, "Your ski is broken." I glanced down and saw that the base of my ski had peeled off from the tip and was catching in the snow. Instead of panicking, I tried my best to remain calm and not get pulled out of the zone. In every race, my goal is to get into "the zone" or "flow state". This means that there are no thoughts running through my head. I'm existing in the present moment and the pain my body feels from racing kind of just becomes numb. All of my best races come from this "zone" or "flow state". An incident such as a crash, getting passed by people, or in my case a broken ski, can try to pull you out of this state by making your brain kick in and start producing unnecessary thoughts. I kept skiing for probably another half kilometer. My coach yelled at me when I passed saying, "Bryan is going to give you a ski before the next climb." I made it to Bryan, popped my ski off, put a new ski on, then kept going. I could have created thoughts in my head such as, "I'm screwed, why did this have to happen," but I blocked the negative thoughts out and kept fighting. In Nordic Combined, the fast skiers that do not jump to the front of the race usually form packs. They work their way through the field with the goal of catching the lead pack. Unfortunately on the last lap I was passed by one of these descent sized groups. I ended up coming into the finish line in 12th place. New personal best!
Even though I had my best ever finish on the first day, I couldn't help but feel unsatisfied. I had lost 8 places in the race and really believed that I could do better. I wanted to jump to the front again and race better. I had another solid jump on the second day which put me into 4th place once again. Having one race under my belt, I was confident I could start a little bit harder than the day before. Luckily I started the race with a Norwegian who was racing well. We switched off leading each other around the course. The drafting effect isn't quite as big of a deal as it is in cycling, but it certainly helps. By switching off leads we allowed ourselves to ski faster than if we both had to race alone. Going into the 5th and final lap of the 2km loop, it was pretty apparent that the large group coming from behind would not be able to catch us. I crossed the finish line in 8th place. Four positions better than the day before and my first ever top 10 finish.
I was happy with the result but I was even more happy with my teammate Ben Loomis's result! He jumped to 2nd place and finished in 4th place just off the podium. For those of you who don't know, Ben Loomis is 17 years old. Stephen Schumann who is 15 years old finished 25th, 27th, and 26th. The development pipeline of our sport is stronger than I can ever remember. I'm stoked for these guys as they have garnered results that will put them on the national team next year!
On the third and final day, I was tired from the previous days of racing. I was also determined to have an even better jump. The day before I started 15 seconds behind third place and watched as the podium unfolded in front of me. I had an even better jump than the two days prior and started in third place right behind David Pommer from Austria who had won the previous days competitions. I figured I had nothing to lose and this time, I would go out a little too hard and see what happened. I tried my best to stick with David Pommer on the first lap. I hung in behind him and we passed bib number one on the first hill. Coming into the stadium after the first lap I was sitting in 2nd place about 10 seconds behind David. Some very fast skiers started fairly close behind me and whenever they caught up, I gave everything I had to hang on. Going into the 4th lap I was already dead and had exerted far too much energy. I was in 5th place though so slowing down just wasn't an option. On the 4th lap I was caught by a Russian skier and dug deep on one of the climbs to get rid of him. On the 5th lap, things were getting messy for me. I was digging deeper than I ever have before. Everything hurt. Every muscle in my body was screaming at me to slow down. I could hear the Russian skiing hard behind me trying to catch back up. I was blowing up harder than I ever had before. The Russian caught me at the base of the last long climb. This was evidence to the fact that I was slowing down rapidly. It was on this climb that I pushed past another mental limit and kicked things into a faster gear. Once again, I dropped the Russian on the climb then descended the downhill back towards the finish line. There was a gap between the Russian athlete and myself but I could tell that he was gaining time on me. I rounded the turn into the finish and sprinted as best as I could (which obviously wasn't very good). As I crossed the finish line, I saw a foot fly into my peripheral vision. Then I collapsed. About five minutes later I was able to peel my aching body off the freezing cold snow. I found my family in the crowd and gave them all a big hug. My dad was freaking out. I don't know if I have ever met someone more into Nordic Combined than my dad. He loves it.
I stood there with my family just taking in the moment. I could see the happiness on their faces. This was as much their accomplishment as it was mine. They are the ones who have supported me day in and day out. Through the good days and the bad days. I was happy, but not ecstatic. At first I couldn't figure out why. Then I thought about one of my all time favorite quotes.
"When you make a choice and say, 'come hell or high-water, I am going to be this,' then you should not be surprised when you are that. It should not be something that feels intoxicating or out of character because you have seen this moment for so long that when that moment comes, of course it is here because it has been here the whole time because it has been in your mind the whole time" - Kobe Bryant
It's not that I wasn't happy, I just wasn't surprised. My mind no longer holds me back. I knew I was capable of results like these before the weekend had even started. Cheers to unlocking the minds potential and not setting limits on achievement!
I later found out I had been beaten in the photo finish for 5th place. I guess I need to work on my sprinting. There will always be improvements that need to be made and better results to strive for. In this sport, one guy goes home as a winner and the other 40 to 50 guys go home as losers. It's important though to celebrate and cherish days like this. I may not have been on top of the podium but I improved, and improvement is the only way to get there. I'm so thankful for all my sponsors, coaches, family, friends, and teammates. I want to say congratulations to all my teammates who competed this weekend as almost all of them set new personal best finishes which is huge! Thank you Rudy Project, One Way, Madshus, Sport 2000, Feed The Machine, and Honey Stinger. Also a huge shootout to all the people who have donated money to our organization USA Nordic Sports. We wouldn't be where we are without you. I feel blessed to have this amazing support. Love you all!
The USA Nordic Combined Team held a fundraiser in at my home in Steamboat Springs last weekend. It was an Oktober Fest party, which brought great people and some hilarious outfits. It’s a great moment when I get to share what I do with a community that I love. For everyone who helped out and attended, I just want to say thank you. It means a lot to our team. The fundraiser was a success and we are already planning for next year. So if you didn’t make it this year, we would love for you to join us in 2016!
For the last 7 months the USA Nordic Combined team has been putting in work. There have been great days and there have been bad days. There have been days spent in the warm sunshine and days pounding out workouts in the mucky rain. We celebrate the excellent days and learn from the rotten ones. We strive to push each other to new levels on and off the skis. I am so proud to be a part of this team.
In Park City and Steamboat, snow is beginning to graze the mountaintops. Every morning, the chilly air alerts us that the season is getting closer. The winter brings hope of new successes and an excitement that is unparalleled. We live for this excitement. We’re competitors by nature. The stage becomes bigger and the best athletes from nations around the world grace the venues with their presence. Each athlete as focused and determined as the next. We all know that in Nordic Combined, anything can happen. So when the first competition gets underway we will be saying one thing, "Why not us?"
First I want to start this blog with a story. One day last year I was hanging out in my room doing homework. All of a sudden my door opens and Bill Demong walks in. He scans my room for a second as his eyes make contact with at least 5 different posters or pictures of himself. I put my homework to the side and start to become aware of the situation at hand. You know in movies when you see the FBI or Police pinning pictures to walls and making charts for a specific bad guy. Well that’s pretty much what my room looked like but with pictures of Bill Demong. After he left I immediately took almost all of the posters down. I learned a valuable lesson that day. If your hero ever becomes a friend and or acquaintance, definitely tone down the stalker vibe in your room.
On a more serious note, Bill’s retirement party was last week and I really want to talk about the impact he has had on my life and the life of our team as a whole. For those of you who don’t know, Bill is the most accomplished American Nordic Combined skier ever. He has finished 3rd on the Overall World Cup twice with 9 victories and 21 podiums to his name. He also has 4 World Championship Medals and 2 Olympic Medals.
While Bill was accumulating all these successes, I was quickly falling in love with the sport of Nordic Combined at the base of Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I remember showing up for training on the weekends and my coaches Gary Crawford and Todd Wilson would be have huge grins running along their faces. They would describe Bill, Johnny, or Todd’s most recent heroics on the World Cup in Europe. At the time, that world seemed so far away. When seeing World Cup footage it almost seemed as if they were competing on a whole another planet. When Bill, Johnny, or Todd would make an appearance in Steamboat, I felt like I was at the Grammy’s except instead of walking along a red carpet they would take the poma lift to the top of the jumps. They were celebrities to me.
Growing up I was motivated by the veterans of our sport and I tried to emulate everything they did. By the time that I made the National Team however, most of these veterans had moved on. When I moved to Park City Nordic Combined had been cut from the US Ski Team. We had exactly 0 dollars in the budget and we weren’t sure what the future would hold. The morale on the team was low and everyone was very hurt by the US Ski Teams decision. This is where Bill stepped in and took over. His positivity was infectious and things began to look up for US Nordic Combined. Bill worked his ass off to raise enough money for our team to compete in Europe last winter. Not only that but he decided to postpone his retirement a year and compete. He did this in order to keep our 4th World Cup spot, as none of us younger athletes were ready for the World Cup yet. These sacrifices made by Bill in order to save the future of our team stunned me. He didn’t have to do any of this, but he chose to.
I had the opportunity to represent the USA at the World Championships in Falun, Sweden last winter. This was my 1st World Champs, it was Bill’s 8th. I remember when I was 11 years old my coaches showed me a video of Bill winning a World Championship medal in Japan. Eight years later I found myself sitting in the leaders seat during the jumping portion of the World Championships. Guess who ends up knocking me out of the leaders chair? None other than Billy Demong. That world that seemed so distant to me growing up, I was now living in it.
As Bill moves on, I hope to use the knowledge I’ve gained in my little time with him to not only achieve my goals within the sport of Nordic Combined but also my goals outside the sport. From him I have learned to not put all my eggs in one basket, to connect with people and interests away from skiing, and to face adversity head on. Thanks for everything Bill; I know you will find great success in the next stage of your life.
After the season officially came to a close I had a chance to visit my family and friends in Steamboat Springs and unwind. This was truly awesome for me as my body was extremely worn down from a winter of racing on low amounts of training. While in Steamboat I was able to be a couch potato which my body truly thanked me for. Also for those of you wondering why my "Off Season Recap" only covers two weeks, its very simple. Our offseason only lasts two weeks. The thing is, after one week of doing nothing I'm absolutely bouncing off the walls. Exercise is as important for my mental health as it is for my physical health.
After Steamboat I drove to Moab, Utah to ride my bikes and spend some quality time in the sun for a few days before heading back to Park City, Utah. I arrived in Moab mid afternoon on a Sunday, hopped on my mountain bike, and road the famous Slick Rock Trail loop from my house. The Slick Rock Trail is hands down my favorite ride in the world (so far). This was my first bike ride since October so I was surprised by how strong I felt. I brought my headlamp hoping I would get to ride the last part in the dark but the ride only took me 2 hours and 40 minutes and apparently the sun doesn't go down till 7:40 Pm??? I guess I'm not in Scandinavia anymore...
The next day I woke up and decided to go on a road bike ride. Anyone who bikes knows how painful the first couple rides can be on your sit bones. I couldn't really sit on my seat so I stood up and pedaled for a majority of my 2 hour road bike ride. I road up into Canyonlands National Park which is so scenic!
After a couple days riding in Moab I drove back to Park City, Utah for the end of the season Treadmill testing. In these tests we measure our VO2 max while roller skiing on a large treadmill. This is always the most brutal test of the year because I never feel very fit after time off. The tests portrayed that my fitness levels are pretty low which was to be expected. Our training has officially started this week and I'm looking forward to staying healthy and pushing my talents to a higher level.
This season was absolutely amazing and I couldn't have accomplished anything without all my supporters! I decided to mix things up and make a short video highlighting my winter in Europe. Hope you enjoy!
I have so much material I want to cover regarding my experience at the Nordic World Championships in Falun, Sweden! Being named to a World Championship team has been a dream of mine since I was just a little kid throwing myself off the bump jump at Howelsen Hill.
As the youngest and least experienced member of the team, I did not know whether I would get the opportunity to compete. Each team only gets to ski four athletes in the individual events. Early in the trip my teammate Adam Loomis came down with some kind of stomach illness. Luckily he recovered quickly, but he decided to sit the first individual event out and prepare for the team event. This opened up a spot for me to compete in the Normal Hill 10km event.
On the day of our first competition the weather was very difficult. It tends to be incredibly windy in Falun, Sweden. We arrived to the hills at 8:00 but the jumping portion of the competition was delayed twice before eventually being postponed to later in the day. By 11:00 I had already walked up to the top of the hill and back down two times. We went back to the hotel and hung out for an hour to kill some time. At 12:00 we arrived back at the hills to try and jump again. I went up to the top and got prepared. Then the competition was delayed another half hour. This meant me walking back down to the bottom AGAIN! At this point nobody had much confidence in the competition actually happening. Over the last few years I’ve learned to never get out of competition mode mentally because usually they find a way to pull it off. I headed back up one last time and hoped for the best. All of a sudden the wind got better and bib number one was getting on the bar.
I could hear the distances of the athletes in front of me being announced and nobody was going very far. I got my skis on and scooted out onto the bar. The wind was strong and I could feel it drafting up the hill inviting me to fly. My coach gave me the flag and I descended the inrun. The second I left the takeoff into the air, I knew that I was going far. My skis hugged my body tightly and the air lifted me like a kite. When my skis touched the ground at 90.5 meters I knew I had taken the lead. I couldn’t believe it. My best jump all week had come in the actual competition! After a few fist pumps towards the camera, I found myself being led to equipment control. It took about ten minutes for all my equipment to get checked and I was positive that somebody had taken my lead by now. As I walked out of equipment control someone yelled, “Get back to the leaders chair, your still winning!” Since I had never been in the leaders chair before, I received some instructions from the FIS media director. Every time I saw myself on the TV I needed to wave and smile. As I sat there athletes continued to jump and I watched as my lead held strong. By the time bib number 19 was on the bar I was still winning! Bib number 19 was my teammate and Nordic Combined legend Bill Demong. I stood up and cheered as I watched Bill fly down to 93.5 meters. He had just taken the lead! We exchanged a handshake, took a picture, and then I headed towards the ski lift.
I’m used to taking a jump then traveling to the changing rooms without any interruptions. On my way to the lift, the media stopped me in order to ask a few questions. Finally I made it back to the changing rooms after what felt like forever. I looked at the television and saw that Bill was still leading and I was in 4th place with some of the best jumpers still to go. I changed as fast as possible and got back to the television in time to watch Taylor and Bryan’s jumps. They both had jumps of 88.5 meters putting them into solid positions. At the end of the jumping our result were as follows. Bill in 10th place, me 16th, Bryan 20th, and Taylor 25th.
Because the jumping had taken so long to finish we did not have very much time until the race. This didn’t give me very much time to really take in the reality of the situation at hand. I think it hit me when I was changing in the start. I looked down and saw that I was wearing bib number 16 at the World Championships. I started 1:20 behind the leader and my focus was on not starting out too hard. As I began to race I realized that the conditions were very soft, slushy, and slow. This is pretty much my worst nightmare because conditions like these make it tough for the weaker skiers like me. A huge pack consisting of my teammates Bryan and Taylor passed me on the first lap. I tried to hang with them as long as possible but it quickly became too fast of a pace. My first lap wasn’t terrible and I was in 25th place after 2.5 km. The next three laps just got worse and worse for me and I never felt comfortable at all. I finished the race in 45th place. Taylor finished up in 19th place with Bryan right behind him in 21st and Bill in 25th. I was just happy to get the experience competing at this top level. It will take some time but I believe that with every race I will improve.
The truth is I really don’t have the speed on cross-country skis to be competitive at this level yet. These are THE BEST skiers in the world. On the bright side, I’ve proven that I can be a very good jumper on the World Cup already. My goal for next season is to be able ski fast enough to consistently finish in the top 30 at this level. It’s a tough task but I know I can do it. I’m only 19 years old so time is on my side!
I love the challenge of this sport. The joy of a challenge should be found in the pursuit, not the end result. I’ve come a long way and I’m enjoying the pursuit just as much as I did when I first embarked on this journey.
Competing at the Junior World Ski Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan was a truly great experience. First I want to write about the competitions and results. Then I’ll go a little more in depth about the culture.
For our entire team as a whole it was a week full of personal bests. The first event was one jump and a 10km race. In the first event I had a pretty bad showing on the jump hill. I was able to make up for it with a solid race and finished in 20th place right in front of my teammate Jasper Good who finished in 21st. Somer Schrock finished in 40th with Ben Loomis in 41st. This was a personal best for every single one of us, which is awesome to see.
The next event was one jump and a 5km race. I had a lot of confidence heading into this competition that with a technically good jump I could really put myself towards the top of the results sheet. With a shorter distance to race some of the faster skiers racing from the back wouldn’t have as much time to move up. At the top of the jump I was very focused on what needed to be done. I remember coming off the takeoff and immediately knowing it was a good one. My jump of 91 meters started me in 12th place for the race that afternoon. The race was extremely fast paced right from the beginning and I just put my head down and hammered. I don’t remember any details from the race because my mind shuts off when I push past a certain limit. I had no idea what place I was in when crossing the finish line, but was definitely hoping for a top 15. When my name flashed across the screen with the number 13 beside it I was pretty stoked. I’ve had such a hard time in the past executing on comp day so this was huge. My teammates had strong finishes as well with Jasper Good in 27th, Koby Vargas in 41st, and Somer Schrock in 44th.
On the final day we had a team competition. I was really proud of our young guys Ben Loomis and Koby Vargas. This was their first ever Junior World Champs and they did awesome. These guys definitely have bright futures ahead of them. We finished up in 7th place, which I think was solid for a young team. My previous two years we finished this event in 9th place so it’s progress.
I love World Juniors because it’s a great way to track my improvement over the years compared to kids my age from around the world. My results have shown me that hard work and preparation has paid off. Here are my results over the last three years.
2013: 33rd, 26th, and 9th in team event
2014: 26th, 23rd, and 9th in team event
2015: 20th, 13th, and 7th in team event
I look forward to continuing this trend of improvement because I’m still far from where I want to be.
Almaty is located in the southeast of Kazakhstan. This was the furthest east any of my teammates or myself had been. This was a culture none of us had ever experienced before so it was very interesting. Here are a few things we experienced.
Wearing masks everywhere due to bad air quality
Eating rice, pasta, and chicken for every single meal
Insane drivers on the road, which resulted in a couple near misses. One time in particular we went up on the sidewalk to avoid a car in the wrong lane.
My teammate Koby Vargas being asked by a woman if he was Justin Bieber
Being asked to take lots of selfies with the local people
Beautiful mountain ranges
Very few English-speaking people
A massage therapist who walked on us
Anyone can be a taxi driver in Kazakhstan. We got picked up in random unmarked cars a few times.
Another one of the pursuing story lines of the week was whether teammate Koby Vargas could get to BMI before the competition. For the ski jumping portion of our sport every athlete jumps on a certain size of skis based on their height. Then for each size of skis an athlete must meet a set weight. Koby Vargas should be on 258-centimeter skis but went down to 256’s because he is so light. Well we began to figure out that he was maybe even too light for 256’s. I would say he was eating an average of 8 meals a day and drinking his body weight in water. It was pretty hilarious because this hardly helped. The kid has a hall of fame metabolism. Thankfully on comp day Koby was able to just barely reach his BMI.
Being in Kazakhstan for a week was a very eye opening experience. It’s crazy how before, I took things like fresh air and good food for granted. A couple days ago in Munich I stepped out of the airport and took a big gulp of breathable air. A moment like this would have gone very unappreciated just weeks before. At that very instant though, air had never tasted so good.
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!