February 5, 2014
I have officially been nominated to the 2014 US Paralympic Team, a press release from US Paralympics has just told me, but this does not surprise me very much. I am sitting on my couch, not jumping for joy and my heart rate has only slightly registered the news. I am happy, sure, but I have expected to accomplish this for a long time.
I do not want to come off as cocky or ungrateful, so allow me to explain. I have been racing on the US Paralympics Alpine Ski Team for about ten years. In order to be on the team for this long I have had to be consistently successful. All of my training in the mental and physical aspects of this sport has been towards success on the race hill. I do not always win, but in general I have been quite successful. For me, doing well at a race, is the equivalent of turning in a decent term paper for university or completely fulfilling your job expectations at work. Granted, my job is a really unique and exciting one, but it is still a job. I expect to go to the Paralympics like university students expect to graduate or people expect to be promoted after years of hard work.
Winning a medal at the Paralympics will be another matter entirely.
It is considered a grand thing to win a medal at the Olympics and Paralympics. A lifetime of hard work leads to one moment to shine. Some people have several chances but the idea is the same. Statistically, doing well at the Olympics and Paralympics is very unlikely. The race itself is like any other, albeit with more people watching and cameras recording your every move. Ski racing is extremely intense and you have to perform at your full potential immediately, for about two minutes. If you let up at all, you lose. Therefore, the rate at which you have a great run is really low. The chances of everything working out for you for a single two minute run every four years, as you can imagine, is really low.
I find the pressure from coaches, teammates, family, friends, and media to do well at a single race every four years to be very frustrating. In many ways, winning the overall World Cup title is harder to do and better reflects who is the best skier in the world. Athletes know this and this title is much sought after. It is much harder to explain this concept to the rest of the world. Everyone loves a hero, and what better way to become one than winning at the most important sporting event the world has ever seen?
With all that said, I am very excited to have the opportunity to compete in Sochi this March. I have a burning desire to win every event I compete in, despite the odds. I know this goal is mildly unrealistic, but in an environment like the Paralympics you tend get caught up in things. There is always the chance that I will not achieve a podium in any event, and I will have to accept that this is a possible outcome. In the last two Paralympics this outcome became my reality and it was devastating. My mind went to some very dark places for a long time. I might have to deal with this reality again, and I fear that this will be one of the greatest mental challenges I have yet faced.