Unconditional Love

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You either love Valentine’s Day or you hate it (I’m not sure there is a single person alive who feels “meh” towards this day of love).  If you hate it…then this blog post is not for you (or maybe it is primarily for you).  Because this blog post is all about love.

I love skiing.  Through skiing I’ve met all of my best friends.  I’ve learned a lot about myself, my body, and what makes me tick.  And most of the time, skiing loves me back.  I’ve found that generally the harder you work at skiing, the better (relative to others) you’ll become.

Except for sometimes, it doesn’t work that way.  Sometimes no matter how much attention and love you give skiing, it just responds with a quick slap in the face.  This smack is often the result of uncontrollable variables.  Sometimes it’s a fall, a sickness, just plain bad feelings… or sometimes it is nine feet of snow in four days (looking at you, Truckee).

And as everyone knows, loving something (or someone) who just doesn’t seem to be loving you back is heartbreaking.  To offset this heartbreak, common practice (Hallmark) produces a myriad of half joking cards renaming Valentine’s day “Singles Awareness Day” in some sort of semi-insulting-but-intended-to-be-empowering marketing scheme.  Or cards hinting at the luxuriousness of cat-lady life, or the half sized bottles of wine to enjoy with your single filet mignon (and a microwave cupcake for one).

And while these are nice ideas, for anyone experiencing true heartbreak, this does absolutely nothing.  No amount of “support” in the form of chocolates, flowers, and cards can heal a heartbreak.  Further, hating other people (or the holiday) for having a requited love won’t get you very far either.  In my newfound experience (thankfully only relating to skiing), the only way to move on is to give your unconditional love.

After the first half of the season and the snow storm that was Truckee, I was starting to feel a little bit spiteful towards skiing.  Instead of throwing my unconditional love at races and training, I started just expecting something to go wrong.  I became overly focused on things I simply could not control, and was failing to race the way I know best- going as hard as I can from the start and holding on.

When I went to talk to my strength/life coach Max, I described it as unrequited love.  From this inherently negative perspective I was going to get nowhere.  Max encouraged me to rebrand the love from unrequited to unconditional.

Racing will almost never go exactly how you want it to go.  In fact, more often than not you will cross the finish line wishing you had done something differently- be it pacing, ski selection, waxing or group tactics.  And if you don’t hold an unconditional love for racing, you will not make it very far.  Because playing the victim and feeling genuinely hurt only digs you deeper into the hole.  And the more you dig, the further you have to climb out.

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Race photos from Ian Austen, Monique Punt and James Mclean.

As it turns out, I had about five days of climbing.  But after five completely off days, I was feeling the love.  Caitlin Gregg invited me to do some skate intervals with her at Wirth, and it was honestly the most fun I’d had in about two months on skis.  We had a great session of cat and mouse, each pushing each other a little faster every interval.  Then I went to Ottawa, Ontario for a three race weekend at Canadian Eastern Championships.  I came away with one of my best qualifiers ever, a third place in the sprint and two wins in the classic and skate distance races.

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We had one day of brilliant sunshine (the sprint day), followed but a classic distance day with flurries, and a 15K skate pursuit in a full on snow storm.

Most importantly, I had so much fun doing it.  Type two fun (because 15 Kilometers of skating in the falling snow as hard as you can go hurts a lot), but still, so much fun.  And then I had three days of extra training in Ontario that included skating on the world’s largest outdoor ice arena, a beautiful ski through Gatineau Park (200 Kilometers of groomed trails!), a trip to the nicest anytime fitness I’ve ever been to, and finally a beautiful sunny day exploring the Nakkertok Trails (and the jumps they groom).  I was lucky enough to be staying at a beautiful home near all of the foreign ambassadors home (courtesy of Veronica and Eric Wessels, Veronica was my mom’s Dartmouth roommate), and took many beautiful walks, checked out local coffee shops and cooked a lot of great food.

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Scenes from my ski throughout the Gatineau forest.

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After three days of racing, I was looking for some active recovery. As luck would have it, Ottawa is home to the Rideau Canal AKA the world’s largest outdoor skating rink. I borrowed a pair of skates from the Wessel’s and spent an hour skating around (I did the whole thing). I only got passed by two people, and was pretty pleased with myself.

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My personal fans. Eric turned out to be the proud owner of a pair of Madshus skis older than me! Veronica is a not a lover of the extreme cold, so I am especially appreciative that she came out to cheer me on. And of course the mother like no other who helped organize the whole weekend!  And as always, all of my sponsors- especially MD Biosciences- for joining me in this unconditional love of sport.

I’m back to a place of unconditional love, and with this emergent perspective I’m feeling a lot of love from skiing, too.  We’re back to a very happy relationship, just in time for Valentine’s Day (coincidentally the next period of Supertour Racing and the Birkie).

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So if you’re a person who loves Valentine’s Day…I’m with you.  If you’re a person who thinks it’s the dumbest day in existence, I encourage you to change your perspective.  Instead of thinking of it just as a hallmark holiday for people already in love to obnoxiously share that love all over social media, find the things that you have unconditional love for.  Really give the unconditional love your full self, and I promise you’ll get some love back.  With or without a card and instagram post :)