Three Stars at Last

In my parent’s house in Southern California, I have an old magazine cover spread tacked to a bulletin board, a momento from my childhood, a piece of my own history. I put it up in 1999, shortly after the US women brought a capacity Rose Bowl to their feet with their second World Cup win. I decided that day to keep it up until the US women won the World Cup again. On Sunday night, 5 July, I got that opportunity at last.

Soccer: FIFA World Cup Final: Overall view of Team USA players victorious on field after winning match vs China at Rose Bowl Stadium. Pasadena, CA 7/10/1999 CREDIT: Peter Read Miller (Photo by Peter Read Miller /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X58265 TK3 R5 F5 )

The spread of the 1999 World Cup team that was tacked to my bulletin board for 16 years. CREDIT: Peter Read Miller

I won’t say it’s the first thing that popped into my head after the final whistle blew at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia. After all, that memory had to fight with the in-the-present sight of my beloved women’s national team leaping joyfully into each other’s arms and jumping onto the stadium boards to hug their families and kiss spouses cheering in the stands. It wasn’t on my mind when the jumbo-tron screen flashed images of Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston, the two center backs responsible for an almost record-breaking World Cup shutout streak (539 minutes), tearfully embracing in the center circle, surrounded by photographers. I didn’t even think of it when the confetti cannons exploded as captain Christie Rampone and world-leading goal scorer Abby Wambach hoisted the World Cup trophy together on the podium with their teammates.

It hit me later that night as I was sitting in the hotel room with my friends, exhausted but elated. I was looking through the press releases and news reports discussing the game and the stellar performance by Carli Lloyd and company. A tear-jerking piece by former WNT captain Julie Foudy about what the third star that now adorns the women’s jerseys means brought me back to that July 10, 1999, and how it kicked off a passion for me that will undobtedly last a lifetime.

I remembered how it felt watching the penalty kicks on TV in 1999, how it felt to watch the confetti shower down onto the floor of the Rose Bowl, and wishing that I could experience that level of elation. I remembered my pre-teenage self tacking that spread to the bulletin board in my bedroom, vowing never to take it down until we had achieved a podium again.

The 2003 World Cup came with the ’99ers still on the roster, but the semifinal slipped through our fingers after Germany scored twice in stoppage time to win 3-0. Every day I came home from grade school, then high school soccer practices, then college, and saw that Sports Illustrated spread still tacked to the board. The vow held.

2007 came and went in what is now a blur of fear and anger and heartbreak. To this day, it remains the major tournaments that I remember least. It was what I consider to be the lowest point of the US women’s soccer team, a team split apart through poor coaching decisions and one player’s choice of words at the wrong time. The US fell at the hands of Brazil in what is still the worst US loss in the history of the women’s tournament. Another defeat in the semifinals, another quadrennial to wait.

Then came 2011, well into the Age of Pia. The 2008 Gold Medal was already ours, but the World Cup tournament wasn’t a great one for us, and we scraped through to the semifinals. What looked like a sure loss to Brazil in overtime was turned on its head as Abby Wambach’s 122 minute goal sent the game into penalty kicks. Ali Krieger’s converted 5th kick was a moment compared to the Chastain goal in 1999, and a moment that seemed destined to carry the US to victory.

But America wasn’t the Team of Destiny in 2011. That title fell to Japan, a country ravaged by earthquake and tsunami only four months before, a country that had never beaten the US in 25 previous meetings. Japan came from behind twice, and finally beat the Americans in a penalty kick shootout that days before the US used to stamped their ticket against Brazil. Japan won with class and heroics, and inspired their nation in the dark days of recovery.

The Sports Illustrated spread stayed on the board, though by now it had been taken off the wall of my childhood bedroom and moved to a basement closet along with the other belongings that had been left behind after my cross-country move.

Fast forward four years to 2015. Having not attended any of the World Cup games when it was hosted in the US in 1999 and (at the last minute) 2003, I jumped at the opportunity to get tickets when it was announced that Canada would be hosting. Never mind that the US was drawn into group D, which competed in middle-of-nowhere Winnipeg. I was there. And I was.

At Winnipeg Stadium on June 9, 2015, just prior to kickoff of the 2015 Women's World Cup group D stage.

At Winnipeg Stadium on June 9, 2015, just prior to kickoff of the 2015 Women’s World Cup group D stage.

I’ve seen the US in some difficult times, and the group stage of the 2015 World Cup was one of the worst in terms of play. Trapped in a decade-old and tired 4-4-2 formation, the team struggled to control the midfield against technically advanced teams, but scraped through the “Group of Death” on top with 7 points, a far cry from the dominant squad in 2012. A scrape it may have been, but they faced a relatively easy path to the semifinal: Colombia and a China squad far removed from their legendary 1999 status, standing in their way. Colombia put up a fight, as expected, and the US may have won 2-0, but one only had to watch the game to se that the US team was drowning.

It took fairly drastic measures, including quarterfinal suspensions of half of the midfield, Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe, for the US to return to dominance. The utilization of Morgan Brian in the place of Holiday turned out to be a boon, and Ellis still had some tricks up her sleeve. In a ballsy move (or what my dad referred to as Jill having “ovaried up”) she changed her formation for the semifinal against tournament favorite Germany, using a 4-5-1 and utilizing Brian, Holiday and Carli Lloyd together in the midfield, with Brian acting as a holder, leaving Holiday to playmake and Lloyd to attack with Alex Morgan just below her. The change was instantly successful, and the Germans were outplayed from the starting whistle. Helped by one of the loudest women’s soccer crowds I’ve ever heard, the US fairly strolled to victory. For the second tournament in a  row, the US were headed to the World Cup final.

Photo credit: Reuters

The US women celebrate defeating Germany 2-0 and advancing to the World Cup Final.

Against Japan, who had lost their 2011 sparkle, it was a different feel. There was no feeling of dread leading into the game. Only confidence. The US dominated, scoring four goals in 16 minutes, with Lloyd earning the first hat trick in a World Cup final. The US cruised to a 5-2 victory, securing their first World Cup win in 16 years.

As the confetti settled and the stadium finally emptied, the importance and grandure of the occasion hit me and my two closest soccer friends: We were World Champions again…at last. It was a moment my teenage self only dreamed would happen sooner. There were tears several times that night, and I cherish the experience I had and know how lucky I was to witness one of the greatest sporting events in history.

I had the presence of mind to snap this about 10 seconds after the final whistle blew. Pure elation.

I had the presence of mind to snap this about 10 seconds after the final whistle blew. Pure elation on the faces of some who waited longest.

With Sports Illustrated releasing a special cover this week and vowing to cover the Cup extensively in their next full issue, and (I expect) cover photos coming for TIME, People, and hopefully more, it looks like I’ll finally be able to take down that fabled 1999 spread. It might be framed, or it might be saved in a  box. But it will be replaced by a spread earned by this 2015 team, the team people are already referring to as the ’15ers, the team that, for me, seems more accessible and more human than ever before. This is the first team that I’ve been connected to more than that legendary 1999 team. While I’m more invested in the team than many, due to my 16 day stretch in Canada during the Cup, I am not alone in feeling the impact and inspiration from the women who fought so hard to bring the World Cup trophy back to the United States.

As Carli Lloyd put it, “We looked down at these stars and one of those stars belongs to us and will always belong to us.” I like to think she includes all of us in that quote.

Three Stars. The Top is courtesy of the '15ers

Three Stars. The Top is courtesy of the ’15ers

That’s a wrap!

As I stood at the starting line of the Mt Van Hoevenburg sliding complex today, on what I knew would likely be my last day of sliding for the 2014-2015 skeleton season, waiting for the track to be cleared, I was only thinking one thing:

“What the heck is that?”

I was totally distracted by the fact that there was a big ‘ol glob of goo stuck in my shoe.

It appeared that my rubber shoe guards had finally decided they had had enough. A hole that had been teasing me all season finally expanded and separated from the offending cover, and the rubber bit had now lodged itself into the tiny needles on a shoe that was my only hope against falling on my face…again.

Still, with 19 seconds on the clock and still counting down to zero, there was no time to dwell, or even to pick it out of my shoe. Hoping against hope that I wouldn’t slip, I set off.

I didn’t slip (yay), had a fairly descent run (yay) and felt great and ready for a second run. When I got back to the top and gave my runners a quick look, that thought of a second run quickly dissipated. Down a good inch and a half of my left runner was a nice, big, dark gash leftover from the run (boo). So much for a second run.

Still, I figured ending the season on a good, semi-fast (for the conditions) run was better than ending on a popped groove, which happened to me the day before on my last run.

As I lugged my sled up the three flights of stairs to my apartment for (what I hope will be) the last time this season, I thought of how different the season was from what I expected, and how much I learned from it.

Today, marks almost 14 months since I suffered my debilitating back injury. But 14 months ago, I wouldn’t have been carrying my sled up the stairs of my apartment by myself. 14 months ago, I couldn’t even pick my sled up, let alone carry it. I couldn’t slide, couldn’t lift, couldn’t run, couldn’t work, couldn’t even sleep. Today, the only remaining problem is trouble sleeping, and lots of discomfort riding in cars or planes or sitting in a movie theatre. It’s a hell of a lot better situation now, I’ll tell ya.

Remember this? The aftermath of my first Graston day (in July)

Remember this? The aftermath of my first Graston day (in July). Yay PT.

After wondering if I would even be able to make it down the track, I managed to make it through Team Trials in October, though not with the performance I had been hoping for. Because of being unable to lift or train heavily, my start suffered immensely, with almost a half-second difference from the previous season. As someone who once prided herself on her start, it was quite a difficult time for me.

I made the North American Cup team, though, and was looking forward to the first full competitive season in my four-year career. It took the first half of the season to work out how to compete at my best with the least amount of pain possible. I invested in a cart to pull my sled along rather than carry it, I recruited the help of my teammates and friends to help me lift it in and out of cars and trucks. I adjusted my training priorities to make sure my back was as manageable as it could be to race. This essentially meant taking off of sliding every couple of days, and taking the day before a race off completely.

Taking the day off before a race was the biggest adjustment, since I always wanted to have as much time the track as possible, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Taking the day before a race off meant coming to terms with decisions about sled setup and lines. It meant a day to dwell on what had happened throughout the week, then to let those thoughts go. It also usually meant a day to myself at the condo, house or hotel we happened to be staying at, as the rest of my teammates usually were at the track.

Alone time in the house means lots of time to prep! Shiny, race-prepped runners!

Alone time in the house means lots of time to prep! Shiny, race-prepped runners!

The strategy worked. I came away from the first half of the season with two medals and two more top-six finishes in what was the beginning of my most successful sliding season in my career. Following a quick stop at home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents, I headed back up to the Great White North, earning two more silver medals at my favorite track in Whistler, BC and two bronze medals in the final two races in Calgary, Alberta.

What a proud moment it was to stand up on the podium to accept the 2nd place overall trophy for the North American Cup. It was the first time since I had started sliding that an American woman had been on the podium,, and I was more than humbled in that fact.

NAC overall podium, with Mimi Rahneva and Grace Dafoe

NAC overall podium, with Mimi Rahneva and Grace Dafoe

The success was twofold: the podium in the first Calgary race automatically qualified me for 2015 US Team Trials. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and only on the third race. Because of that podium, and the rest of the season’s success, I have elected to not compete in 2015 US National Championships. Like last year, the main benefit of skipping this race is to give my injury time to heal.

Last year, it was a necessity because I could hardly walk comfortably, let alone slide. This year, though my back has improved drastically, it is still not 100%, and certainly hurts more after I slide. In order to work towards having a fast start back next year, I am taking steps now to be ready for that training intensity later in the summer. Unfortunately, that means not competing at Nationals.

It was a tough decision, but ultimately, it is the best decision for a long-term career.

And so the curtain drops on this season for me, but there’s a spotlight shining on 2015-2016. My immediate goal is to be healthy for trials, which also means to get my start back in a competitive range from the rest of the world. I’ll be working a lot over the summer, probably two jobs in order to finance my upcoming season, but it will certainly not be all-work and no play, as I have plans to attend the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in June, among a couple other fun things.

But that wraps it up for this season! Thanks for following along, and as always, keep on smiling!

The hardware: 4th, 5th from Park City, two silvers and two bronze's from Calgary and two silvers from Whistler, as well as 2nd place overall from NAC.

The hardware: 4th, 5th from Park City, two silvers and two bronze’s from Calgary and two silvers from Whistler, as well as 2nd place overall from NAC.

Don’t Mind Me…

It’s been a while, I know, but honestly, no words have jumped into my mind willingly of late! Not that there isn’t anything to report…there is!

I’ve had the most successful start to a skeleton season in my (to this point) short career, earning a spot on the US North American Cup team as part of the development program. In the first half of racing, I earned 4th and 5th place finishes in Park City, my first International races on that track.

My mate Jackie and me after our Park City tour!

My mate Jackie and me after our Park City tour!

Then, during only my third visit to Calgary Olympic Park (and second to race), I achieved two silver medals; my first silver medals with the US team, and my first medal on a Canadian track. I owe the success of those races to many people, but most prominently former teammate and Olympic Silver Medalist, Noelle Pikus-Pace, who passed on years of experience while we were there in 2013. I hope I did her and the US proud. I was certainly pleased with my performance, not only because I have now secured myself a spot in the 2015 US Skeleton Team Trials.

Jackie and me again, with more hardware!

Jackie and me again, with more hardware!

I look forward to the continuation of our tour, which kicks off again in January at my favorite track: Whistler Sliding Centre, and concludes in (again) Calgary. The last time I was in Whistler, I finished 6th and 5th in a field of 7, so I am, of course, anxious to improve on that. I also hold higher expectations for myself in Calgary, and hope to finish on the top of the podium!

As for the rest of my life, not much has changed. I’m still working at Dancing Bears Restaurant in Lake Placid (when I’m in town) and I still live in the tiny, but cozier by the month, studio apartment on Main Street. I think I’ve finally accepted that I’m not moving any time soon, so I’ve begun to make the place home. That being said, I’ve also realized that I’ve accumulated a whole heck of a lot in the last three years I’ve been in Lake Placid. There isn’t much space! Still, it’s “home”.

Speaking of home, I always mean to post updates of what I’ve been doing here and there. I can’t really make it short and sweet, but I’ll give it a go. Cue bullet points and photos!

In June, I was bridesmaid to my best friend, Becky, during her beautiful wedding to Max. It was an incredible few days celebrating with Becky, Cheryl and Brin, and it was certainly a memory I won’t forget in a long time.

The memories from Becky's wedding won't be forgotten anytime soon.

Most of the bridal party, in the hotel pool after the wedding!

Just before Christmas, I had the honor of forerunning the World Cup skeleton race, which was quite an experience. Seeing my teammates and friends racing was a thrill, and it’s always great to slide on World Cup-quality ice.

Forerunning World Cup in December 2014. Photo credit to Ken Childs.

Forerunning World Cup in December 2014. Photo credit to Ken Childs.

For Christmas, I was happy to say that Santa didn’t forget about me. Thanks to the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that I got for myself, and using  window lighting technique passed on from my grandpa, I was able to add a little holiday cheer to my time in Lake Placid.

As an adult, the novelty of Christmas changes…it’s not longer about the presents, but about who you share the day with. I did, however, receive a few gifts from my family that I adore: a brilliant card game from Andrew that will be used on tour for sure, Hogwarts School sweatpants (which I am currently wearing as I type), faux wolf fur slippers from family friends (which are LOVELY and warm), and, perhaps best of all, from my parents, I got a hand-held electric mixer (YES! Catapulted into the 21st century at last!) and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

My pride and joy!

My pride and joy!

I’m the first to admit that I know nothing of French cuisine, but even reading the introduction and forward by Mrs Child herself makes me anxious for the day I have the time to tackle a recipe. I have my eye on Reine De Saba (chocolate and almond cake), as well as Julia’s famous boeuf bourguignon.

Anywho, that’s about all for this entry. Short and sweet and to the point. As always, follow me on twitter @lsesalter, and if you have any questions, feel free to comment here!

Have a happy holiday, everyone! See you in 2015!

This is It. The Big One

The one we’ve all been waiting for!

Ok, maybe not ALL of you have been waiting for this, but it’s been several months since my last update, and there is a reason for that!

First and foremost, I’ve been kept so busy with work that there has been little time to eat, let alone write.

Secondly…well that brings us to the point.

I suffered an unfortunate injury at the end of January. During a lift, my back and shoulderblades felt a bit sore, but I put it down to muscle soreness from the previous day’s workout, so kept pushing through. Unfortunately, the pain was a deeper issue than I immediately suspected. Following two months of severe, debilitating pain, and a few more months of fighting to ignore how much I couldn’t move, I finally accepted that something was really wrong.

Unable to see a team doctor, since I don’t live at the OTC, am not funded or supported by the USBSF and therefore being unable to use medical facilities, I made the decision to try and get a waiver for the upcoming combine. It was only by asking for the waiver that the team doctor would see me.

Following two clean MRIs and a clean complete bone scan, I am no closer to answers than I was in January.

However, thanks to close to two months of Physical Therapy, my injury is finally starting to turn around. Weekly Graston Technique sessions and exercises have finally started to show, and not just physically.

The aftermath of my first Graston day.

The aftermath of my first Graston day.

I was granted a waiver for the annual USBSF combine, which means I have no time limit on my rehabilitation and no rush to properly heal. The amount of weight taken off my shoulders is substantial, and my outlook on the upcoming season has brightened.

I also finally received my new sled, fitted and ready to go. I had it in my possession in January, but as the saddle didn’t fit at the time, I had to take it to Utah to get refitted by Randy Parker, my sled builder. Luckily, I was in the wedding of one of my best friends, Becky Lippman, and was able to make a stop in Salt Lake City on the return journey.

The memories from Becky's wedding won't be forgotten anytime soon.

The memories from Becky’s wedding won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

I received the sled about two weeks ago, properly fitted, and I am very excited to get on the ice. It’s my second sled, but of higher quality than my first, which was a great beginners sled. All that is left to do is adjust the weight of it, repad it, and it’s ready to go.

The underside of my new sled.

The underside of my new sled.

My summer has been packed full of work, mostly, which left me little time to do much of anything else. Working on the deck of Dancing Bears was quite the experience: challenging, hot, frustrating, delightful. My coworkers (and Sour Patch Kids) definitely were the reason I got through many of those 10+ hour days.

Despite the overload of work, I was able to do a few things on my own, especially towards the end of the summer. One event that stood out, besides Becky’s wedding, was a trip to Rochester, NY in September to see the US Women’s National Soccer team play. I hadn’t seen the team play live since 2007, when I was in college. This time, my coworker, Patrick, and I drove the 5 1/2 hours to Rochester to see them play.

Patrick and me at Sahlen Stadium for USWNT v Mexico.

Patrick and me at Sahlen Stadium for USWNT v Mexico.

Because Patrick had never seen the team play before, it was a delight to see his excitement first-hand, though truth be told, I think I was more giddy than he was. I shouted myself horse cheering them on, and had a wonderful time. Our seats were great, and we even scored an autograph from forward Amy Rodriguez after the game.

Amy Rodriguez signing my FC Kansas City scarf after the game.

Amy Rodriguez signing my FC Kansas City scarf after the game.

There was a lot more to my summer, of course: a trip to NYC to see two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster in “Violet”, Farmer’s Market excursions, the occasional drive to Saratoga Springs, and of course, lots of Netflix and cross stitching.

Still, the time has come to refocus. The weather is getting colder, and ice is being set on the track. Leaves have changed and there is the hint of snow on the peak of Whiteface Mountain. The sky outside my apartment frequently has clouds filling it. Winter is coming…in fact, it’s knocking on the door.

While I did make some money this summer, it wasn’t quite enough to fully supplement my season. I’m holding a fundraiser online, and the finances I raise before October 31 will go directly towards costs. If I do raise the money, I will have enough to help me get to Europe, should I qualify for it. This is a great year to travel overseas, to gain experience at other tracks, and to experience different cultures. I’ll only be able to do it with the help of friends and family.

If you would like to donate, follow the link right here to do so, with my thanks!

As the season goes on, I will be back to this blog, hopefully more regularly. Thank you for sticking around, and here’s to a great winter!