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!

2014-2015 Season online fundraiser is now LIVE!

For those still keeping up with me (despite my lack of updates throughout the summer…sorry, that will change soon!) I am holding a fundraiser for two months to help fund my upcoming skeleton season!

The website can be found right here, and any and all help, monetary or otherwise, is greatly appreciated!

Cheers!

Unplugged

I’m not sure people are really aware of just how much we rely on technology today.

As a former and future outdoor professional, I already knew how liberating a week without technology could be. After all, you can’t take your iPad on a backpacking trip through the Arizona canyons or Virginia wilderness. You can take your phone, but it won’t work in the backcountry anyway. Even a satellite phone is spotty and expensive. That’s reason enough to only use it for emergencies. Some of my fondest college memories came when I was unplugged in the wilderness. I was alone with my co-leads, my trip mates, and nature. Who needs a movie when you can lay in a sleeping bag on slick rock looking up at stars so bright and vast that it brings you to tears?

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Who needs a TV when you have this? (Arizona)

I didn’t make the decision to unplug for a week in a day. It was over the course of several weeks that it dawned on me I was relying FAR too heavily on technology. My main enemy, ironically, was the Olympic Games.

Once every four years (two years, really, but it sounds a lot cooler saying ever four years) I splurge for the outrageous installation fees and first-time payments so that I can have cable and DVR during the two-week-long Olympic Games.

To many people (my parents, probably) that is an absurd reason to spend $200. But for an Olympic hopeful, it’s completely logical. Actors, after all, will attend other shows to fine-tune their craft. Film stars, I assume, go to the movies to support their fellows and to gain knowledge. It’s no different with athletes. The Olympics are our endgame, and so there is nothing that will keep us from watching them. I went so far during London 2012 as to schedule time off of work so I could watch the quarterfinals, semifinals and Olympic final of the women’s soccer tournament. It’s a good thing I did, too. I neglected to take the day off after the women’s skeleton races during Sochi, and I was emotionally affected by it five hours later at the start of my shift that I had trouble concentrating on my tables.

But I digress.

After two straight weeks of almost 24-hour television (seriously, it was on almost straight through the night), I was burnt out. Actually, after only a week and a half of the Games, I realized I just was not enjoying having cable at all. I love the Olympics. I love television (I’m a hard-core fan for a few shows, I’ll admit). But (and I know many of my former English teachers will shudder for my using ‘but’ as the beginning of a sentence) after two years straight of no cable, the sudden intrusion of it in my life was overwhelming. I couldn’t take it.

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My last photo before unplugging

The final straw was the Oscars. I’m a big film buff. I didn’t used to be, but I’ve developed some friendships that have lead me to this point. As an intelligent adult, I’m able to see deeper into a film than when I was a child, when my movie-going experiences was pretty much, “Oh! [Insert actor's name] is in it! Shiny colors! Pretty locations! Good story!”]. Now, I enjoy watching the films nominated for the major awards: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Supporting, etc, and because I watch a majority of films being honored, I become invested in how they get recognized.

So there I sat, watching the Oscar telecast while scrolling through Twitter on my phone to track what other people were saying about Ellen’s pizza deliveries and John Travolta’s second straight year of butchering a name. At the same time, I was texting two or three different people. I also was on my iPad, browsing through a few websites. All at the same time.

My generation has excellent multi-tasking skills online…but that’s overkill, folks, and I knew it.

A week earlier, I had made a statement on Facebook that I was “…seriously considering a week (at least) away from technology, excepting emergency and personal phone calls, and maybe once-a-day email checks. This will come post-Oscars, but I’m thinking it’s 95% inevitable.” I stuck with that decision, and unplugged first thing Monday morning.

Little did I know how difficult it would be that first few days. As a regular user of the website tumblr, where a person can “track” a tag of something they like (the Olympics, USWNT, Frozen, Jessica Chastain, Veronica Mars are some of my tracked tags), to give up technology the day after the Oscars meant not seeing a million adorable posts, “gifsets”, and pictures from the event itself that make me go “awwwwww!” I do that frequently on tumblr, and to suddenly be stripped of that was difficult.

It is human nature to wonder what it is like to be someone else, and I’m no different. I like tracking celebrities, actors, athletes. It’s a guilty pleasure, and I have no qualms in saying here that I enjoy it (to an extent…I don’t support people or their children being harassed for a paparazzi photo, for instance, and I have been inspired by actress Kristen Bell and her crusade to introduce a No Kids policy with entertainment media). As early as Monday afternoon, I actually caught myself going on Safari and pulling up tumblr (having temporarily deleted the actual app from my phone and iPad to avoid that exact thing). It was ridiculous, and happened so fast that I was actually scrolling the page before I realized I had done it.

That was it. I shut down my iPad and stowed it in a clothes drawer. I switched my phone to airplane mode and shoved it into my purse. I knew I’d bring my phone with me if I drove anywhere, in case of emergencies, but that was all. I didn’t even take it to work.

What happened throughout the following week was rather remarkable, in that it was such an ordinary week that it was extraordinary. It’ll make sense, I promise.

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The stack of books that accompanied me through the week. At the time of this blog, I’ve read three of them.

I ended up jotting down some thoughts in a notebook throughout the week, and I’ll share them now, exactly how I wrote them (retyped, because my handwriting was illegible).

Day 1:

Bored, listless. Cheated already.

1 episode of TV

Started and read cover-to-cover The Book Thief

Day 3: Caught myself peeking on FB/Twitter, but found I was actually wholly uninterested in statuses.

Day 4: Caught myself thinking as Facebook statuses & tweets. Literally would shape thoughts to tailor to a Facebook status. Who cares? –>The thoughts were forgotten and deemed unimportant within a few hours.

Day 5: Want to look at headlines.

“Miss” family and friends but knowing how easy it would be to get in touch with family, if I needed to, helps.

Self-importance:

Things that happen in my day aren’t important to broadcast.

Not really looking to get back on FB-Twitter full-time. Maybe 1-a-day scan?

Cleaning out e-mail spam…unsubscribed from at least 12 mailings in the first 3 days (I checked e-mail once a day until about Thursday, when I did it every other day.)

Day 6: Found myself more occupied at work than I am with my phone nearby (shocker)

Spent less $ than when I had internet constantly

Forgot about taking my phone places

Falling asleep earlier, waking up earlier.

Yesterday, when I rejoined the world of technology, I immediately wrote the following Facebook status:

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I was immediately hit with seven messages (and two texts) saying that I shouldn’t delete my accounts, that my posts would be missed, and that people are interested in seeing what I’m doing. First off: I’m flattered, you guys, and I understand that in this day and age, technology and social media are how acquaintances, friends, family stay in touch.

After a week of not sharing every detail of my life, however, I realized that I’m actually a private person. I enjoyed having my anonymity for a week, and I could logically see myself phasing myself away from social media; specifically, Facebook. I am by no means a public figure. I don’t have paparazzi following me everywhere, but there are enough people who are interested in how I live my life that I feel the need to protect the private parts of my life. I don’t mind sharing things with my family. Really, though, even my family doesn’t care what I’m eating for breakfast or what my political views are.

I have an unofficial athlete page that I’ve tried to promote. It is my ultimate goal to delete my personal Facebook account and use my athlete page to share my journey towards a possible Olympic bid. I’ll still have a twitter account, as it seems to be the best way to promote my athletic goals and do a tiny bit of fandom gushing, but that’s all I’ll keep public.

I don’t mean to climb up on a soap box or anything. I just had no idea a simple week away would change my opinions of social media so powerfully. I had an idea that I would start to lean towards less social media usage, but I didn’t know it would be so drastic. Perhaps I should have known. The worst part of a backpacking trip (other than the ascent out of a canyon after a week of 10-mile days with a 7- pound pack) is the return to technology. Except showers. The first shower back is the best part of a backpacking trip (am I right, PRM?).

I urge you to try unplugging for a week. Jot down your thoughts throughout the week on a notepad. Be aware of what you think and how you think it. Perhaps you’ll find, as I did, thoughts forming in 140 characters. Perhaps you’ll catch yourself online before you are even aware that you’re doing it.

Hopefully, you’ll find that the new episode of TV you’ve been waiting for really wasn’t as important as you thought it was, or that not knowing how Jennifer Lawrence spent her Oscar night won’t kill you. Maybe you’ll discover, or rediscover, that books are just as engrossing as the Internet (I read four books through the course of the week. Actual books, mind you. Not Kindle books and they were all incredible). You’ll probably find that not being in constant communication with your friends via text will give you more to talk about when you see them face-to-face. You’ll definitely become aware of people around you using technology instead of talking to each other, even at the dinner table.

The most important thing to discover, though, is how important you

That’s the biggest lesson I took from unplugging last week. Yes, I learned that I don’t need technology to survive. But I learned what technology was doing to my self-image, and I learned that, though it’s not a glaring thing, social media and constant electronic use was actually self-destructive. I’m an introvert, and I’m extremely hard on myself, and a major part of that is society-implemented. Cutting off my contact with such stereotypes and societal expectations, I got in touch with my own thoughts again.

I’m important, and I forgot that when I was too busy trying to see what my actor idols or sports heroes were up to. I spend so much time trying to prove myself to other people, trying to impress other people, that I completely forgot that there’s only one person I really need to prove myself to and impress: me.

Support my journey towards the 2018 Olympic Games here!

The Art of Being a Spectator

I’m just gonna lay this out on the table right away: I’m not a good spectator.

I’ve known this for a while. I’d be surprised if you don’t know this about me already, but I am a rather big fan of the US Women’s National Soccer Team. For over half my life, fifteen years to be exact, I’ve been following the USWNT. I’ve seen legends retire, new players come and go, and once superwoman Christie Rampone retires, I’ll have seen an entire generation of players cycle through. I’ve been witness to a World Cup win, two Olympic gold medals, one Olympic heartbreak, and three devastating World Cup losses. The thing I’m getting at here is, I’ve experienced every imaginable emotion that a spectator might go through in their lives.

Or so I thought.

Now a member of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and an Emerging Elite skeleton slider, I’m part of a national sports program myself, and I have my eye on an Olympic dream I’ve had since I was able to hit a baseball off a tee. I watch the Olympics religiously, day and night, often times waking up at ungodly hours to do so. When the 2012 London Olympics were happening, I took off work in order to cheer the USWNT to a Gold Medal. Now, during Sochi, I’ve been watching whenever I can, including waking up at 0230 to watch the first two heats of the women’s skeleton race.

The problem is, now that I can call myself teammates to the likes of Noelle Pikus-Pace, Katie Uhleander, John Daly, Matt Antoine and Kyle Tress, my stress level as a spectator rose exponentially. I knew that I would be emotionally invested in their races, but I had no idea of the physical toll it would take on my body.

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One of the hardest days in my life as a spectator came on February 12, 2014, the day when the final two heats for women’s skeleton decided the medalists, and the beginning of the men’s skeleton race just an hour later.

I’ve sat through some pretty emotional stuff: the USWNT’s agonizing World Cup semifinal loss to Germany in 2003, the unimaginable loss to Brazil in the 2007 World Cup semifinals, the redemption against Brazil in the gold medal game in Beijing 2008, and who will forget in a hurry the heart-pounding, narrow, last-minute defeat of Canada to advance to the 2012 Olympic gold medal game?

The USWNT celebrate their semifinal win over Canada in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The USWNT celebrate their semifinal win over Canada in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Notice how all of those moments came with the soccer team? I thought I had seen it all. And then I watched the women’s skeleton races in Sochi 2014.

It’s one thing to be a dedicated fan of a team for half your life. It’s another to personally know the competitors. That’s exactly what made the Sochi 2014 skeleton races so difficult to watch. People have asked me if it’s hard to watch my teammates compete in an Olympic Games, when I failed to make the team.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t even close to making that team. I had been sliding only three years when trials took place in October 2013. I well and truly knew I wasn’t going to Sochi. That’s not why I was so emotional.

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Noelle starts her comeback with a win in Park City NAC (2012).

Noelle has been an incredible role model and mentor for me from the moment she came out of retirement. I’m not the bravest of people, nor am I outgoing enough to approach someone I don’t know, particularly someone I admire, and introduce myself. It didn’t matter with Noelle, who approached me first to say hello. I slid with, and competed against Noelle in the North American Cup races in 2012-2013 as she worked to qualify again for the World Cup tour.

Perhaps the most memorable event coming to mind is the NAC race in Calgary. Noelle’s sled was deemed illegal by the jury just one day before the races. In a tight spot, Noelle needed a sled. Me and a fellow teammate offered ours up for a training run. Being the champ she is, Noelle took both, one each run. My sled isn’t the fastest in the world by any means. It was built to be a good development sled: tough as nails so it wouldn’t damage when I hit walls (which happened a lot as a beginner), but not very responsive, so I had the freedom to wiggle and move on it down the track, a bad habit I’ve now begun to clear away. But Noelle took it down anyway. She posted a fairly descent time, but when she came back to the top of the track, she found me. I was expecting to hear a word of gratitude or something, which I got, but which was also followed immediately by, “You should look into getting a new sled. You’ve got a second and a half in you just in equipment.”

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Noelle could have just said thanks, and not said anything else. But she offered her advice, and continued to do so through the tour. She shared her race notes, her lines, her tips. She was our competition, but first and foremost, she was our mentor and teammate. She was willing to split her attention from her own races to make sure we did our best.

Noelle even let me borrow her old sled for the Park City races during Team Trials. Here I am supporting the USWNT before a training run.

Noelle even let me borrow her old sled for the Park City races during Team Trials. Here I am supporting the USWNT before a training run.

Katie is the type of athlete I’ve never met before. She is tough as nails, driven and determined, and not just on the track. She has a go-get-‘em attitude that I had only heard about, but never actually witnessed before. Our personalities are so different that it is actually intimidating for me to talk to her. But as the years go on, I’ve realized that Katie is an excellent example of a leader by example. I see how hard she works in the gym and on the track. I see what dedication she puts into sliding. She wears her goals proudly on her sleeve, and doesn’t give a @#!*% to what other people may think. She marches to the beat of her own drummer, and she’s incredibly successful.

I’ve never been quite as nervous as I was watching the final two heats of the 2014 Olympic women’s skeleton runs. With both Katie and Noelle challenging for medals, I knew the impact it would have on our program. I knew how badly both of them wanted that medal. I can’t begin to describe my emotions watching Katie’s final run. What was even more intense was watching the two sliders after her. Sitting in 5th, Katie had to watch and wait. After Olga Potylitsina’s run was slower, Katie moved up a spot. Elena Nikitina was next. She bled time down the track, and the green clock was getting closer and closer to the red. Katie’s got it, I thought with each split. She’s got it. She’s got the bronze! When Nikitina crossed the line, a -.04 was next to her name. By less than a blink of an eye, Katie’s medal hopes were dashed.

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There was barely enough time to process this heartbreak before it was Noelle’s turn. Each curve, I waited, holding my breath. I couldn’t think about anything else. I kept an eye on the clock. She was in the green. Still in the green. She was crossing the finish line, and still in the green. She had won a silver medal.

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Noelle has a tearful celebration during the flower ceremony.

Emotions erupted. Noelle jumped up and down, vaulted a barricade and kissed her husband tearfully in the stands while her kids crowded around her. Even after Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain easily won the gold medal, Noelle still celebrated. And there was Katie, clearly heartbroken, having barely missed a bronze.

It took me hours to calm down after the races. Even at work that night, I had to avoid watching the NBC prime time rebroadcast, because the emotions were so raw that I knew I’d break down again if someone asked me about it. Still, they asked. My coworkers know what I do, and the reactions of our patrons in the restaurant made it impossible to avoid. Only one table of the night could claim they knew what I went through: their son was an alpine skier who competed against the Olympians once.

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It’s been an incredible experience watching my USBSF teammates compete in Sochi, but after the skeleton races, I’ve determined that I am a horrible spectator. I don’t want to sit through that again. Watching my teammates and cheering them on is, of course, something I want to do. But the next time the Games roll around, I want it to be me on that track. I’ve never been as nervous to slide as I was to watch. I have control over the results when I slide. I don’t when I’m thousands of miles away watching coverage on TV.

So, the fire is stoked within me again, more powerfully than before. I intend on being a serious contender for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. I intend to be the one representing the United States.

I’m well aware that the chance is just that: chance. But I’m determined to make the best shot for myself possible.