Season Finale

The 2011-2012 season has come to a close in a big way.

I wish I could say it’s come full circle, but let’s admit, I’m glad it wasn’t! That being said, I am so thankful for the experiences I had this season, that I’m almost glad I had such an atrocious Team Trials. I don’t know where I would be if my results had been different, and frankly, I don’t like to think about that because it makes my head hurt and it’s still early.

As it were, as abysmally as my season began, I am thrilled with how it ended. It didn’t come overnight by any means. Indeed, it took the entire six-month season for me to build myself back up mentally, and to begin to slide well. Countless hours with Becca (our America’s Cup coach) and her psychology coaching. Hundreds of hours in the gym, the weight room, the push track, the ice track. Many, many nights on the phone with family and friends getting advice and encouragement. Dozens of hours of sled work with Don. Countless Facebook posts and emails and texts with teammates, asking advice, getting advice and encouragement.

All of this lead me to where I am today. Looking back at my season, Team Trials was obviously the beginning of this journey. Coming off 2010-2011 with a 9th place finish at Nationals and a 5th place finish at America’s Cup set me up to have a successful bid for a competition circuit. Unfortunately, things just didn’t click right away, and I spent the first month and a half of the season floundering. I was dead last in Team Trials, didn’t make a competition circuit, and was frustrated beyond belief.

Thanks to my teammates, namely Sam, Kristina, and Corinne, who I spent all of November and December training with in Lake Placid, and thanks to Becca’s daily guidance, I began to accept what had happened. We had some fun training days where we just let loose and literally screamed our way down the track (mainly to freak out the newbies, but it sure made for entertaining waits in the finish house!), or danced before the green light at the start. I began to enjoy sliding again, despite continuing to turn out slow downtimes. But I was ok with it, because I no longer had pressure to prove myself.

I think January was the turning point for me. I slid maybe a week in Lake Placid before I packed my sled up and flew out to Park City with Morgan, to spend two and a half weeks training there. Being able to be on a new track and in a completely different training environment was the change of pace I really needed to refocus. It was great sliding there, I was able to see my mom for the first time in over a year, and visit that area of Utah for the first time. I didn’t want to leave, but when the time came, I was excited to get back on my home track.

Curve 12 at the Utah Olympic Park

Shortly after my arrival back to Lake Placid, I competed in the Empire State Games, my first competition since Team Trials. While this wasn’t a race for points, or even a race that would push me up with a good result, it was still a race, and I was determined to see it as such. Some athletes find it hard to take a club or local race seriously, but my mentality was that of redemption in every development race I competed in. I was consistent in my training runs leading up to the ESG and that consistency is a big factor that lead to my eventual gold-medal finish. It was great to finish in first, because I knew then that I could do this.

After the Empire State Games, we had a couple week’s break for World Championships, with no sliding time. After Worlds, came National Championships. Despite having our top four sliders not competing in the event due to other commitments or illness, Nationals was still a great competition. Everyone prepared their best for it, and it ended up being a fantastic two days of racing.

I was thrilled when I put together two great runs to finish the first day of competition in second place (with my second down time being .01 seconds off my personal best downtime). I had been meeting with Becca every night for the week leading up to the event, so my mental state for the first day was in competition mode, and as I said for ESG, redemption mode. The second day came with a personal best downtime (of almost a half second!), but my excitement from that run and from my previous success lead me to be a little too jittery on my fourth and final run. I made some big mistakes up at the top of the track, and it knocked me into fourth place.

Despite that, I was very happy with my finish position. I knew that I had done my best and I couldn’t be happier. My teammates were all supportive, and the three girls who finished above me all were gracious winners. It was so good to feel noticed and feel that my hard work hadn’t gone undetected. I was so happy for Megan, Savannah, and Meghan, who finished 1, 2, 3 at Nationals, and was so happy to be in contention again.

With my result in Nationals, I was selected to race in the final two America’s Cup races that took place here in Lake Placid. Since Mother Nature decided to tease us with 75-80 degree weather for the week before official training, we had only four training days leading up to the race to prepare.

Second to last training run before America's Cup. Rocking the USA speedsuit!

My mentality for these races was quite different from Nationals. There wasn’t as much pressure, though of course, I still needed to do well (it was a race, after all!). I was able to work with Becca to start establishing a fighter mentality going into the races. Race #7 took place on Thursday, and race #8 was on Friday. That mentality didn’t actually hit until the second race. Part of the reason being on Thursday’s race on the first run, I popped the groove. Popping the groove in training is difficult because you lose all your momentum and speed going into Curve 1. It’s hard to recover from, and almost impossible to get a downtime close to a “usual” one. During the race, popping the groove can certainly cost an athlete a medal. Despite finishing the first heat in 8th place, I was a couple seconds back from the leader. My second run was a second faster (since I didn’t pop the groove! Hurrah!) and I moved up a spot, but I finished 7th, one place shy of a medal. THAT’S when the fighter mentality kicked back in.

Now I had something to chase. I was determined to have a good showing on the second race. I knew after my second run of the first day that I had what it took. I had the speed, the downtime to put some pressure on the leaders. So on the second day, I just went all out, not wanting to leave anything on the track. I’m happy to say that it worked. I was drawn to be the 13th athlete off out of 15, so I listened to music before my runs so I didn’t hear anyone’s downtime except the athlete who was off just before me. I had a pretty good run, and left the first run in 3rd place, .03 seconds in front of the girl in fourth.

All my coaching with Becca came into play here, because I knew I couldn’t keep focusing on my first run. There was no point. All I could do was think about the mistakes I made and how to fix them in the second run. I kept myself focused with music and visualization, and was able to concentrate on two things I wanted to fix: curve 3 and the exit of 10. With the second heat being in reverse order of downtimes (from the first run, so the slowest athlete went first, fastest last), I was once again 13th off. The music was on, and I only focused on myself. I didn’t know where my teammates finished, but at that point, I wasn’t concerned. I took my place at the starting line, had a word of encouragement from Becca, and off I went.

My run was cleaner than my first, and I did fix both parts of the track I wanted to (3 and 10) and when I got to the finish line and looked at the clock, I saw the number 1 flash, and I knew I had secured a podium, though with two athletes left, it was undetermined which color medal I would get. Glee took over. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled at the finish line. I pumped my fist. I patted my sled. Euphoric is the word I would use. I hopped up from my sled and got off the track, met with congratulations from the Swiss sliders, and my teammates who were waiting in the finish house.

Celebrating in the outrun

Both athletes ahead of me secured their places in 1st and 2nd, but I was and still am, so happy with where I finished. My first career podium! After such a roller coaster season with such an awful start, it felt almost too good to be true to end where I did. Not only did I earn points in the FIBT rankings, but I also secured a spot in 2012-2013 Team Trials.

It was a perfect ending to a season that held so many challenges for me. Going into the off-season knowing I have a spot in Team Trials is a huge weight off my chest, and I am very thankful for it.

Race #8 medalists

I’m so proud of all my teammates who raced, and so thankful for all their encouragement and praise. I certainly couldn’t have done this without them. The coaching staff has been nothing but supportive of me this season, and again, without the hours Becca committed to me and the words of encouragement from B Mac and Tuffy and Don, etc, I likely wouldn’t have been able to push through. I’m so proud to have been able to represent the United States, and to see the Stars and Stripes raised for the medal ceremony was one of the most proud moments of my career so far. I can only image how that must feel on the Olympic stage!

The flag-raising for women's Race #8

I also couldn’t have done this season without the financial and emotional support of my family and friends. Because of your kind donations and support, I was able to purchase the most important pieces of my equipment: sled, helmet, and runners. My two and a half week trip to Park City, Utah was also entirely funded by donations made from friends and family. Without that help, I likely wouldn’t have been standing on the podium in the final America’s Cup race. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

With 2012-2013 season in eyesight, I will be looking again for donations and support, both financial and emotional. If you or anyone you know is interested in sponsoring me, please let me know! I’ll be sending letters out towards the end of the summer. For those companies who would be interested in sponsorship, please contact me at lsesalter@gmail.com. The 2012-2013 season marks the beginning of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics push, and as such is a very important season. I will do my part and try my hardest to make a circuit. No matter which one I might make, and even if I don’t make one, I am committed to this sport, and will not quit.

Pictures of the race were taken by Pat Hendrick, and can be purchased here: http://www.backprint.com/view_user_event.asp?PID=bp%13%7C%40&EVENTID=100543&PWD=&BIB=Salter

For the USBSF press release on the skeleton races, please click this link! I’m included! Yay for press!

If you’re in Idyllwild or Hemet, keep an eye out for the Town Crier, and if you’re on Twitter, @NAUAlumni mentioned adding me on their Alumni publication!

Thank you so much for everything you all have done. This podium is for all of you!

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3 thoughts on “Season Finale

  1. Lauren, you are so wonderful and amazing. I am so thrilled to read about your incredible, brave life here. I love you and miss you and I Am so proud to know you.
    Really. 🙂
    I love you forever
    Lilly

  2. Lauren, you are amazing. I just feel so proud to know you, and so happy to be able to read these stories about your incredible, brave life.
    Really. 🙂
    I love you forever, Lu.
    Lilly

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