Whistler While You Work

Where’s an ice bath when I need it?

Hello, faithful followers, sporadic followers, family, friends, and first-timers! I have once more demonstrated my knack for delaying updates as long as humanly possible. This time, I have an excuse! Many, in fact!

First of all, I was able to go back to California for the first time in two years! Following my races in Whistler, I flew down to my parent’s house and was able to get in some much-needed family time over Christmas. It was the first time in two years that all the kids were together, and I’m sure that made my parents very happy!

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It was a fulfilling and educational first half of the skeleton season. I slid on two new tracks, both of which are in Canada, and got four more racing experiences under my belt. I am so happy to have been able to compete this year, and I know that, win or lose, each run gives me more and more experience, leading me closer to my goals.

Now, having only slid on four tracks, I don’t have a huge base for comparison. But after being asked the question, “So, what is your favorite track?” so many times, I know now I can finally answer truthfully and without hesitation: Whistler.

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It comes with a reputation of course. The unfortunate death of luge athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, is known around the world and is, of course, associated with the track in Whistler. While there have not been any more deaths, plenty of injuries have occurred there, from concussion to broken bones and lacerations. Whistler is known and respected in the sliding world as the fastest track in the world, as well as one of the more technical ones. Those added together make for some very challenging runs, and I am extremely grateful to have had two seasons under my belt before tackling the course.

After spending Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle in Seattle (a wonderful and spectacular break!) I headed up through Vancouver to the ski town of Whistler, host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It was a late-night drive, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see the famous Sea to Sky Highway views. That first night I spent with my coach at the Whistler Athlete Center (or Centre to those strange Canadians).

As I had arrived a few days before I could slide, my teammate, Sam, and I were able to go to to the track to watch the final day of World Cup racing for both men’s skeleton and four-man bobsled. As such, we had a sneak peek at what was to come for us! Seeing the speed these sleds were going through the track just made me more nervous for our first ride, but it was also exhillerating! I am so fortunate to have been selected to compete there.

Sam and I had a rather unique set-up for lodging that night, as our condo wouldn’t be avaliable until the next day. Sam had found a campsite online and had booked the night. She warned me that it was a “glorified tent” but I thought that just meant a Motel 6-type room with bare minimum bed and bathroom. I was therefore taken aback when I arrived at our site and it really was a glorified tent! We had a yurt!

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Being the outdoor enthusiast that I am, I had a wonderful time (though I wish I had seen a bear!). The bed was comfortable, with lots of blankets and a tiny space heater, so I got a good night’s sleep! If the yurt had had a kitchenette, I would have tried to stay there for the entire stay.

Our condo was nice, though. Only about a 5 minute drive from the track, the six girls competing and sliding were staying together. It was a little cramped, with four of us sharing a tiny bedroom with two full beds, but we had a hot tub in the building, a nice fireplace and sitting area, and of course, being so close to the village and the track, it was highly convenient.

All of the US athletes came for a week of “paid training” (athletes pay a fee per run to slide) before Official Training began so as to get a little more experience before racing. Normally, Official Training consists of a minimum of two runs, maximum of six before the two-run race, so the paid training allows for extra runs.

All of the US athletes (and most of the foreigners) were required to slide from the lower men’s start for a couple days before moving to the top of the track (this is for our safety, as in Whistler athletes can reach speeds exceeding 85MPH and none of us had slid on that quick of a track before). The first ride down, even from Curve 4, was fast and really quite fun. People often ask me what it’s like taking your first run down a track. In Whistler, I was focused on steering where I needed to, but I really felt the speed. Normally, it doesn’t feel “all that fast” but Whistler was different! Nevertheless, I slid two full days down at the lower start before moving up to the top.

As the week progressed, the track became more familiar. I learned something new every day I was on that track. One of my favorite things about skeleton is that one is constantly learning. There is always a way to go faster, to do this curve better, to get more speed. Whistler is no exception. Every run there was something new to focus on, a turn that could be done a little bit better. I took three runs two of the days I was there, and really felt my body get tired after that! Those three-run days were beneficial to me, because the week of official training brought with it warmer weather, causing Monday’s training to be cancelled.

Official training consists of up to six runs (minimum of two) before a two-run race. On the North American Cup, there were two races at each venue, except for Whistler, which held three races. Unlike OT at other tracks, in Whistler, it still felt like we were just getting used to the track. Each day we were finding more speed, more awareness, more hunger to go faster. OT is also a good time to test out runners used for racing (though the conditions during our training runs were quite different than race day). and make sure everything on the sled is good and tight.

By the time racing comes around, an athlete is rearing to go. I was thrilled, personally, and only a little more nervous because I was drawn to go off first.

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The first race didn’t go quite as I had expected it to. I was not “in the moment” as I’ve been striving to be this season. After a delay at the start lead me to seek warmth back in the start house, I forgot to put the hood of my speedsuit back on, something I didn’t catch at all, and my coach didn’t catch it until after they had cleared the track for me. I hit my sled running with about seven seconds left on the starting clock, and as a result, I was very distracted down the track. My second run was a little better, but I didn’t move up any positions, finishing 9th

Full of determination, I came back the next day, ready to go. I pushed a PR start in my first run, and had a personal best downtime, leaving me in 7th place before the second heat. It was in that heat I finally pushed under 5.1 (I think I pushed a 5.05), and had a good enough run to bump me up a spot to finish the race in 6th. I was also really happy in that I had personal best downtimes with each run, the second being faster than the first. Having a top 6 finish on a track like Whistler was so awesome. It was my third top-6 finish of my career on America’s Cup, so I was happy, though I knew I could do better.

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I was fortunate enough to race the third and final competition in Whistler. Once again, I was off the top first. Everything felt like it was finally falling into place. I had another sub-5.1 second push, and though I had a pretty rough exit of 6 (and by pretty rough, I mean I was on my side) I had a fairly respectable downtime for what had happened, that left me in 6th place entering the final run. Knowing I couldn’t make any mistakes like I had in the first run, I played curve 6 a little conservative, and then went all out on the rest of the track. I had a personal best start time of 5.04, and my enthusiasm paid off, and I finished with a downtime of 56.57, another PR.

After getting to the bottom, thrilled, I was told I had to go through a sled inspection, a normalcy on a race day for many athletes. I was surprised it took them so long for me to get checked (all my teammates had their sleds inspected in the previous days). So I took my sled in the back room and untaped it while I tried to listen with one ear how I would finish. I knew for sure that I had moved up a spot, and thought I was sitting in 6th place when the race ended. It wasn’t until the medal ceremony that I realized I had actually finished 5th. It was a very pleasant surprise and nice to add another medal to the hardware I was brining home.

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I am very proud of my teammates, all of whom did very well in Whistler. It was a huge learning experience for all of us, and to come away with four podium finishes after only two weeks of sliding there was spectacular! I felt like we started coming together as a team a little bit more, and were able to support each other through the long and difficult races.

With Whistler over, I was able to fly down to Southern California to spend Christmas with my family. I also was lucky enough to be able to hold a couple assemblies at my old elementary school, and was able to make a little bit of money through sponsorships and donations. As it was the first time I had been back to California in two years, I had a lot of people to see, and not nearly enough time. I worked in as many as I could, and especially the week of Christmas, it got particularly busy.

But I was able to stay with my brother and his fiancee for a few days, see Les Miserables with them, have coffee with a couple sorority sisters, visit my god sister whom I haven’t seen in several years, and had a delicious lunch with one of my best friends in Downtown Disney before being dropped at the airport. I was excited to head back to Lake Placid, if only to get on my own schedule again, but let me tell you, it was a bit of a culture shock to go from 75 degree Orange County to 15 degree Lake Placid, where I immediately had to dig my car out of a foot and a half of snow. Below are those contrasting pictures…quite a difficult transition!

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And here I am, back in snowy (thank goodness!) and cold (meh) Lake Placid, getting ready to train back at my home track for a month before heading West again for more training in Park City. The season is only halfway over, and I’m excited to see where it goes! Though my racing may be over, nothing in this sport is ever certain, so I’ll be training hard and working towards more races!

I hope everyone had an enjoyable and happy Christmas and I wish you a healthy and prosperous 2013!

Keep sliding!

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One thought on “Whistler While You Work

  1. As always, it’s such a treat to read about your experience through your eyes. I’m very proud and thankful that you conquered Whistler and more than that, you looked it’s infamy straight in the eyes and said “bring it!”. Thanks for sharing, in wonderful detail, the excitement and joy of your achievements. Congratulations on more knowledge, experience and medals to take with you as you continue to excel. I’m glad you had a great holiday and are starting the new year off with such a positive and vibrant light! Keep kicking ass Lauren!

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