It was January 1992, Biwabik, MN, site of the U.S. Cross-Country Skiing Olympic Trials. I was ranked in the top two in the country coming into the trials, and poised to qualify for my third Olympic games. As the trials began, I was fighting a virus that I had picked up at a racing series in Canada. I was hoping that I could find the energy at the trials to qualify for my third Olympic Team, get healthy, and then ski the best I could in Albertville, France, site of the XVI Winter Olympic Games. Unfortunately, things do not always go as you plan, and I did not qualify for the team that year.
Recently I was asked this question, “How has racing shaped you as a person?” I had been ski racing since high school, and been a part of the US Ski Team for fourteen years. With three Olympic Games (‘84, ‘88, ‘94) and five World Championships to my credit, the question asked of me made me think… How has all this racing influenced me as a person?
In giving talks to audiences of all ages during my career as a ski racer, I had touched on qualities I thought were important to become the best athlete you could be. These same qualities can easily be applied to life in general, and ones I think helped me become the person I am today.
Dream Big So many Olympians say when they are little, “I want to be in the Olympics!” It is so important to dream big. With these dreams, it is important to set goals along the way that lead up to this big dream. Whether or not your dream is to become an Olympian, it is important to be able to dream big and create steps needed to reach your goal. I still find myself dreaming of things I want to do while at the same time figuring out the steps I need to take to achieve that goal.
Never Give Up After the disappointment of not making the ’92 Albertville Olympics, it would have been easy to give up. I had been on the US Team for eleven years and it would have been easy to hang up the skis and move on, but I still had a desire to keep racing so I did not give up. I kept training, traveled to Hayward, WI, and became the second American to win the 50km American Birkebeiner, the largest race in the U.S. There is a quote I like to share with people that can be applied to not only athletics, but to life in general. It is from a famous Irish runner named Eamonn Coghlan. He says, “Even though you might be facing defeat, never give up, instead fight back for an even more glorious victory!” Victory does not need to mean winning the race, but instead achieving the goals you set for yourself in life. There will be setbacks as you go through life, but remember, Never Give Up!
Work Hard Cross-country skiing is hard work. The training that is required to become a good cross-country skier is difficult. It takes determination, persistence, and a will to overcome obstacles. The spring following the ’92 Olympic Trials, I underwent heart surgery for an arrhythmia I had been struggling with for the previous couple of years. I was faced with the decision of surgery or retiring from competition. The Birkebeiner win re-ignited the spark I needed to make the decision to continue racing. It was hard overcoming that obstacle, but life is hard. There will be setbacks, obstacles to overcome, and it will take determination and persistence to reach the goals you set for yourself.
Take Chances Do not be afraid of taking chances. Whether it be the training you do, your race strategy, the wax you choose, or the job you go after, take chances and do not be afraid of failure. All athletes at some point in their careers have failed in some aspect of training or racing, but it is through these failures where character is built.
I have moved on from my international competitive years and am now teaching physical education in Alaska. I enjoy teaching my students the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle. While racing, I received so much support from family, coaches, and companies that I could not have done what I had done without them. Though I still train and race when I can, I enjoy sharing my experiences and knowledge with kids up to the high school level while coaching skiing and running in Alaska.
The qualities I learned while ski racing helped me become the person I am today. All of these qualities can be applied to all situations outside of skiing as well. Whether you are a ski racer, student, or working a job, these qualities can have a positive influence on your life.